Thin Mints on thin ice?

My pretty, blond-haired niece Peyton has perfected her sales pitch.

The 7-year-old flashes her sweet smile, looks me straight in the eyes and asks, “So how many boxes do you want?”

“How many do you have?” I am tempted to reply when confronted with that cheerful face.

But most recently, I settled for seven boxes of Peyton’s Girl Scout cookies — including three boxes of my favorites: Do-si-dos, which are oatmeal cookies with peanut butter filling.

Who knew I was entering the culture wars by buying cookies?

An Indiana lawmaker is making headlines this week by calling the Girl Scouts a “radicalized organization.” That prompted this note from a Facebook friend:

Yes, they are bad, bad people, spreading Samoas and Thin Mints across the country, corrupting people like me . . .

To my surprise, my own tiny amount of research revealed that the Girl Scouts are indeed becoming a flash point — at least in some circles — in the culture wars. Recent columns in the Washington Times and the Washington Post analyze the issue from opposite sides of the ideological spectrum.

The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind., is the source of the story distributed this week by The Associated Press. The Indiana newspaper reports:

INDIANAPOLIS – A Fort Wayne lawmaker’s rant against the Girl Scouts went viral Monday after he called them a “radicalized organization” that supports abortion and promotes “homosexual lifestyles.”

Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, sent a letter to Indiana House Republicans on Saturday explaining why he was the only member in the chamber not to sign onto a resolution last week celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts.

The resolution applauded the group “for the strong positive influence it has had on the American woman.”

Morris said he did some Web-based research and found allegations that the Girl Scouts are a tactical arm of Planned Parenthood, that they allow transgender females to join, “just like any real girl,” and encourage sex.

This section of the story stood out to me:

Several Christian groups have been focused on growing concerns with the Girl Scouts in the past year, and a few websites exist solely to talk about the group’s alleged leftward leanings.

Few independent reports on the issue exist.

That background information seems severely lacking: What Christian groups are we talking about? What concerns have they expressed? What evidence, if any, have they provided? Hopefully, any follow-up coverage will dig a little deeper.

I, for one, hate to see the Girl Scouts — particularly my favorite little cookie saleswoman — caught up in the culture wars. But if it’s news, it demands to be told fairly and fully.

Image via Shutterstock

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Nathan Rein

    Do-si-dos? Really? Samoas rule, dude!…

    But seriously — I can’t help but wonder how much of the supposed right-wing interest in Girl Scouts of late has to do with an implicit comparison to the BSA, which has staked out a position that religious conservatives generally seem to have found sympathetic (defending — very publicly — their ban on admitting gay people and atheists, for example). The Girl Scouts have avoided adopting similar stances. I wonder, if it weren’t for the Boy Scouts’ example, whether there’d be any concern about what the Girl Scouts were doing.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    Sorry, gotta stick with the Do-si-dos…

    Interesting comparison. That seems like a relevant question for future coverage.

  • carl

    My older daughter lasted about a year in Girl Scouts because of issues like this. We didn’t make a big deal out of it. We just quietly pulled her out. That was close to 15 years ago. It must be much worse now. My younger daughter never showed any interest and we never encouraged it. So, yes, this is a real story, and it’s been going on much longer than people realize.

    This is similar to stories you read about declines in church membership. It’s usually not dramatic with shouts and angry denunciations. It’s just parents quietly making decisions for their children based upon what they observe in the organization. It’s the silent outflow that doesn’t get seen and doesn’t get covered. But that’s where the real losses occur. The press shouldn’t talk to advocates holding press conferences. They should go find people like me.

    Another thing as well. People who have children tend to be more conservative than those who don’t. I keep wondering how organizations that depend upon meeting a parent’s expectation for their existence can continue to thrive by spitting in the face of those same parents. It’s all well and good to fight for the cause, but there is an organizational interest in survival.

    carl

  • http://blog.chron.com/believeitornot Kate Shellnutt

    Before these cookie culture wars, two former Girl Scouts in Houston argued that the organization– through its promotion of female leaders and pioneers throughout history and across fields — countered their Catholic beliefs on sexuality and abortion: http://blog.chron.com/believeitornot/2011/10/catholic-sisters-in-the-woodlands-leave-girl-scouts-over-moral-positions/.

  • Spencerian

    Those who shun Do-si-dos are to be treated as a heathen and publican. ;) That said:

    Girl Scouts USA is a private organization as are the Boy Scouts. While the Boy Scouts have had national headlines in matters of religious recognition requirements for its members (right up to a Supreme Court ruling on the matter), similar incidents on the Girl Scouts seem non-existent. The article could have started with this noteworthy contrast and asked where the Girl Scouts would stand on atheism. It would not be a long search; GSUSA removed such qualifiers some time ago. The article has an 800 pound religion ghost that may be hidden under a mound of (sinfully delicious) cookies.

