What in the world was the Wall Street Journal thinking when it sent its “deputy Taste editor” to cover the three-day meeting of the New Baptist Covenant?

That’s right, “deputy Taste editor.”

So, what’s a “deputy Taste editor?” According to an e-mail memo from Journal editor Paul Gigot, Naomi Schaefer Riley became the deputy Taste editor in June 2005 with “major responsibility for soliciting and editing articles on Friday’s Taste page.”

Would the Wall Street Journal’s Taste page be a section for the wealthy wine and cheese crowd? Well, I don’t know.

I do know that the deputy Taste editor’s Friday column about the New Baptist Covenant was full of errors and cynical.

The first error was that the NBC was a “group of self-described ‘moderate’ Baptists, who were unhappy with having lost several leadership elections in the SBC.”

Wrong. American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.; National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.; National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.; North American Baptist Conference USA & Canada and Progressive National Baptist Convention–to name a few of the participating organizations–never lost an election in the Southern Baptist Convention. These bodies are not part of the SBC.

The deputy Taste editor did what the Washington Post’s Sally Quinn did in a video last week. She confused Baptists with Southern Baptists, illustrating one of the driving reasons why many of us supported this gathering: to correct the misperception within the media that Southern Baptists represent all Baptists.

And for the record, moderate Southern Baptists lost more than “several leadership elections.” Several would mean a couple, right? No, moderate Southern Baptists have lost almost 30 years worth of elections, making one wonder when they will stop beating the dead horse.

The second error was the identification of the North American Baptist Fellowship as an “historically black” organization. NABF is the regional arm of the Baptist World Alliance, an umbrella group that backed the meeting and from whom the SBC withdrew. But it is not “historically black.”

True, its president, David Goatley, is an African-American Baptist. Did the deputy Taste editor assume that because Goatley is an African-American that the group must be historically a black Baptist group? Did the editor think that only a black minister could lead a black body? Did the editor assume that white Baptists would not, could not, elect an African-American Baptist as a leader? What does this mistake say about the editor’s racial profiling?

The third error is labeling the gathering as the “religious left.” I can sympathize with this mistake, especially since too many reporters and TV news show hosts see reality in a bi-polar way. Everything is either/or, left or right, liberal or conservative. Fortunately, reality has a richer texture than such misleading simplicity.

The deputy Taste editor even noted the gathering’s texture with notations about two women who disagreed on the issue of homosexuality. Nonetheless, NBC is not part of the “religious left.” It’s part of the Baptist community that places Jesus’ moral mission statement at the heart of its life.

The fourth error was writing that Al Gore “was preaching to the converted.” No, that could not have been further from the truth.

Best I can tell Baptists have done precious little personally and corporately about global warming, about the biblical mandate to care for the earth. I do think Gore did convert a lot of folks, however.

The fifth error was this sentence: “Mr. Parham noted with disappointment that the people of that city failed to ‘recognize’ Mr. Gore’s recent Nobel Prize victory.” That’s not what I said.

Here’s exactly what I said (click here to view the video clip): “We have with us today a Baptist prophet who is so unacceptable that the Baptist establishment in his hometown of Nashville neither acknowledged his winning the Nobel Peace Prize, nor honored with coverage his notable Nobel lecture.” I did not reference the people of Nashville. I said “the Baptist establishment.”

As a matter of fact, The Tennessean newspaper named Al Gore as its “Tennessean of the Year,” three days after EthicsDaily.com named him as its “Baptist of the Year.”

The deputy Taste editor was especially sarcastic about Gore’s luncheon presentation and my introduction of him. While I regret that she choose to mock his citation of the Bible, I’m thankful to be associated with him in the first two paragraphs of her column and appreciate the credit.

It really is too bad that the deputy Taste editor was so cynical about the use of the Bible and had so many errors of fact. If this piece is evidence of the Wall Street Journal’s commitment to accuracy, then Journal needs an editor who knows something about religion and good reporting.

Is this really the best the Wall Street Journal could do?

Robert Parham is executive editor of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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