Pod people: Boy Scout leak and grassroots sourcing

I’ve done a couple of posts (here and here) on the Boy Scouts of America’s consideration of lifting its ban on openly gay members and adult leaders.

The New York Times reported today on a new development:

A leak from inside the Boy Scouts of America last month about discussions on possibly ending the group’s national ban on gay members changed the debate itself by creating an impression that change was imminent, according to scouting officials and taped comments from a meeting of scouting’s executive board obtained by The New York Times.

Those apparently false expectations were dashed days later when the board, under intense scrutiny it had never intended, deferred action.

The proposed shift in policy has been portrayed in news accounts mostly as a kind of trial balloon, floated to gauge sentiment about where scouting might go on a hugely divisive question. But the proposal, though seriously in consideration, was not supposed to become public at this moment, Scouts officials confirmed. The plan for the meeting this week was a quiet discussion behind closed doors, they said, free from the outside pressures that have buffeted scouting, especially since summer, when the organization reaffirmed its ban on gay scouts and leaders after a two-year review.

On this week’s Crossroads podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discuss media coverage of the Boy Scout story. The podcast was recorded before news of the leak broke, so we do not cover that angle. We focus on my concerns about the sensationalistic nature of a CNN report attempting to tie Mormons to the Boy Scouts’ vote delay.

We also explore the media’s treatment of grassroots sources on this story. While most of the coverage has involved predictable reactions from organized talking heads — pro and con — I note that The Associated Press took a different approach in one story, giving a family on each side of the debate an opportunity to share its perspective. That story was published before the vote was postponed:

Despite a shared affection for Scouting, the Tessier family in Maryland and the Comers in Tennessee hope for opposite outcomes this week as leaders of the Boy Scouts of America ponder whether to move away from a national no-gays membership policy.

Wes Comer, his wife and children belong to an Apostolic Pentecostal church near their Knoxville home that considers homosexuality sinful.

Comer says he will pull his eldest son out of the Scouts, despite a positive experience with them, if the BSA modifies the policy to allow some troops to accept gays.

The Tessiers, who live in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Kensington, have two sons who enjoyed Cub Scouts, progressed to Boy Scouts, and continued to thrive there even as many in their troop became aware that each boy was gay. The family is grateful for that, but fervently hopes the BSA’s top leaders officially scrap the ban so that open acceptance becomes the norm for Scout units nationwide.

Each family’s sentiments are shared by many others, and the BSA — whose governing board is deliberating behind closed doors this week at a Texas hotel — now finds itself in a situation where any decision it makes is likely to rouse anger and disappointment.

I really liked the concept of the AP story, but I found it rather shallow in its implementation, particularly on the religion angle. For example, the story does not mention the Tessiers’ religious background — or lack thereof — or explore directly the beliefs and position on gay rights of the church that sponsors the boys’ troop.

Also on the podcast, Wilken and I spend a few minutes discussing my recent post on ‘Loving the sinner’ in Chick-fil-A gay marriage flap.

Enjoy the podcast!

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.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    When the Boy Scout story first broke, I figured it was a leak. I didn’t think anyone in his right mind at the Scouts would make it a public discussion on purpose because they would know exactly what would happen — expectation would build that they were going to change it and if they went against that expectation, then there would be hell to pay. There may still be hell to pay, but at least we know now that it’s not because of something they did deliberately but because someone else had an agenda.

    This reminds me of the Planned Parenthood/Susan G. Komen Foundation dust-up last year. It raises questions for me about how the press should handle this kind of thing. Don’t private organizations have the right to make their own deliberations of how they’re going to run their internal operations without outside interference?

  • Daniel

    Can’t listen to your podcast, Bobby. The page freezes my computer every time. And the system is only seven months old. An Acer 4743, well maintained, running Windows 7 should be adequate for the task, don’t you think? And, if memory serves correctly, the Crossroads page is run by Issues Etc. rather than Patheos Press. Other Crossroads podcasts are available to me, just not this one.

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      Daniel,

      I’m not entirely certain I was linking to the right place. I just changed the link. Please let me know if that link works better.

  • Daniel

    Bobby,
    http://wp.patheos.com.s3.amazonaws.com/blogs/getreligion/files/2013/02/0122podcast.jpeg
    just isn’t too awfully navigable with my setup.
    But
    http://getreligion.libsyn.com/crossroads-2-8-13-mp3
    Is. I was able to listen to the podcast that way. It’s just hard to know which way our URLs are going to point.
    Thanks,
    Daniel


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