Houston, we have a problem (with AP)

victoria osteenAt all costs avoid the Associated Press’s coverage of the lawsuit against Victoria Osteen. The article the AP has distributed is full of examples of poor journalistic practices that damage the reputation of the profession.

CNN.com did it’s best to make things worse with an equally terrible headline to the story:

Mega-preacher’s wife sued over loss of faith

HOUSTON, Texas (AP) — She’s the wife of a renowned evangelical pastor and one of the leaders of a Houston megachurch, but Victoria Osteen is being accused of behavior that wasn’t very Christian.

For some energetic analysis of the AP coverage, see what a reader had to say:

Nothing shows up in the story supporting this statement until the final paragraph, and even then the support is as vague as possible. The woman suing Victoria Osteen said her faith was affected. Her faith in what? God, Christians, Christianity, the Osteens? Pastors? Churches? Spirituality? Religion? Texas? And when did an affected faith become the same thing as a lost faith? Perhaps these terms become synonymous when you want people to read your story, expecting they’re getting something other than what you’re offering. It sounded like a story involving a pastor’s wife and a member of the pastor’s church.

For another perspective, see the ABC News headline and lead, which seems to be tilted towards Osteen’s side of the lawsuit:

Osteen’s Wife on Trial for Temper Tantrum

Can a crankiness land you in court? The case of Sandra Brown v. Victoria Osteen is the story of a chance encounter on an airplane that turned into a nasty legal battle.

For a more balanced perspective, and one that does a much better job at placing accusations in the context of a civil lawsuit potentially involving millions of dollars, see the Houston Chronicle‘s coverage from Thursday here, here and here. The newspaper even had a column on the subject.

The big story out of yesterday’s proceedings had to do with an accusation that a witness for the plaintiff’s played the “race card.”

An earlier lighthearted mood in the civil trial of Victoria Osteen took a decidedly serious turn Thursday afternoon when a witness implied that the Lakewood Church co-pastor acted racist during an incident on board a Continental flight three years ago.

Flight attendant Maria Johnson said Osteen sought her out instead of two black attendants, leading to a confrontation in which the co-pastor is accused of assaulting one of the black flight attendants.

In afternoon testimony and under redirect from Reginald McKamie, the attorney who is representing flight attendant Sharon Brown, Johnson said that she felt Osteen singled her out because she was “the only white girl.”

When Osteen’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, then questioned Johnson, he accused her of playing the “race card,” prompting an audible gasp from the gallery overflowing with onlookers.

The article has the extended back-and-forth conversation between Osteen’s attorney, the flight attendant, and the plaintiff’s attorney. What the article rightly makes clear is that Osteen’s attorney attempted to use the witness’s suggestion that race was involved in the situation to his advantage. See here the last time accusations of playing the “race card” were used as an attempt to gain an advantage.

For those of you who want to follow this lawsuit, The Chronicle seems to be the place to go for thorough balanced coverage of the proceedings. Coverage of the theological side of this religion story has yet to make it into many stories yet, but hopefully once the day-to-day coverage of the trial winds down we will see more coverage of the “prosperity gospel” movement and whether or not someone’s faith can really be impacted as alleged in this lawsuit.

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  • Dan Crawford

    The story reminds me of Dr. Schuller’s problems on an airplane. I read the account of the court hearing online and though what Mrs. Osteen is accused of may have some basis in fact, the story contained a lot of innuendo and speculation.

  • Joanna Anglin

    Let’s face it, Ms Ostee behaved VERY BADLY in front of God and everybody. Personally, I cannot imagine raising a fuss with ANYONE if there was something on the armrest of my seat on an airplane, I would simply ask for a paper towel and clean it up myself.

    She should apologize to the flight attendant and GET SOME COUNSELING (or perhaps some Prozac). Just consider the example she set for her child, for the members of her congregation and the BAD PRESS that has been generated just because she couldn’t use nice manners for a few hours (in public). Does being a “prosperity Gospel” minister excuse anyone from behaving well or practicing our Lord’s commandments? I certainly hope not.

