Another hack piece by CNN … maybe (Updated)

Another hack piece by CNN … maybe (Updated) March 30, 2013

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What’s good for the goose is good for, um, Sarah Pulliam Bailey.


Sarah, former online editor for Christianity Today and now managing editor for Odyssey Networks, spent three years as a GetReligion contributor before leaving us this past October.

To be honest, I still haven’t forgiven Sarah for giving up her high-paying gig as a GetReligionista. How dare she abandon our close-knit team of blogging professionals?

But anyway, this tweet by Sarah caught my attention today:

I tweeted back:

So here we are, with me about to treat Sarah to a big ole helping of the no-holds-barred media criticism that she doled out so often herself. (After typing that, why do I feel a sudden urge to take a break and watch some professional wrestling?)

Actually, in case you couldn’t tell, I’m delaying the inevitable part of the post where I have to say what a great journalist Sarah is and how much I enjoyed her 2,800-word story because, well, you know how much GetReligion readers hate posts that actually praise mainstream media coverage of religion.


Here’s the top of Sarah’s story:

Wheaton, Illinois (CNN)– Combing through prayer requests in a Wheaton College chapel in 2010, then-junior Benjamin Matthews decided to do something “absurdly unsafe.”

He posted a letter on a public forum bulletin board near students’ post office boxes. In the letter, he came out as gay and encouraged fellow gay Christian students — some of whom had anonymously expressed suicidal plans in a pile of the prayer requests — to contact him if they needed help.

In a student body of 2,400 undergraduates in the suburbs of Chicago, at what is sometimes called the Harvard of evangelical schools, Matthews said that 15 male students came out to him. Other students seemed somewhat ambivalent about his coming out, he said.

No one told him he was wrong or needed to change, Matthews said some students were obviously uncomfortable with someone who would come out as gay and remain a Christian.

“I don’t think most Wheaton students knew what to do because they’ve been given ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ rhetoric, but they don’t know how that plays out in real life,” said Matthews, who graduated in 2011. “They would mostly just listen, nod and say, ‘Yeah man, that’s hard.’”

Sarah packs the report with diverse voices, relevant context and history, strong survey data and important nuance that recognizes the complex nature of the issues at play. All in all, it’s an extraordinary story, worthy of the lead spot that it occupies on CNN’s home page at the moment I type this.

If I have any criticism, it’s that the story takes too long — in my humble opinion — to quote any Wheaton officials. We’re nearly 900 words into the piece before we get to this:

“What matters is the moral understanding of the person and how that matches with our institutional identity and the moral behavior that flows from the understanding. There’s no formula to how this gets applied,” said Wheaton’s Provost Stan Jones, a psychologist who has written several books on sexuality.

Of course, the rest of the story provides ample space for Wheaton officials to make nuanced statements that more than adequately express their position.

My other question relates to how CNN identifies Sarah:

Editor’s Note: Sarah Pulliam Bailey is managing editor for Odyssey Networks.

Sarah is a graduate of “the Harvard of evangelical schools,” as her story describes Wheaton. Her background with the college obviously gives her tremendous insight that an ordinary journalist tackling this story would not have. The question is, should CNN have disclosed that relationship?

Update: CNN “Belief Blog” editor Eric Marrapodi responds:

By all means, read the whole story and weigh in with your critique. After years of reading Sarah’s posts, it’s your chance to toast — or roast — her.

I hope you enjoy the opportunity as much as I did.

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4 responses to “Another hack piece by CNN … maybe (Updated)”

  1. I read the story and really liked it. I do wish that we still had real news stories rather than all too often blog posts. It’s not Sarah’s fault, of course, but I wanted to note it.

    The important part of the story was highlighted by this question: “But I don’t know how you can be welcoming but not affirming.” I would have somewhat preferred a version of that sentiment as the headline or perhaps a sub-head since I think that is more expressive of the main theme of the story or at least a very important theme.

  2. Might have been interesting to include some comments from alums that are critical of these developments. There is a post over at BaylyBlog on this. I think one or both of the brothers went to Wheaton. They at least have family connections. Their blog is where I drop in when I want to get the take of the “Reformed Right” on an issue. They have been known to criticize the liberalism of the PCA.

  3. I was more disappointed in Wheaton than Sarah. I do wish that more terms had been clarified in the article, like that there are Christians who have same-sex attractions. I don’t think the article dealt clearly with question of “Okay, someone comes to Wheaton & starts experiencing same sex attraction; what is Wheaton’s obligation?” There was too much undertone of “This group is eventually going to change the school.”