Surprise! Dallas Morning News finds a Methodist to quote

Surprise! Dallas Morning News finds a Methodist to quote March 23, 2014

Once or twice (or maybe three or four or five times) in recent weeks, we have criticized The Dallas Morning News’ inability to find anyone to quote who supports the United Methodist Church’s stance on homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

The Methodist bishop for the region, Michael “Never Can Be Reached for Comment” McKee, hasn’t helped matters any, from a journalistic perspective. Whether there’s a history between the bishop and the Morning News or he just doesn’t want to be quoted on this matter, I have no idea. Perhaps he silenced his phone during church and forgot to ever turn it back on?

But rather than settle for a “no comment,” GetReligion has made the case that the Morning News needs to find a voice on the “other side” in its coverage of a retired Methodist minister who presided over the wedding of two gay men earlier this month. That is, unless the Dallas newspaper wants to practice advocacy journalism.

In one of our posts, I got snarky and said:

So we’re left — still — with explaining to a Pulitzer-winning newspaper how it might practice balanced journalism and treat all sides of a divisive issue such as this fairly.

Alas, there’s been a new development on this story: the minister who conducted the same-sex wedding has been suspended by the bishop.

Did the Morning News continue its trend of quoting only one side? To the Dallas newspaper’s credit, no. (Perhaps the Morning News took GetReligion’s constructive criticism to heart?)

From the latest story:

The Rev. Bill McElvaney, 85, announced his suspension in a statement to Northaven United Methodist Church, where he is a pastor emeritus. McElvaney is a graduate of and former professor at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.

When he announced in January that he would preside over a same-sex marriage, he boldly said “love over law” mattered most.

Bishop Michael McKee, who heads the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church, did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

McElvaney said he was suspended March 7 for up to 90 days after a complaint was filed by the Rev. Camille Gaston.

Gaston, who is superintendent of United Methodist churches in the Dallas-area district, did not respond to requests for comment. She and the bishop are also graduates of Perkins School of Theology.

So neither McKee nor Gaston would talk. But for once, that didn’t stop the Morning News from adding a measure of balance to its report. Along with McElvaney’s reaction, the paper quoted a Texas pastor who supports the denomination’s position on marriage:

Another Methodist pastor praised the Dallas bishop’s suspension of McElvaney. The Rev. Tom Lambrecht of the Houston area is the vice president of the Good News ministries, which takes the view of marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

“I am sure his personal health situation will be taken into consideration in the disciplinary process,” Lambrecht said. “It is
important that our church policies be upheld so some type of consequences is important. We are pleased with the prompt and firm response of Bishop McKee in terms of holding Rev. McElvaney accountable.”

That’s basic Journalism 101 stuff, of course. But we’ve been waiting for weeks to see it in the coverage of this story. So all that’s left to say is: Nice job. Keep it up, Dallas Morning News. 

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5 responses to “Surprise! Dallas Morning News finds a Methodist to quote”

  1. When he [McElvaney] announced in January that he would preside over a same-sex marriage, he boldly said “love over law” mattered most.

    So the balancing quote is about “upholding our church policies”. I’m not a journalist, but that sounds like advocacy on the down-low to me.

    • Also note that the McElvaney “boldly said” whereas Lambrecht “said”.

      I’m always bothered when the journalist uses adverbs like this (or adjectives in other examples) to modify what ought to be a simple description of an event. These modifiers sometimes hint at how the journalist feels about the events he or she is describing, going beyond the simple reportage of the facts.

  2. I would add that I wish the reporter had asked “why” and “what do you mean” followup questions of the two churchmen. For instance, imagine that the interview went like this:

    McElvaney: Love over law matters most.
    Reporter: What do you mean by this?
    McElvaney could then explain his theology of “love” and “law” and how they are in conflict when gay marriage is considered.

    Or this:

    Lambrecht: It is important that our church policies be upheld.
    Reporter: Why?
    Lambrecht could then explain his view that church doctrine and discipline ought to be maintained even when it runs counter to current cultural trends.

    I’m assuming that the reporter didn’t ask these questions. Maybe she did. But the report, like so many on this topic, does not go into these deeper waters, preferring to splash around in the shallows.

    This isn’t good. I think our journalistic culture has become too enamored of the soundbite/bumpersticker quote, which means that our stories are shallow and discourage our leaders and readers from thinking deeply about important subjects.