AP’s one-sided report on teaching Bible in public schools

Gotcha!

That’s the distinct tone of an Associated Press story out this week (just three weeks behind Religion News Service) on a new Bible elective approved by an Oklahoma school district.

But does this AP story, filled with much weeping and gnashing of teeth, deliver the actual journalistic goods?

Why don’t you help me decide, inquiring-mind GetReligion readers?

Let’s start at the top:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Steve Green’s faith led him to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he’s argued the nation’s new health care law and its requirement that his business provide certain types of birth control to employees violates his religious freedoms.

At the same time, the president of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores is working to add the Bible to the curriculum of public high schools nationwide. His purpose, stated more clearly at some times than at others, is for students to learn its text and put America on a righteous course.

“This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught,” Green said last year to the National Bible Association, announcing his plan for the high school course. “There are lessons from the past that we can learn from, the dangers of ignorance of this book. We need to know it, and if we don’t know it, our future is going to be very scary.”

Green has established a beachhead in his home state of Oklahoma, where the public Mustang School District in suburban Oklahoma City will begin teaching a class about the Bible as an elective beginning this fall. The goal is to place the Bible course in thousands of schools by 2017.

Green told the Mustang school board last fall that the one-year trial of the Bible curriculum developed by the Green Scholars Initiative wasn’t intended to proselytize or “go down denominational, religious-type roads,” and persuaded the board that the plan would pass any constitutional challenges.

Later in the story, readers learn that Green declined an interview with the AP. So readers are left with the wire service’s interpretation of what he has said in the past and what his motivations/intentions are. (For the record, I don’t think Green’s refusal to talk helps his side.)

Keep reading, and the AP quotes three “experts” — all concerned about the Bible elective approved by the suburban school district. First up and worried about a constitutional line possibly being crossed is Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University:

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Stenography vs. reporting: ‘Bias’ in the Lone Star State

Just the other night, I was watching an old episode of “The West Wing,” one of my all-time favorite television series.

On this particular episode, a distinguished journalist returns from an important overseas assignment and finds himself stuck — as he sees it — in the White House press corps.

“Why do you think the White House is a bad beat?” Press Secretary C.J. Cregg asks the reporter, named Will.

“I don’t like being a stenographer,” he replies.

I feel his pain. In my Associated Press days, I seldom enjoyed being part of a horde camped outside a crime scene or closed-door meeting with a million of my closest media friends. I much preferred being the lone journalist chasing an untold story in a forgotten place.

I was reminded of the stenography quote when I read a recent Dallas Morning News story on a study examining Bible elective courses offered in public schools (this is an issue I remember covering during my time with The Oklahoman).

The Dallas story, churned out by the newspaper’s Austin bureau, ran under this headline:

Watchdog group finds ‘blatant bias’ in Bible courses at Texas schools

What is bias? Presumably, that means that the courses tell only one side of the story. Ironically, the Morning News story — all of 350 words — manages to do the same.

The top of the report:

[Read more...]


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