  • Bain Wellington

    Mary Rice Hasson, a Visiting Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C., has written a few advocacy articles on this topic which CNA have put up on their website over the last year or two.

    The recent St. Timothy’s parish story was the occasion of the last such piece, and there are others by her here, here, and here (focussing on the international umbrella movement WAGGGS to which Girl Scouts USA are affiliated.)

    Those articles offer links to other websites critical of the attitude adopted by GSUSA and its local and international affiliates on various sexual matters (specifically sex education, sexual diversity, reproductive health issues and other hot button topics on which it is impossible to adopt a morally-neutral stance).

  • northcoast

    I share the regrets about the culture wars. That scouting should be in controversy is a shame. The representative’s statement seems over the top, although I would be concerned if I shared those judgments. I think the transgender issue needs to be left to people who (hopefully) know what they are doing.)

    As a one time Boy Scout I appreciate Baden Powell’s goals of an organization that would inspire and develop competence, character, citizenship, self control, etc. (and provide a good time for all). Faith, expressed by church (or ??) attendance is part of the mix, but an atheist friend still became an Eagle Scout in my troop. Scouting is not about sexuality (we were 12 – 14 years old), and percolating inclinations that way should not become a problem. I would wholeheartedly support the position taken by BSA about adult leaders; although differences between male and female behavior may make the GSA policy more acceptable. (I’m not aware of a female equivalent of the Sandusky scandal.)

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    A reminder that GetReligion’s goal is to discuss the journalism and media coverage. I’m spiking obviously partisan comments, as is our policy.

    northcoast, did you have a journalism-related point to make?

  • Dave

    Do-si-do’s forever! (Until I was diagnosed diabetic.) I agree with earlier commenters that contrast with BSA likely drives this and a comparison should have been made.

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    It always strikes me as strange to see a comment like the following in a news story:

    Few independent reports on the issue exist.

    I know that reporters can’t drop everything and spend the rest of their week investigating every tangent, but what’s the guideline for how much (or how little) investigation they should do? I feel the same way about editorials and analyses that include some variation on “someone should look into this” or “this issue has escaped scrutiny.” Isn’t this a major element of journalism?

    BTW, I know of at least one Girl Scout-alternative group – American Heritage Girls – based here in Cincinnati. They could have been contacted about why they felt the need to start a separate organization.

  • http://catherineguiles.com Cathy G.

    I am a proud former Girl Scout (first through ninth grades!), and I think anyone – journalists or otherwise – comparing them to Boy Scouts needs to remember that they are two totally separate organizations.
    The Boy Scouts are based in Texas; the Girl Scouts are based in New York City. Make of that what you will ;)

  • John Penta

    Cathy: Not really relevant. The BSA was based in the New York area (New Brunswick, NJ was their last home) before heading out to Texas in 1979.

    I suspect they moved for a simple reason – because commercial/office costs in the NYC metro area have been crazy for decades, compared to cheaper costs elsewhere in the US.

  • http://catherineguiles.com Cathy G.

    John – I stand corrected. Thanks!

  • MJBubba

    I have run across bits about the Girl Scouts in Christian niche media (blog sites and talk radio) for several years. Here is an example: http://www.familywatchinternational.org/100/pp.cfm
    I never expected the mass media to recognize that there is a story there until some politician or celebrity pushed it.

  • Jerry

    This story illustrates that there are some who push political correctness to the absolute limit and require 100% agreement with every position of theirs before they will approve of a group and their activities.

    But I have to ask when manufactured controversy is news. If a group decides to attack another group, is that automatically news? If so, that’s a sad reflection of the ability of a group to control what the media reports on.

    I know I’m a bit Don Quixoteish, but I would wish that the news media focuses on stories of substance not “issues” like this one.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    I know I’m a bit Don Quixoteish, but I would wish that the news media focuses on stories of substance not “issues” like this one.

    In general, I agree with you.

    The original story is the “Fort Wayne” newspaper reporting on a “Fort Wayne” lawmaker, so it’s understandable that the paper would be interested. Of course, it becomes a much bigger story once the AP picks it up and distributes it (not sure if this one went on a regional wire or nationally).

    But if a particular media organization decides that this story is, in fact, news, then it should be important enough to report in a substantive way. That was my original point.