    The AP has an obligation to present facts as they see them to the public. No where in their article did they say to ignore or discount coverage of this issue by the “Houston Chronicle” or “Get Religion” because they “had a column” on it. (Gasp – the audacity…..)

    The knee jerk reaction to this coverage can only lead thinking people to seek other avenues of information to get the “real news” of the world around us.

  • Brian Walden

    Isn’t there some sort of statute of limitations on this – or does that not apply to civil suits?

  • Chris Bolinger

    My faith was affected by the potent combination of CNN’s brain-dead headline on a horrible AP article. Can I get a witness?

    What is a “mega-preacher”? Can we have a contest for defining that invented term?

    And can we please get Daniel to start spiking some of these comments?

  • http://www.getreligion.org/?p=2677 dpulliam

    Daniel was out for lunch on a beautiful Hoosier afternoon. Sorry about the delay. Some comments have been spiked, but as much as I don’t like comments that have WORDS IN ALL CAPS, if you include criticism or praise of media coverage, you’re comment will likely stand.

  • Jerry

    Reading this blog entry cause my mind to turn to spreadsheets. I could see each row being labeled with the respective media outlet. And each column labeled with a journalistic virtue or vice. Each cell would contain a grade indicating how well they had done manifesting the virtue or how far they had fallen into the journalistic sin.

  • Stephen A.

    What is a “mega-preacher”? Can we have a contest for defining that invented term?

    Aside from being confused with the new legal term “race card” (I’ve never been to law school, but I know pointing at opposing counsel and saying “Judge, I call Race Card!” isn’t in the law books) I’m also intrigued with the media use of the term “Mega-preacher.” It is totally new to me, but apparently not to the media.

    A Google News search shows a reference on the Washington Post site back in 2005 to the term, referring to TD Jakes as one. Though this was likely not in a print article.

    T.D. Jakes, the TV mega-preacher who whipped up a spiritual storm during a revival meeting this week in Upper Marlboro, is going through trying times. He talked to The Post’s Hamil Harris about the two heart attacks his 25-year-old son, Jamar, suffered last month.

    Ted Haggard is called a “megapreacher” on one TV news site I found, but only in the online headline.

    The WashTimes, NY Times and WashPost sites all turn up no mention of the word in articles themselves, but the Post site has three mentions in its blogs, all referring to Pastor Hagee as a “mega-preacher,” in relation to Joe Lieberman’s appearance at Hagee’s “Washington-Israel Summit” on July 22 (!!! No news on this??)

    The book “Failing America’s Faithful” released in March, 2007 calls (p.170) Rick Warren a “mega-preacher.”

    This all goes to say that this is, I believe, a neologism, and I have no idea who started it. But I want to know, because it’s being used indiscriminately as “well known” “has a big church” or “is a Fundamentalist we don’t like.”

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    It looks like someone is playing the race-card card. But would it be Hardin with accusations of playing the race card, or the plaintiffs complaining about their complaints being dismissed as “the race card’.

  • Robert Campbell

    Just a few questions. Why isn’t this a workers compensation case? Surely staff in first class encounter such alleged conditions often.

    Also, where are witnesses from other first class passengers? Plaintiff’s supporting witnesses appear to be only other staff, and also the only ones who would have been able to foresee where a given passenger would be sitting.

    These may be jurisdictional exceptions allowing the plaintiff to bring the case in this way, but if there are they should be explained to the public by the media.

    Here’s why:

    It is hard to believe that such allegations against Mrs. Osteen would be true, but if they were, it is hard to explain why other airline personnel have not personally sued passengers? If they have been allowed to, when? Why? How? Please elaborate.

    Filing civil suits against passengers is a very bad precedent for the airlines and their staff to set and makes the skies even less friendly for any of us.