In praise of editorial freedom


The editor was in Germany so the phone call to The Christian Index office was forwarded to me (the managing editor at the time). It was an influential pastor and elected leader of the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC) wanting to spend some of his influence.

He had a news tip for me regarding the upcoming GBC presidential election: the current GBC president was not running for a customary second term and another pastor had been tapped for the position by the inner circle.

He instructed me to put the story on the front page of the next issue along with a letter of endorsement he was sending. He wanted me to stand guard over the fax machine for the next several minutes as the secret, crucial information was transmitted.

Then he said I needed to be sure that no other candidate’s name would arise in print before the readers saw this planned nomination and endorsement.

I thanked him for sharing this information and affirmed it to be newsworthy. A story about the candidate’s nomination would go in the next issue, I said.

Then, I added, his letter to the editor would likely be placed in the appropriate section of the following issue since that section for the upcoming issue was full.

He became agitated that I was not responding to each demand with a hearty “Yes, sir.” I kindly explained that news (a candidate not running for a second term and another being nominated to take his place) is appropriate for the front page. The letter to the editor, however, was not. Neither would it be placed ahead of other letters.

His voice became more threatening telling me the convention owns the newspaper (as if I didn’t know that) and how much influence he had in the convention, and so on. He wanted me to know that he could get this done with my help or not.

It was the beginning of the end — or ends. For me, it was the first step toward voluntarily leaving the historic newspaper and 18 years of employment with the convention.

Fundamentalism has no regard for a free press. Shaping and controlling the information getting to the people is an important tool for fundamentalists. (That’s why bloggers drive them crazy; they can’t control them.)

Also, it was the beginning of the end for any semblance of editorial freedom and fairness of news coverage for the venerable publication. The gifted editor (who was criticized by one pastor for being “too fair”) was replaced by a loyal mouthpiece of the convention powerbrokers.

Now, a decade later and because of that earlier experience, I celebrate the editorial freedom granted to me by the Baptists Today Board of Directors, donors and subscribers.

They may disagree with my editorial positions or have different ideas about what topics deserve coverage. But our independence frees us from attempted intimidation or other efforts to control the flow of information to benefit one’s political agenda.

Texas Baptist leader David Currie (a Baptists Today director), in praising Baptist media with genuine editorial freedom, said in a recent commentary: “All of us need to remember and cherish how special it is to be a part of a free Baptist movement — and to have an independent news source that provides us with all of the news accurately, good and bad, gratifying and heart-breaking.”

Having seen the other side, I do cherish editorial freedom — and the responsibility that comes with it.

5 Comments

  1. Authoritarians always want to control the press, to control the "message". They also like to control the interpretation of the scripture, which is why we have the KJV in the first place.

    The Truth shall set you free, but without a free press, how will we know the truth?

  2. Anyone can read the Baptist Press and see that it is a self serving propaganda tool for the Southern Baptist Convention. Anyone can read the Associated Baptist Press (the same folks who had a monkey grip on the Southern Baptist press before their fingers were pried loose) and see that it is a self serving propaganda tool for the modernist Baptist left.

    Ho, hum.

    Mark Osgatharp
    Wynne, Arkansas

  3. Arce asked,

    "The Truth shall set you free, but without a free press, how will we know the truth?"

    Uh, the answer would be:

    "If you continue in my word then are you my disciples in deed, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free?"

    And,

    "Sanctify them through your truth. Your word is truth."

    Mark Osgatharp
    Wynne, Arkansas

  4. Mark, way to go with the Christ-like Spirit!

    You might spend some time and money investigating the actual historical roots of ABP instead of your caricatured recounting. You're dead wrong.

  5. Arce,

    I have to call into question your appraisal of the KJV. I'm not sure what your background is but the KJV was created to give a vernacular Bible to the English-speaking people; it wasn't written with the assumption of controlling interpretation. In my opinion certain brands of Fundamentalism are antagonistic towards other English versions because of ignorance (i.e. forgetting the KJV was scandalous in its own right when it ran against the Vulgate) rather than interpretational absolutism.

    However, I agree with your point, if not your example. Freedom of the press is an underestimated right (at least for the Americans among us) that we have been given. A round of "For He's A Jolly Good Fellow" for Dr. Pierce's stand for a free press!

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