Chip and Joanna Gaines

BuzzFeed moves in to fix up all those happy tales about Magnolia folks and their 'new' Waco

BuzzFeed moves in to fix up all those happy tales about Magnolia folks and their 'new' Waco

Once upon a time, I was an expert on life in Waco, Texas. I spent six years there in the 1970s — doing two degrees at Baylor University — and have had family ties to Jerusalem on the Brazos for decades, some of which are as strong than ever.

The Waco I knew didn’t have lots of civic pride. For many people, things went up and down with the state of affairs at Baylor. Even the great Willie Nelson — who frequently played in a Waco salon back then — had Baylor ties. And talking about Baylor means talking about Baptists. We used to joke that there were more Baptists in Waco than there were people. We had normal Baptists, conservative Baptists, “moderate” Baptists and even a few truly liberal Baptists. Welcome to Waco.

This old Waco had a dark side — a tragic, but normal, state of things in light of America’s history with race and poverty. Many of the locals were brutally honest about that. And in recent decades, Waco has had tons of bad luck, media-wise. Say “Waco” and people think — you know what.

As you would imagine, the fact that Waco is now one of the Sunbelt’s hottest tourism zones cracks me up. But that’s the starting point for a long, long BuzzFeed feature that I have been mulling over for some time. Here’s the epic double-decker headline:

”Fiixer Upper” Is Over, But Waco’s Transformation Is Just Beginning.

HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines helped convert a sleepy Texas town into a tourist mecca. But not everyone agrees on what Waco’s “restoration” should look like.

There is an important, newsworthy, piece of news writing buried inside this sprawling, first-person “reader” by BuzzFeed scribe Anne Helen Petersen. It’s kind of hard to find, since the piece keeps getting interrupted by chunks of material that could have been broken out into “sidebars,” distinct wings of the main house.

Here’s the key question: Is this story about Chip and Joanna Gaines and their Magnolia empire — the hook for all that tourism — or is it about Antioch Community Church and how its evangelical, missionary mindset has shaped efforts to “reform,” “reboot” or “restore” distressed corners of Waco?

The answer, of course, is “both.” That creates problems, since there are so many elements of the “good” Waco news that clash with BuzzFeed’s worldview. Thus, the goal here is to portray (a) the shallow, kitschy aspects of Waco’s current happiness before revealing (b) the dark side of this evangelical success story.

This vast, multilayered feature is built, of course, built on Peterson’s outsider status and her contacts with former — “former,” as in alienated — members of the Antioch-Gaines world. There’s no need to engage with the views of key people who are at the heart of these restoration efforts because, well, this is BuzzFeed, a newsroom with this crucial “ethics” clause in its newsroom stylebook:

We firmly believe that for a number of issues, including civil rights, women's rights, anti-racism, and LGBT equality, there are not two sides. 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Fixer Upper update (with M.Z. flashback): Was Gaines slam just BuzzFeed news style?

Fixer Upper update (with M.Z. flashback): Was Gaines slam just BuzzFeed news style?

Over the past few days, I have been searching for actual updates on the whole BuzzFeed vs. Chip and Joanna Gaines story and, as far as I can tell, there has been little or no news to speak of on that front.

It's clear that, for most journalists, these HGTV stars are cultural heretics who are on the wrong side of history, if not the cable-TV ratings. However, some commentators -- including a few on the cultural left (Brandon Ambrosino here in The Washington Post) -- have asked whether Kate Aurthur of BuzzFeed did the right thing when she probed the couple's silence and, in effect, blamed them for the traditional Christian teachings (on marriage and sex) voiced by their pastor, the Rev. Jimmy Seibert.

For example, Vox has issued one of its usual pieces on What. It. All. Means. The headline is logical: "Chip and Joanna Gaines and the anti-gay controversy over HGTV's Fixer Upper, explained." That's as good a place to start as any, in terms of the status of the journalism issues in this high-profile case.

After expressing lots of outrage over the religious beliefs at the center of the case, Vox reaches the summary paragraphs: "What the fight over the Gaineses’ beliefs is really about." Let's read that:

HGTV has a long history of leaning toward the progressive in the types of people it features on its shows. Same-sex couples are featured in many of its programs. The network airs programs like House Hunters International that sometimes feature non-American same-sex couples, and shows like Property Brothers and Love It or List It have had same-sex couples who had their homes renovated. And the channel stated on December 1 that all of its current programs are open to LGBTQ couples. ...
In 2014 the channel canceled a proposed show, Flip It Forward, because its hosts, David and Jason Benham, were vocally anti-gay. The Benham brothers are sons of a man named Flip Benham, the leader of an organization called Operation Save America, who has gone on the record in saying that “Jesus hates Muslims” and blamed the 2012 Aurora massacre on Democrats. David Benham spoke to a conservative talk show in September 2012 and said, “Homosexuality and its agenda ... is attacking the nation,” plus some nonsense about "demonic ideologies."

Then there is this, the only real commentary on journalism questions:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Damned by association: BuzzFeed 'news' story goes after the 'Fixer Upper' couple

Damned by association: BuzzFeed 'news' story goes after the 'Fixer Upper' couple

Yesterday, the quasi news-entertainment-gossip-vent site Buzzfeed posted a piece about a couple who has put together a very popular HGTV show about home remodeling. Their crime: They attend a megachurch where, the subhead said, "Their pastor considers homosexuality to be a 'sin' caused by abuse -- whether the Fixer Upper couple agrees is unclear." 

Buzzfeed was angling to rally a digital mob after this couple, but that's not quite what happened.

Yes, this click-bait piece did get a lot of traction on social media within a few hours, much of which was furious reaction from liberals and conservatives alike who felt the article was nothing but a hit piece. Responses on Twitter ran quite the gamut from calling Buzzfeed “the new Inquisition” to one poster who wondered, “I thought it was the alt-right folks who were bringing back McCarthyism.”

Here's how Buzzfeed started it all:

Chip and Joanna Gaines’ series Fixer Upper is one of the most popular shows on HGTV. The couple has recently graced the cover of People magazine; their book, The Magnolia Story, has been on the New York Times’ best-seller list for five weeks; and they were the subject of a long profile in Texas Monthly that credited them with revitalizing the city of Waco, Texas, where the show is set and where their businesses are located.

So far, so good. Then:

They are also, as they detail in The Magnolia Story, devout Christians — Joanna has spoken of and written about her conversations with God. (God told her both to close her store to spend time with her children, and then to reopen it a few years later.) Their church, Antioch Community Church, is a nondenominational, evangelical, mission-based megachurch. And their pastor, Jimmy Seibert, who described the Gaineses as “dear friends” in a recent video, takes a hard line against same-sex marriage and promotes converting LGBT people into being straight.

The Buzzfeed folks may not realize this yet, but a lot of evangelical pastors oppose same-sex marriage.

Please respect our Commenting Policy