You know those shoes with the little “TOMS” logo on the side that hip people tend to wear? They’re kind of loafer-like but for the cool kids. There was a mini-dust-up over the weekend when the founder of the shoe organization distanced himself from Focus on the Family, you know, that organization that James Dobson founded.
I’m an Atlantic fan, subscribing to the magazine and reading much of its web content, but I was fairly embarrassed to read this sloppy Atlantic Wire post on the debacle. It should be a basic aggregation of what all happened and who all is involved, but the post distracts with strange choices of words.
For background purposes, my Christianity Today cover story on the organization’s shift away from politics apparently prompted sites like Jezebel to ask why the shoe company is partnering with an “anti-gay, anti-choice” organization. The TOMS founder then distanced himself and Focus responded. With my reporting role, I take no position on TOMS and Focus and keep my opinions out of the discussion over who should have done what. Our job here is to spot good and bad journalism when it comes to religion.
The overarching story is pretty interesting, especially since TOMS’s founder is a Christian and Christians seemed to have a growing interest in the concept of shoes being sent to children for each pair sold. Unfortunately Rebecca Greenfield apparently takes her reporting cues from Jezebel when she writes her round-up.
The problems begin with the headline: “TOMS Wearers vs. Right Wing Christian Missionaries.” Since when would Focus on the Family be described as missionaries? The description missionaries doesn’t make any sense, since it’s usually used to describe religious groups sent into an area to do evangelism. Would employees of some Mormon organization be called missionaries, simply because Mormons send missionaries? It’s pretty unclear where the description missionaries originated.
The next problem is a basic mistake: she misspells Focus President Jim Daly’s name. Journalism 101. But we should also take a look at the loaded language in the rest of the post. I’ve bolded specific phrases.
In a statement posted on both Jezebel and his blog, he denied the partnership with the organization and expressed his regrets for speaking at their event, claiming he didn’t know the full extent of Focus on the Family’s anti-progressive beliefs
…Those against TOMS affiliation with the group are disappointed in the company for aligning itself with am extreme right-wing group. Mycoskie claims he didn’t know the extent of Focus on the Family’s fundamentalist beliefs.
…And even if they hate gays and science, shouldn’t they be able to do some good, too? They seem to be coming out ahead so far, if only because they, unlike TOMS, haven’t made any obvious PR blunders.
It’s hard to pin down an appropriate description for people, since “conservative” doesn’t always cut it, but apparently Focus is anti-progressive and extreme right-wing? That’s what we called loaded. And fundamentalist? Readers of this blog know that using “fundamentalist” is just…wrong, at least according to AP style. Finally, if you oppose gay marriage and don’t believe evolution happened, you hate gays and science? Regardless of what you believe about these things, that’s a stretch.
Again, I’m not defending anyone involved since we look closely at the words journalists use to cover religion. But The Atlantic could do better, even in aggregating.