Clarity & Integrity?

September 19, 2013

In an Ethics Daily article in July, I broke the news that the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) had quietly settled a lawsuit against it. The MBC's $500,000 settlement with the estate of the late William Jester (who countersued the MBC after they sued him), occurred in late 2012, but MBC leaders failed to report it to Missouri Baptists. That article, which was noted in an open letter by leaders of Windermere Baptist Conference Center and reprinted by other news outlets, prompted a response from the MBC's publication, The Pathway. Although that response included some factual inaccuracies, they did finally admit to the settlement as I reported in a follow-up article for Ethics Daily. Last month, the MBC's Executive Director, John Yeats, offered an additional response to my initial Ethics Daily article (although he seemed to ignore the second one). Although not naming me as The Pathway piece did, Yeats made a similar incorrect personal allusion about me that falsely claims I did not reveal relevant conflicts of interest. He wrote his comments in a column for The Pathway with a section he called "Clarity for integrity's sake." Unfortunately, his response failed to meet either attribute.

Here are a couple of the problems in the piece by Yeats (besides his incorrect claim that I did not reveal relevant conflicts of interest). First, he claimed the news of the settlement came from "a blogger" in "a blog entry." I suspect he might be using that language to try and downplay my credibility - although it is not a good argument since bloggers proved in 2004 that CBS News got its facts wrong about then-President George W. Bush and led to Dan Rather and several others being forced out of their jobs (and bloggers have been truth-tellers in several cases since then). Maybe that is not his reason, but it seems odd he repeatedly uses the "blogger" label because the news actually came from a news organization (Ethics Daily) and not my blog Groups like the Baptist Communicators Association, Religion Communicators Council, and Religion Newswriters Association have honored my work as a journalist - not a blogger - for my Ethics Daily articles. Second, he made the same mistake The Pathway response did as he claimed "our insurance company decided unilaterally to make a settlement payment to a deceased developer's probate and bankruptcy estates." As I pointed out in my second Ethics Daily article, The Pathway similarly left out the names of Jester and the insurance company. More importantly, I noted in that article how legal documents show that even if the insurance company paid the settlement, it is still legally treated as the MBC's settlement. Third, he tried to explain why the MBC leaders kept the settlement a secret:

While we disagreed with the insurance company's choice, we did not publicly voice our opinion so as to avoid upsetting its agreement with these other parties. We also attempted to honor our insurance company's agreement with third parties, which was to be kept confidential.
However, this is not a legitimate explaination because - as I explained in my second Ethics Daily article - the confidentiality agreement still stands so the fact that Yeats is talking about the settlement now means he could have talked about it then without upsetting the agreement. Also the seal on the settlement only prevented them from talking about the details of the settlement, but they still could have mentioned there was a settlement. Since the MBC leaders are supposed to serve Missouri Baptists - not the other way around - and since they have used the Jester counterclaim as justification for continuing their own lawsuits, it seems inappropriate to not make such news public. Although Yeats is still giving incomplete reports and making excuses, at least this "blogger" got him to finally tell people about the settlement!

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