  • IC

    There have been some stories on sites like LifeSite News on the Girl Scout connections to Planned Parenthood (and they go into some detail that this article seems to be lacking). I know lots of people who have pulled their daughters out of GS for this reason. But I haven’t seen it covered in mainstream media.

  • Tragic Christian

    There was a dustup not long ago because a Girl Scout book recommended that girls get to the bottom of media disinformation by consulting Media Matters, the George Soro-financed special ops branch of the Obama Administration. Nobody seems to know how that got into the book. Right here!

  • RSG

    So, this is my newspaper, where I work. I know that the story, as published, was considered a breaking daily news story. That means there’s not going to always be answers to those questions you want because 1)not time, 2)not always people available for comment and 3)the story at the time focuses on a specific issue (Bob Morris says something about Girl Scouts that may be silly), not the issue of whether there’s a legit controversy with the GSA.

    It went out on our regional wire, and then from there, who knows. It was, at its core, a local story about a local lawmaker who said something controversial. Nothing more than that.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    RSG,

    Thanks for your comment. I do understand the constraints you mention, although reason No. 3 sounds like a pretty squishy approach to journalism, IMHO. How do you know whether what he said is silly or not if you don’t investigate the claims he’s making and fully report on your findings?

  • RSG

    Bobby–
    We’re not being squishy. We’re doing a first-day story. Whether there is a decision on what to pursue about the Girl Scouts further down the road is above my pay grade, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we do something. Heck, I may do something myself.

    But, as a journalistic practice, if the person you’re quoting is citing Worldnet Daily as a source, it’s probably a good chance it’s silly. :)

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    RSG,

    I respect your inclination to defend your newspaper.

    Still, even in a first-day story, you do readers no favors with vague reporting like this:

    Several Christian groups have been focused on growing concerns with the Girl Scouts in the past year, and a few websites exist solely to talk about the group’s alleged leftward leanings.

    Few independent reports on the issue exist.

    With about 10 minutes of research on Google and LexisNexis, you could give readers a much fuller picture. The Washington Times column above was written by an official with the Family Research Council. How hard would it be to put in a call there, assuming you consider that organization more credible than Worldnet Daily?

  • RSG

    I have no idea how much time our reporter had to put that story together. I have no idea whether she had access to Lexis (she’s in a bureau) at the time, or whether she placed such a call.
    Personally, I am not sure, given their obvious leanings on a lot of things, I would necessarily use a FRC or Washington Times piece on something such as this, especially in a first day story. And if I did that, I would most certainly, at my fingertips, be able to find a dozen sources that say their opinions are crap on that topic. That’s the nature of the way we do things now (must.always.have.two.sides.even.if.one.says.earth.is.flat) I also, speaking for myself here, do NOT tend to use other reporting in my own work.

    Anyway, tmatt can vouch for my personal work. :) I am going to defend my paper and my coworkers because I know, personally, the constraints under which we operate and how hard we try, as an organization to get it right.

  • RSG

    And I would guess, given her mention of “several Christian groups” that she had found that FRC piece.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    If tmatt vouches for you, I guess I’ll take his word for it. Because you sure sound like you have a liberal bias.

  • RSG

    Is this about journalists getting religion (specifically the one doing the story), or a “liberal bias” you perceive in a commenter?

    I sure didn’t expect that response and am particularly offended by it. You don’t know me. You don’t know my views or my beliefs, my faith or my practice. There’s a reason for that: I am commenting here, as a journalist, as one who works at the paper in question, who knows the reporter in question, and who has written on religion for the paper in question (because we actually do try to tell all the stories we can find). I was trying to shed a little light on how a reporter may have gone about doing that story.

    Let me be clear re: FRC in that context…If you include comments from the FRC (a religious group, let’s be honest) then, to be fair, you need to find a religious group that may have a different position (if you’re going to participate in the “objective” type journalism we are wedded to right now). An editorial (Washington Times column) is opinion, correct? That means that it does not necessarily represent objective fact, no?

    The reporter wrote a story about comments a state legislator made. She quoted the organization and recognized that some have a different opinion and mentioned that. I thought your initial post re: this was nitpicking. Now I’m sure it is.

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby Ross Jr.

    In this particular case, this is about journalists reporting fairly and fully on a religious issue.

    The story reported that “Christian groups” have growing concerns but made no attempt to provide specific information that could help readers judge the validity of those concerns or the credibility of the unnamed groups. Contacting a source such as the FRC would have, at least, allowed a named source to make its case, rather than have vague groups referenced and quickly brushed aside as “silly.”

    If that’s nitpicking, then I plead guilty.

