‘Take Out the Trash Day’ for Boy Scouts?

In a memorable episode of “The West Wing,” Press Secretary C.J. Cregg is advised to save a few embarrassing stories for release on Friday.

Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman and his assistant, Donna Moss, engage in a somewhat humorous discussion of the strategy involved:

DONNA
What’s “Take Out the Trash Day?”

JOSH
Friday.

DONNA
I mean, what is it?

JOSH
Any stories we have to give the press that we’re not wild about we give all in a lump on Friday.

DONNA
Why do you do it in a lump?

JOSH
Instead of one at a time?

DONNA
I’d think you’d want to spread them out.

JOSH
They’ve got X column inches to fill, right? They’re gonna fill them no matter what.

DONNA
Yes.

JOSH
So if we give them one story, that story’s X column inches.

DONNA
And if we give them five stories?

JOSH
They’re a fifth the size.

DONNA
Why do you do it on Friday?

JOSH
Because no one reads the paper on Saturday.

DONNA
You guys are real populists, aren’t you?

Speaking of “Friday news dumps”

The Boy Scouts of America made a major policy statement this past Friday concerning admittance of gay members. Of course, most Americans’ attention was focused solely on Boston that day. Intentionally or not, the Boy Scouts’ announcement came at the worst possible time for actually conveying the news.

If you missed the headline, here’s how the Los Angeles Times summarized the news:

Top officials of the Boy Scouts of America have unanimously recommended allowing gay boys into the ranks of one of the nation’s oldest and most traditional youth groups while continuing to exclude homosexual adults as leaders.

Scouting’s executive committee described the proposal as an effort to acknowledge changes in society while respecting the religious organizations that sponsor many Scout troops across the country. It also aims to move the organization beyond a controversy that has rocked its foundation in the last several months.

“We believe the BSA can no longer sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, controversial, and unresolved societal issue,” National President Wayne Perry said in a statement.

The recommendation is set for a vote at the Scouts’ 1,400-member national council meeting in May.

Though a dramatic shift from the Scouts’ outright ban on gays, the proposal left many on both sides of the debate unsatisfied. It comes after months of intense pressure inside and outside the organization, whose leadership has sent mixed signals on the issue. On Friday, some who have pushed for change were no happier than those who want to keep the status quo.

Most major news outlets stuck to a similar theme of the proposal generally failing to satisfy both sides. Quotes pulled straight from advocacy groups’ news releases reigned.

While reports hinted at the key religion angle, voices of faith were scarce in the stories I read. The New York Times, for example, referenced “conservative Christians” up high:

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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:

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Boy Scouts, Mormons and CNN’s tabloid-style ‘reporting’

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Let’s face it: Most of the mainstream media coverage of the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to delay a vote on possibly accepting gay Scouts and adult leaders was pretty ho-hum.

Here’s how The New York Times boiled down Wednesday’s development in a 65-word lede (sorry, I could not resist counting):

The Boy Scouts of America, which confirmed last summer its policy barring openly gay people from participation, then said last week that it was reconsidering the ban, announced Wednesday that it would postpone a decision once more, until May, as talk of gay men and lesbians in the ranks has roiled a storied organization that carries deep emotional connection and nostalgia for millions of Americans.

The Times and other major media (such as The Associated Press and The Dallas Morning News) relied heavily on a three-paragraph statement issued by the Boy Scouts:

For 103 years, the Boy Scouts of America has been a part of the fabric of this nation, providing its youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. In the past two weeks, Scouting has received an outpouring of feedback from the American public. It reinforces how deeply people care about Scouting and how passionate they are about the organization.

After careful consideration and extensive dialogue within the Scouting family, along with comments from those outside the organization, the volunteer officers of the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Board concluded that due to the complexity of this issue, the organization needs time for a more deliberate review of its membership policy.

To that end, the National Executive Board directed its committees to further engage representatives of Scouting’s membership and listen to their perspectives and concerns. This will assist the officers’ work on a resolution on membership standards. The approximately 1,400 voting members of the National Council will take action on the resolution at the National Annual Meeting in May 2013.

Over at Religion News Service, national correspondent Adelle M. Banks noted:

The decision by Boy Scouts of America to postpone any change in policy about gay membership was fueled by an “outpouring of feedback.” Much of that reaction came from a sector with strength in numbers: the religious groups that comprise the majority of the Scouts’ chartered organizations. …

There is simply no denying the influence of religion in the Boy Scouts, a group that includes “my duty to God’’ in its oath. According to the BSA, religious organizations comprise 70 percent of its sponsoring organizations. Mormons, United Methodists and Catholics — the three largest groups — sponsored more than 1 million of the current 2.6 million Scouts in 2011.

Alas, it seems that only one news organization snagged the real story. And trust me, it’s much less ho-hum than the scripted Boy Scout statement and predictable quotes from gay-rights supporters and religious conservatives on which the other media depended. Of course, the same might be said of the reporting in the Weekly World News.

Congratulations go to CNN, which managed to grab the scoop without revealing any sources (or presumably, interviewing anyone) at all — always an accomplishment among “journalists.”

Click this link for the full report from CNN’s Erin Burnett, but here’s the story in a nutshell:

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Gays, Boy Scouts and the religion angle

I’ve been swamped with my regular job the last few days, so I have not had as much time as usual to peruse religion headlines.

However, news that the Boy Scouts of America may drop its ban on gays has been impossible to miss.

The Associated Press has a rapid-fire second-day story that includes input from a variety of  sources — pro and con — on the possible change:

NEW YORK (AP) — The Boy Scouts of America’s proposed move away from its no-gays membership policy has outraged some longtime admirers, gratified many critics and raised intriguing questions about the iconic organization’s future.

Will the Scouts now be split between troops with gay-friendly policies and those that keep the ban? What will a National Jamboree be like if it brings together these disparate groups with conflicting ideologies? Will the churches long devoted to scouting now be torn by internal debate over the choices that may lie ahead?

After those opening two paragraphs, AP immediately turns to a source in the religion world:

A top official of the Southern Baptist Convention, whose conservative churches sponsor hundreds of Scout units that embrace the ban, was among those alarmed that the BSA is proposing to allow sponsoring organizations to decide for themselves whether to admit gays as scouts and adult leaders.

“We understand that we are now a minority, that it is not popular to have biblical values, not popular to take stands that seem intolerant,” said Frank Page, president of the SBC’s executive committee. “This is going to lead to a disintegration of faith-based values.”

Later, the story includes comments — or lack of comments — from Mormon and Roman Catholic officials:

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