bullying

False charges: Did journalists spot a crucial fact about Karen Pence's Christian school?

False charges: Did journalists spot a crucial fact about Karen Pence's Christian school?

On one level, what we have here is another sad, tragic, case of a person of color making false accusations of racism — violent racism in this case — against other people.

That’s an important story. But wait! There was a chance to link this attack to Donald Trump and his White House team. That makes it a bigger story, right? Maybe even a national story. #Obviously

We will deal with those issues rather quickly, because I think there is another interesting news story hidden inside this case study. It’s an angle that The Washington Post didn’t dwell on, but managed to handle in a way that was accurate and fair. NBC News, on the other hand, settled for stereotypes and politics.

Let’s start with NBC and this dramatic double-decker headline, before this story took a dramatic twist:

3 boys at Christian school where Karen Pence teaches allegedly cut black girl's dreadlocks

"They said my hair was nappy and I was ugly," the sixth-grade girl said.

That headline does say “allegedly,” which is important since the 12-year-old girl has now said the attack never happened. Her family says she made it up. That’s really all we need to say about that, methinks.

What interests me is how NBC handled the school involved in this story. This whole situation is newsworthy, of course, because Karen Pence teaches at this Christian school.

So, a black girl is bullied — with racist taunts — in a Christian school that is, somehow, connected to the white evangelical empire of Donald Trump.

Many readers probably asked: Why was this African-American student attending a white evangelical school? She was doomed from the start, since this has to be a white evangelical school if Karen Pence is teaching there. Right? All of those evangelical “Christian” schools are for white people, you know.

Now let’s turn to the Washington Post story that ran with this headline: “Virginia sixth-grader now says she falsely accused classmates of cutting her hair.” Here is the crucial statement from the family:

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Hey Houston Chronicle, what does it mean that superintendent accused of bullying 'found God?'

Hey Houston Chronicle, what does it mean that superintendent accused of bullying 'found God?'

Yes, there's a religion angle in the case of a Houston-area school superintendent accused of bullying a classmate as a teen. More on that in a moment.

But first, the crucial background: The top story in Sunday's Houston Chronicle concerned the furor surrounding the leader of the 77,000-student Katy Independent School District, west of Houston.

Superintendent Lance Hindt has made national headlines since a man named Greg Barrett accused Hindt of bullying him as a teen.

“Lance, you were the one who shoved my head in the urinal,” Barrett told Hindt at a March 19 school board meeting.

The Chronicle noted:

Since then, Hindt’s tenure as superintendent has come under nationwide scrutiny amid questions about his leadership and how long someone should be held responsible for something they might have done as a teenager.
Hindt denied the incident, but the controversy continued to snowball as allegations surfaced that an 18-year-old Hindt had beaten a man into a five-day coma and had thrown weights at his teammates. Hindt canceled a scheduled interview last week with a Houston Chronicle reporter but answered questions by email.
“I was disappointed by the accusation because it simply was not me who was involved in the incident described,” Hindt wrote. “I by no means suggest that the gentleman was not bullied, only that I was not part of it. Bullying is wrong. Period.”
The allegations have left the community of over 300,000 divided, with a petition to terminate and another in support of the superintendent circulating on the internet. The two sides are squaring off on Facebook, and a few are lobbing hate email to board members and threats of violence against the superintendent and his family.

So far, no religion angle.

And honestly, I wasn't reading the story as a GetReligion media critic. I was simply interested in the subject matter.

But then — bam! — came the faith element:

Some are stunned that Hindt initially seemed to chuckle when the allegations were made and didn’t offer an apology. Hindt, who previously led the Allen and Stafford school districts, told staff in an email last week that he was not a perfect teenager and has since found God.

Alrighty. Now we've got a religion angle. My immediate question: Exactly what does it mean that Hindt has "found God?"

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Your weekend think piece: Scribe lets God respond to The New York Daily News

Your weekend think piece: Scribe lets God respond to The New York Daily News

So what kinds of thoughts pop into your mind when you are watching a newscast, after some kind of tragedy, and the anchor-person ends a report by saying, "All of our thoughts are with the families involved in this event," or words to that effect.

The key buzz word, of course, is "thoughts." In some parts of America, anchor-people still dare to say "thoughts and prayers."

Either way, here is what I usually think when I hear that: "Really?"

Cynical? You betcha. This brings me, of course, to this week's media storm about The New York Daily News cover -- in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre -- with the infamous "God Isn't Fixing This" banner headline. Click here for Julia Duin's post on the "prayer shaming" debate that followed that piece.

The key, of course, was whether one took the headline as a shot a God, a shot at Republicans who issued statements about praying for the victims (as opposed to calls for gun-control legislation) or as both.

Lots of folks, this week, asked why I thought the Daily News ran that headline. I immediately thought about the numbers in the Pew Forum report that put the "nones" -- the growing number of religiously unaffiliated Americans -- in the news. You may recall that one implication of that survey was that a coalition of secularists, "nones" and our nation's small cohort of religious liberals was now the largest constituency group in today's Democratic Party.

Clearly, Democrats -- with the media that service them -- need to please that base, from time to time (just as Republicans have to worry about the concerns of the very religious). Might the Daily News leaders (who desperately need someone to fund their newspaper) have been courting that audience?

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