    As for offending you, I apologize for that. You are right that I do not know you personally and should not have made a flippant comment like that.

  • Frank

    I’m on a diet; so, I don’t eat Girl Scout cookies. However, I usually buy $20 of Girl Scout cookies for Operation Thin Mint so they can be shipped to active duty military.

    After reading this, I’m bringing this article with me to buy 45 boxes more for Operation Thin Mint.

  • Lori B.

    I’m getting to this party a little late, but for those of us involved in scouting this is not a new story, and it’s certainly been going on far longer than a year. When Dr. Dobson was still with Focus on the Family, he spoke out against Girl Scouts several times and even wrote about a Christian alternative, American Heritage Girls, in his book “Bringing up Girls.” As mentioned in the article, there are many Facebook sites and websites that talk about the left-leaning focus of Girl Scouts. Some of these sites are trying to change Girl Scouts from the inside out and others are trying to get girls to seek alternative scouting experiences.

    Many articles have been written about the connection between Girl Scouts and Planned Parenthood, especially in those areas where Girl Scouts use Planned Parenthood to do seminars for the girls on sexual health, sexuality, etc. Another commentor mentioned the connection to GSUSA and WAGGS. There was a big dust up a few years ago over a WAGGS conference that had a break-out session on sexuality for girls. There was some press coverage of this which led my church to drop Girl Scouts and start an American Heritage Girls group. There have also been articles about the lesbian influence in Girl Scouts, many citing the book “On My Honor: Lesbians Reflect on Their Scouting Experience”. I’m not saying all of these articles are non-biased, but there is a plethora of articles/sources out there that link Girl Scouts with the liberal left.

    And if the reporter does not want to site other articles in her story, she could always contact a group like American Heritage Girls, a church or private school that has dropped GS, or a parent who has taken her daughter out of Girl Scouts to get an alternative viewpoint, or actually it would be an opinion that backs up the Congressman’s viewpoint. I’m sure there are many parents in his district that agree with him and don’t think he is a kook. I completely understand the time constraints, but to say this is an issue that has only been going on for a year and insist there are few independent reports to back it up and leave it at that is sloppy journalism, IMHO.

  • RSG

    She did not say that it only began in the last year. She said that groups have been focused on them in the past year. If you do a simple Google search, she is correct. The issue died down for awhile, and then picked back up in the past year or so, particularly in January when FRC issued its statement.

    It’s not lazy reporting. It’s that the conflict is not the focus of the story. It was a story about a politician, written by our political reporter, as a daily story, about a controversy he made where none existed in the statehouse. We were not writing, and still are not writing today, the be-all, end-all of the Girl Scouts’ perception by some to be homosexual-communist-abortionist-recruiting tool and how some say that’s not true.

    Re: the above apology. Accepted and thanks.

  • Lori B.

    RSG – I still think her statement about the last year was confusing. According to some, concerns have been growing for over 15 years. However, I do get your meaning when explained with a little context.

    Calling it “sloppy” was probably a little harsh. There were just a few questions that came to me as I read it. It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback…

  • northcoast

    Bobby (*8), the journalism connection to my comment (*7) is not explicit in the current discussion, and it has nothing to do with the cookies or GSA. Over recent years, journalists typically throw in something about BSA’s policies toward gay people and, possibly, atheists, whenever there is news about BSA. OK, frequently the news springs from these policies. Anyhow the first comment pushed some buttons.

    While the gay ban applies to adult leaders who work with the boy scouts, there is usually something written about “gay boy scouts.” I doubt that the BSA is letting itself be distracted by concern about the tendencies of the scouts as long as they don’t generate problems, but any sexually active 13-year would be a poor influence in a scout troop unless he kept it very much in private.

  • northcoast

    Should have used #.

  • Kristen

    A priest I know at the chancery called me and asked me my take on this, because I had mentioned to him a few years back about rumors regarding GSA support of Planned Parenthood. After spending some time, trying to fairly assess the current situation, I had to report back to him that I could find no OVERT dirt…and that many of the alleged misdoings are local matters with local people.

    For journalists, I would agree with RSG that there really is not a lot out there of a credible nature. I had more time to put into it than your avg. journalist on deadline. I found the blogs that are critical of GSA to be pretty inflamatory and loose with the actual footnotes or sourcing.

    It sure looks like a local issue where there have been problems with donations and/or field trips. So, that’s what I told my priest – that it really depends on who is in charge of the troop and their beliefs.

    And, yeah, the cookies are really a side issue here, except when one considers that the local troop doesn’t really see much of that money. I do usually like it when journalists follow up on the money…