Should CNN editor accept religious liberty award?

A Religion Dispatches blog post this week noted that CNN Godbeat pro Eric Marrapodi will receive the first annual Vine & Fig Tree Award for excellence in reporting on religious liberty issues.

The post questioned whether Marrapodi (an often-praised journalist here at GetReligion) should accept the award from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty:

According to Time Warner’s Standards of Business Conduct (CNN is a Time Warner subsidiary), employees are to avoid conflicts of interest. While they do not address the particulars of journalists being honored by an advocacy group, The New York Times’ ”Policy on Ethics in Journalism,” for example, offers clear guidelines for such circumstances: “Staff members may not enter local, national or international competitions sponsored by individuals or groups who have a direct interest in the tenor of our coverage.”

Any number of advocacy groups, of course, present journalism awards, from the Amy Foundation to the National Gay & Lesbian Journalists Association.

The question of whether Marrapodi should accept the award sparked some Twitter responses — some humorous, some serious — from fellow religion writers.

Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post said:

It depends, does he get a huge amount of money? #kidding

That actually is a good question. Based on my reading of the award news release, I don’t see that the honor carries a cash prize.

Bob Smietana of (for a little while longer, anyway) The Tennessean chimed in:

Becket is not primarily an anti gay rights group as that report claims

Former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey of Religion News Service said:

As long he wouldn’t decline some ACLU award don’t know why it’s surprising. cc@GetReligion

Hey, did you see where Sarah let GR in on the conversation? Thank you, Sarah! By the way, if you don’t follow GR on Twitter already, why not?

Religion Dispatches editor Evan Derkacz replied:

ACLU not exactly religion beat, but not surprising. would violate NYT rules tho.

(Meanwhile, in “not exactly religion beat” news beat this week, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in my home state of Oklahoma challenging a Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol.)

I don’t know if Marrapodi is being honored for a specific report or overall reporting on religious liberty. I did a quick search in the CNN archives and came across a December 2012 report that he wrote headlined “Hobby Lobby faces millions in fines for bucking Obamacare.” My quick reading of that story indicated that Marrapodi quoted all sides, provided important context on the issue and, to put it in the most basic terms, produced an excellent piece of journalism.

Does Religion Dispatches or anyone else have any links to indicate that Marrapodi has done anything except report fairly and fully on the religious liberty issue? If so, I’d love to see them.

In the meantime, it’s your turn, kind GetReligion readers: Should Marrapodi accept the award or not? Please focus your responses on journalism and media ethics.

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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.

  • Julia B

    Are works submitted for consideration in all these journalism award situations? Maybe some groups consider all pieces that have come to their attention one way or the other – whether submitted by the writer or a member of the group or an interested member of the public. In addition to the nature of the award, that might also make a difference.

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

      Good distinction, Julia. I think in most journalism contests, folks submit entries or nominations. In this case, I think that the organization selected a winner on its own. But I could be wrong.

  • MollieZHemingway

    I’m of the mind that people should be free to accept awards from anyone, and keep doing what they’re doing. It’s worth noting that a number of CNN folks have won awards from gay rights groups, so an award from a religious liberty group doesn’t seem that outside of the norm there.

    Award or not, though, hopefully more reporters might care about First Amendment freedoms.


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