Update from Indy: About those emails

I had meant to post a note about this earlier in the week. This is an update on the alleged Indianapolis Star discrimination case from Baptist Press, which is a denominational source on the right, but it contains info that many readers will find interesting. Here is the Gannett side, via Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu. Lots and lots of details here, too.

The key news: This may hit the courts in 10 weeks or so. If you read the whole BP thing, it is also clear that the key to the whole affair — check out the Des Moines column — is who saved the best emails. This is a wider issue: What is the legal status of emails inside a corporate office?

Here is a key chunk of the BP story, involving claims by former editorial board members James Patterson and Lisa Coffey that top newsroom managers demonstrated patterns of bias against conservative Christians:

Patterson alleges that Dennis Ryerson, The Star’s executive editor and vice president, told the editorial department he was “repulsed and offended” by an editorial written by Patterson encouraging readers to pray for U.S. troops in Iraq.

Patterson also claims Ryerson stated that “in the future, he would not allow any editorials with any Christian overtones to be published or which could be construed as proselytizing on the editorial pages.”

The editorial in question, written one day after the beginning of the 2003 war with Iraq, urged readers to “pray for safety of our soldiers, comfort of their families, courage for our leaders and the wisdom for all parties to war to find the quickest path to peace.” It also urged prayers for the people of Iraq, “that their suffering be fleeting and that the freedom they deserve soon come to their troubled land.”

The newspaper denies that Ryerson “has ever demonstrated hostility toward Christianity and Christians on The Star’s staff” and that he told anyone he was “repulsed and offended” by the prayer editorial. Any claim that Ryerson harbors hostility toward Christians is “demonstrably false and preposterous,” given the fact that Ryerson wrote an April 6 editorial “describing his own Christian upbringing and respect and appreciation for all religious beliefs,” the newspaper said.

We will, of course, see “he said and she said” vs. “he said” in this case. I am interested in what the two sides wrote in emails and how much of that will come out. It also seems that we could have a heartland showdown between a red-zone faith in Patterson and Coffey and a blue-zone faith coming in with Gannett and Ryerson. Note the word “upbringing” in the editor’s plea and the emphasis on “all religious beliefs.” The implication, of course, is that the fired journalists did not share his broader view of faith. Yes, the “P word” is once again the key.

Will this settle early?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.jonswerens.com Jon Swerens

    1) The Register link is bad. (Too many http’s.)

    2) When Gannett bought the Star, many media-savvy conservative Christians in Indiana were concerned that the Christian flavor of the Star’s editorial page would be watered down. But…

    3) It is Gannett’s baby, like it or not. (Don’t mistreat our dear Detroit Free Press!) And editorial writers who think they can put any words in the paper’s mouth that they like are not living in reality. The publisher does not want to offend his friends at the country club.

  • http://IndyChristian.com IndyChristian

    Obviously there’s lots more to the case than meets the eye right now. Stay tuned at IndyChristian.com — where we’ve featured your post today.

  • ECJ

    Since I live in Iowa, and since not all Gannett Newspapers are created equal…

    For those who might not be familiar with the Des Moines Regsiter, understand that it is a VERY liberal Newspaper, and that Rehka Basu reflects this disposition with great accuracy. Reading its editorial page is not unlike reading that of the NY Times.

    Until the link in the story gets fixed, here is the column for those who might be interested.

    http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050812/OPINION01/508120342/1035/OPINION

    ECJ

  • Michael

    There’s actually little question about the status of e-mails inside the workplace. Everything that happens inside the workplace or on a workplace computer is discoverable evidence and can be used to reflect the views of either the employee or the employer.

  • Michael

    On the e-mail front, what will be interesting to see is what else comes up when the parties begin searching for emails that weren’t saved, but exist on the hard-drives and memory tapes (including email sent on private email accounts). The possibilities are endless: management calling the writers zeaolots, the writers sending emails to each other plotting their litigation, responses to encouraging emails from outsiders. emails to religious groups eliciting legal and public relationss help. Everything is potentially discoverable evidence (including the private email sent from company computers).

  • http://www.therevealer.org Jeff Sharlet

    Why isn’t anyone defending Ryerson’s right to be offended by editorialists announcing a politicized religious perspective? I don’t mind anyone praying for the troops, but it’s naive or disingenuous to pretend that that editorial was not implicitly pro-war and explicitly an endorsement of a religious perspective that A)values prayer; B)thinks prayer should be invoked on behalf of warriors. Again, fine — but Ryerson certainly isn’t out of line, or particularly liberal, in rejecting that politicized, religious stand from the paper’s editorials.

  • Sam

    Looking from a newspaper perspective, I think it is dangerous to put the same values when it comes to journalism as we would elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying it should be a free-for-all or anything BUT I am saying that what Ryerson did, is fine and legit. I would, and have, done the same!

    Like it or not, any paper will have a slant. The editor usually dictates that slant. If someone is under you that has a total difference in opinion, you might keep them employeed. Then when that person becauase hostile or argues about publishing something you are totally against, you must let them go.

    I hope Christians look further. If you do, you will see Patterson saying that he was discriminated in three different ways, all equal – all the one reason and the exclusive reason…Age, Race, and Religion. I know that this is a “normal” lawyer thing BUT I think this shows Patterson pulling at any and all things.

    He is trying to sue for three seperate reasons and they all don’t add up. An editor should be able to hire and fire based on what slant.

    If they win against Gannet, this will be very bad news to ALL papers, secluar and Christian alike. It would mean that any persons that have any different views (no matter how large or small) could sue the editor AND that editor MUST print anything and everything from other perspectives. Start the free-for-all!

  • ECJ

    “Why isn’t anyone defending Ryerson’s right to be offended by editorialists announcing a politicized religious perspective?”

    An ironic statement given the propensity of Newspaper editorial pages to conduct a low-level guerilla war against Christian Orthodoxy. As a matter of fact, that is precisely why I no longer subscribe to a newspaper. I started noticing in my local (Gannett) paper a high density of editorials, and op-eds, (some nothing more than republished editorials from other newspapers) all making the same assertion – Christian Orthodoxy is wrong. And some of these op-ed pieces were essentially about theology. There wasn’t even a pretense of covering some “issue of public interest.” It is their editorial page, of course. But it’s my money. And I will not use it to subsidize my opponents in the culture war.

    There is plenty of “politicized religious perspective” on the editorial pages of every newspaper in the country. To see it, you just have to stop seeing religion in narrow theistic terms and instead see it more broadly as an internally-consistent metaphysical system.

    Once you make that transition, the attendent evangelism just leaps off the page at you.

    ECJ

    Btw, why does my local newspaper think I care about the opinion of other newspapers – so much so that they would actually reprint other newspapers’ editorials?

  • tmatt

    JEFF:

    He has every right to take the stand and strike back at the editorial writers. He should do that openly, explain his position and let the newspaper-buying public in Indianapolis react.

    He should, in effect, openly announce the newspaper’s change in beliefs and identity.

    You agree?

  • Michael

    But is there any evidence that there has been a change in beliefs and identity? It appears the newspaper has a fairly conservative editorial page, backing Bush, opposing same-sex marriage. Maybe those positions are left-wing by Indiana standards (although arguably not Indianapolis, which is more liberal than the rest of the state) but they don’t seem unusually extreme to me.


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