Anyone who has followed the tensions between gay-rights activists and the Boy Scouts knows that this is a rather tense and highly politicized situation, with obvious freedom-of-association implications for groups on the cultural left and right.
But let’s set that aside for a minute and look at a rather basic journalism question linked to a recent NPR report, one that appeared under a headline that bluntly stated the thesis:
Teenage Boy Scout Denied Organization’s Top Rank Because He’s Gay
Clearly, it would cause trouble for a gay Boy Scout to be out and proud while active in this organization. However, other articles on the issue imply that there are gay Scouts and gay Scout volunteers, but that they live and work in a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” environment.
But let’s put all of that aside, as well, since that is not linked to the journalism issue that I see in this report.
It’s clear that Ryan Andresen believes he was denied his Eagle Scout award because of his sexual orientation. He claims that he was told this, point blank.
Yet, the NPR story also notes this interesting set of facts:
The Boy Scouts of America sent a statement to several news organizations, including ABC, in which they say they didn’t inquire about Ryan’s sexual orientation.
“This scout proactively notified his unit leadership and Eagle Scout counselor that he does not agree to scouting’s principle of ‘Duty to God’ and does not meet scouting’s membership standard on sexual orientation,” Deron Smith, a spokesman for the organization said in a statement. “Agreeing to do one’s ‘Duty to God’ is a part of the scout Oath and Law and a requirement of achieving the Eagle Scout rank.”In an interview with Yahoo! News, Ryan said that his scoutmaster knew he was gay.
“He had been telling me all along that we’d get by the gay thing,” Ryan told Yahoo News. “It was by far the biggest goal of my life. It’s totally devastating.”
In other words, the story leaves readers with an unexplored factual question. Was Andresen denied his Eagle Scout award because he says he is gay, or because he acknowledged being an atheist or an agnostic? Then again, the answer to this question could have been “both.”
What did this Scout reply when asked by NPR about his religious views? We don’t know because there is no evidence that NPR took that claim seriously.
Other than claims of bullying — which are serious, in and of themselves — is there evidence that Andresen was having trouble moving up through the Scout ranks before the clash over his religious views? Is the Andresen family, in effect, saying that he IS NOT an atheist or an agnostic? There is no way to know if that question was ever asked.
That’s a problem, a journalistic problem.