Kelvin Cochran

Atlanta fire chief gets $1.2 million settlement: Journalists still avoid all Bible references

Atlanta fire chief gets $1.2 million settlement: Journalists still avoid all Bible references

Once upon a time, you could count on newspapers offering readers the most complete, detailed, nuanced versions of most major news stories.

Pros on the religion beat (I plead guilty) used to look down our noses, quite frankly, at the short, blunt, even chopped-up reports offered by TV news teams — if they bothered to cover religion news at all.

Then along came the Internet and things got more complex, with more radio and television newsrooms posting solid, full-text versions of their stories on their websites. At the same time, alas, falling advertising revenues cut the hearts out of many local and regional print newsrooms — often costing them their religion-beat scribes.

The results can be painful. It doesn’t help when editors look the other way as stories veer away from news reporting, with many reports evolving into hit pieces and advocacy journalism.

There’s a story back in the news that serves as a fine example of this sad trend.

You may recall seeing stories from major news outlets back in 2015 when Atlanta fired its fire chief because of controversial content in a book he wrote. Click here for some GetReligion background on that. Now, we have an update in Atlanta-area media:

ATLANTA — The city of Atlanta has settled a lawsuit with a former fire chief over his firing for a book containing passages which some saw as anti-gay.

The Atlanta City Council approved a settlement agreeing to pay fired Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran $1.2 million.

In 2013, Cochran wrote a book about his Christian faith titled "Who Told You That You Were Naked?" for a men's Bible study and gave it to around a dozen subordinates he said had either requested copies or shared his beliefs.

In the book, Cochran characterized homosexuality as a perversion.

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Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

When I was teaching at Denver Seminary in the early 1990s, seminary students and pastors used to ask me this blunt question: Why should I risk taking to reporters from secular newsrooms?

Their assumption was that mainstream reporters (a) knew next to nothing about the complicated world of religion, (b) had no interest in learning about religion and (c) were already prejudiced about believers in traditional forms of religion, especially conservative Christians because of biases (all of those media-elite studies began in the late 1970s) linked to hot-button topics such as abortion, gay rights, etc.

I responded that (a) their concerns were not irrational, but (b) it was simplistic to argue that all journalists were both ignorant and hopelessly biased when dealing with religion and (c) how could they expect journalists to accurately report their views on complicated topics if they didn't talk to them? At some point, clergy and other religious leaders should respect the role of the press in a free society (just as journalists need to respect our First Amendment protections for religious faith and practice) and take part in what should be a two-way learning process.

In the 20-plus years since that time, things have only become more tense and more complicated. To cut to the chase, we now face the rise of "Kellerism" (click here and especially here for a primer on this crucial GetReligion term), with more journalists openly blurring the line between basic, accurate, balanced news coverage and advocacy/commentary work. It's hard to have an edgy social-media brand without some snark, you know (said tmatt, speaking as a columnist and commentary blogger).

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