Tuesday, Sep 25, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Jack Lessenberry

COMMENTARY

‘Minister’ term, election results, analysis irritate readers

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Donald “Dee” Carr, a fine reporter for The Blade back in the early 1980s before he changed careers and became a teacher, raised an interesting question: “My concern is the case of the three Toledo pastors accused of child trafficking. My son is an ordained minister with a master’s degree in divinity, and I know very well the effort it takes and the vast knowledge he has gained.”

His problem is that not everyone who calls themselves a minister has had that kind of training — and he doesn’t think The Blade attempts to sort that out. “I don’t have any facts or figures to back me up, but I know that many of these church pastors have no formal Biblical or other education. My concern is whether these three pastors are ordained … to me, it’s a very crucial issue, especially given the time and money my son put into it.”

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Dave Murray, The Blade’s managing editor, is aware of the issue, but said the newspaper doesn’t rely in such cases on academic credentials, but on government classifications.

In the case of the pastors arrested for alleged child sex trafficking, he said that at first “we referred to Mr. Jenkins as a minister because we knew he was the pastor of a large church in South Toledo. We didn’t identify Mr. Haynes as a minister,” he said, because he seemed not to have an actual fixed congregation.

That changed, however, when a reporter found that both Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Haynes were registered with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office as ministers. After that, The Blade began identifying both men as ministers in the many stories that followed.

The same was true for another defendant, Kenneth Butler, who was later arrested; he was also listed in the state database as a minister. Regardless of what any of these men’s academic credentials may be, Mr. Murray said “if the FBI and the Ohio Secretary of State’s office consider them ministers and pastors , that’s how The Blade will refer to them.”

Your ombudsman thinks The Blade is making the right call here. No newspaper has any business trying to determine the authenticity of religious credentials.

With some religions, it is fairly easy to sort out credentials; there is a long-established and very clear hierarchy within the Roman Catholic Church, for example. There’s no confusion about how one gets to be a cardinal or a bishop.

But every denomination is different; some ultra-Orthodox Jews don’t recognize Reform Jews as being authentically Jewish, for example. Using the way the state classifies clergy to determine their title seems a decent and fair solution.

By the way, it bears noting that the three pastors above are now in prison awaiting trial in federal court next year on sex trafficking charges. But they are innocent until proven guilty — and so deserve the titles Reverend and Mr. unless and until convicted of a felony.

Now that this year’s elections are over, Fred Nofziger of Maumee wanted to know “why was there not one word of mention concerning the three-way race for Monclova Township trustee in The Blade? It is the fastest-growing township in Lucas County.”

Most of the time, when I get complaints of this nature, I find that the reader simply missed the story. But this time, The Blade did indeed drop the ball, as Managing Editor Murray admitted.

“I am embarrassed that we didn’t provide better election coverage for our voters living in suburban townships. We mentioned township races in advance of Election Day in our voters’ guides, but we did not report on the results of several township trustee races and township levies. This won’t happen again,” he said.

For the record, Barbara Lang, who got 2,400 votes, and Brian D. Craig, who got 2,053, were elected to Monclova Township trustee positions, according to complete but unofficial returns.

Donald D. Flenner, Jr., trailed with 867 votes.

Paul Wohlfarth, a faithful Blade reader and frequent letter-writer from Ottawa Lake, Mich., complained that he “noticed the Toledo Blade is not covering the NEXUS pipeline or any other pipeline news. In the last week, two stories stood out: One, the Orion, Michigan pipeline gas explosion and Two ...The City of Green pipeline court stay. What gives with the Toledo Blade?”

Your ombudsman looked into this, and asked the editors.

“Neither of these stories made the daily wire budget,” compiled by the editors based on information they get, primarily from the Associated Press, Mr. Murray said.

However, while not huge game-changing developments, they probably should have been mentioned in The Blade.

The first story Mr. Wohlfarth mentioned involved a ruptured gas line and a terrific explosion and fireball near the Great Lakes Crossing shopping mall, some 84 miles north of the Ohio border.

While the flames could be seen from 30 miles away, it happened in a largely undeveloped area. No lives were lost; little damage was done, the fire was out in an hour, and the cause of the rupture remains uncertain.

The other story was about a three-judge federal appellate panel in Cleveland issuing an emergency order to temporarily halt the start of construction on a $2 billion natural gas pipeline.

The city of Green in Summit County has been fighting the pipeline, primarily because their leaders believe locating a portion of it within their borders will be very harmful to both their economy and wildlife in the area. A full hearing of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to be scheduled, but the court will eventually rule.

These are both stories, especially the second, that did merit some mention, at least as briefs. “We take coverage of the environment seriously,” City Editor Kim Bates told me Tuesday, noting a front-page story that day on the Asian carp menace.

“We should have had these stories, want to have more stories, and intend to step up our coverage of the environment,” she said.

Finally, longtime reader and Blade critic Denny Shea of Sylvania Township objected to a story on Nov. 9 analyzing voting patterns in Toledo’s mayoral election. “Shame on The Blade for trying to interject racism into Toledo politics with [that story],” he said.

“Just what Toledo needs — more racial animosity.”

Well, sorry, Mr. Shea, but I totally disagree. The story was, I thought, a sophisticated political analysis showing that Toledo voters divided among racial lines in this year’s mayoral election a bit more than in past contests where black candidates have faced white candidates.

That’s the kind of analytical and in-depth explanatory journalism newspapers, more than any other media, excel at doing.

Anyone who has a concern about fairness or accuracy in The Blade is invited to write me, c/o The Blade; 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, 43660, or at my Detroit office: 555 Manoogian Hall, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI 48202; call me, at 1-888-746-8610 or E-Mail me at OMBLADE@aol.com.

I cannot promise to address every question in the newspaper, but I do promise that everyone who contacts me with a serious question will get a personal reply. Reminder, however: If you don’t leave me an e-mail address or a phone number, I have no way to get in touch with you.

Jack Lessenberry is the head of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and a former national editor of The Blade.

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