Not since former President Bill Clinton said, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is," have I witnessed such a demonstration of double-talk. I'm referring to the Raleigh News and Observer's public editor, Ted Vaden, whose response to my recent column, "God's Name Is Not to be Misused," contends I created "negative perceptions of traditional media" by misinforming my readers.
Au contraire! Vaden's column clearly demonstrates that major newspapers like the N&O don't need my help in fostering negative perceptions of traditional media. They do a good job completely on their own.
Vaden claims in his column, 'Boondocks,' N&O Stir Christian Right, that I failed to verify my information with the N&O before publishing my account of the alleged exchange between Bill Grantlin and "said 'staff person,'" Tommy Goldsmith. But Vaden seems to have a double standard when it comes to verifying one's information. For instance, he describes AgapePress as "the online newsletter of the American Family Association" -- which they are not. Vaden must have pulled that description out of the air. There is nothing even remotely similar to that statement on the AgapePress website. Did Vaden verify his information with AgapePress before "rushing into print," as he accuses me? Not according to the editor of AgapePress, Jody Brown, who says he hasn't received a single phone call or e-mail from Vaden.
Vaden also maintains the N&O came under fire because I had misinformed my readers. Nevertheless, there is nothing in Vaden's account that essentially changes the import of my column, which would lead one to believe my readers were "ill-informed."
According to Vaden, Goldsmith admitted he might have said, "Times are changing." He denies, however, saying the N&O was getting more liberal. Vaden writes, "No N&O staffer would be so soft-headed as to say publicly that we're liberal, even if it were true." But this misses the point. Grantlin wasn't saying Goldsmith said the paper was getting more liberal. He was saying Goldsmith argued that society was getting more liberal and the paper is sometimes a reflection of that fact -- an obvious justification for running a comic strip that used the Lord's name in vain.
Vaden notes that Goldsmith also denies my account of Grantlin's quote about children. Grantlin argues that Goldsmith said, "The News & Observer has a daily circulation of 160,000 people and we received exactly seven other complaints. And you know what, not one of them was a child." Goldsmith contends that what he actually said was: "I told him [Grantlin] we had received limited complaints and that no one had said that any child had been adversely affected by the strip." Personally, I believe Goldsmith's statement is a revision of what he really told Grantlin. It's not likely Grantlin got the quote wrong. And I say that because Grantlin called me about 'The Boondocks' comic strip a few weeks before. At that time, I told him he should contact the N&O staff and inform them of his concerns. I also instructed him to be sure he took good notes of their responses, which he did. Grantlin has extensive notes of his conversations with the N&O staff and says he's willing to sign a sworn affidavit to their accuracy. I realize it's a personal assessment, but I'm convinced, especially under the circumstances, Grantlin is a more credible witness.
Considerably important to note is that Vaden's account doesn't deny that Goldsmith told Grantlin he should find more productive ways to use his time, "like volunteering" -- an incredibly offensive approach to a reader's complaints that his religious beliefs had been grievously offended.
Most disingenuous, however, is Vaden's claim that he can understand the protests. He writes, "I too found the 'Christ's sake' strip offensive, gratuitously, almost calculatedly so. Knowing our religion-sensitive readership, my instinct would have been to replace that particular 'Boondocks' with a golden oldie from the vaults [and explain why]." Interestingly, I made a similar suggestion to Vaden when I spoke with him personally about this matter. I suggested the N&O not run 'The Boondocks' or any other comic strip, etc., whenever it uses the Lord's name in vain. I asked the same of the N&O's executive editor, Melanie Sill, but neither would give any assurances such action would be taken in the future. Vaden even resisted the notion saying such would be a form of censorship.
Sill has told me that I would do better in the future not to organize any "write-in" campaign to get the N&O to take Christian concerns seriously. All I need to do, she says, is simply to call her. Yet my conversations with both Sill and Vaden have failed to produce anything of substance heretofore. Sill would only encourage me to believe the N&O is already sensitive to Christian concerns and will be in the future.
Quite frankly, I find no comfort in such inconsistent, vague, and elusive statements of noncommittal. Here's what ought to happen: (1) 'The Boondocks,' which is a comic strip of questionable morality, should, at the least, be moved by the N&O off the children's page to somewhere else in the paper. Grantlin is right, 'The Boondocks' is a comic strip more appropriate for adults and not children. (2) The N&O should assure its readers in writing that any comic strip, column, or story that uses the Lord's name in vain will not be run when it does so. Even the Federal Communications Commission bleeps out any use of the Lord's name in vain on the major television networks. Is it too much to ask the paper to abide by the same rule?
I want to take this opportunity to make certain promises to the Raleigh News & Observer. I promise never again to write any account regarding an N&O staff member or the N&O before checking that information with the paper itself. I also promise to print the N&O's side of the story. I additionally promise to first try and resolve any differences and concerns regarding future grievances with executive editor Melanie Sill before engaging in any kind of campaign against the paper. In response, the N&O should promise to embrace the preceding suggestions I made concerning 'The Boondocks' and the use of the Lord's name in vain. They should do this not because I suggested it, but because it's simply the right thing to do. For the N&O to do otherwise would only be just more double-talk -- a marginalizing of all of the concerns expressed by myself and numerous Christian people from in and out of the state, as nothing more than as Vaden put it, an "orchestrated protest from a remote control following" -- a response more egregious than the one Grantlin said he received.
Rev. Mark H. Creech (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.