Cake baking and journalistic story baking
Media | The mainstream media misreports Bill Jack’s message on God and gays
by Marvin Olasky
Posted 1/27/15, 03:35 pm
Bill Jack goes on the offensive today in the Colorado cake-baking story that’s received enormous media attention over the past week.
Jack is a founder of and frequent speaker at Worldview Academy summer camps that train students to think and live Christianly. The Washington Post, USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor, and many other media powers have lambasted him for purportedly asking the owner of Azucar Bakery in Denver to decorate a cake with “anti-gay slogans,” particularly “God hates gays.”
But Jack’s account of what he asked for is very different. In an email to WORLD, he wrote that he requested two cakes in the shape of an open Bible. He asked that the first cake show on one page, “God hates sin—Psalm 45:7,” and on the facing page, “Homosexuality is a detestable sin—Leviticus 18:22.” He requested that the second cake have on one page, “God loves sinners,” and on the facing page, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us—Romans 5:8.”
Jack explained that he made this request because of a complaint filed with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission against another Denver bakery, Masterpiece Cakeshop, for refusing to make a wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage. Jack wanted to see if those charging discrimination against gays would care about discrimination against Christians.
The Washington Post reported the story this way: “Jack walked into Azucar Bakery last March and asked for two cakes, both in the shape of Bibles. That wasn’t a problem for Marjorie Silva, the bakery’s owner. It was what Jack wanted her to write on the cake: Anti-gay phrases including ‘God hates gays.’”
The Los Angeles Times and other publications similarly accepted Silva’s account as fact.
The Associated Press, though, followed basic journalistic rules by suggesting that this was Silva’s side of things, not necessarily the truth: “Silva said the man showed her a piece of paper with hateful words about gays that he wanted written on the cake.” USA Today added that Jack “wouldn’t let employees make a copy of the paper and would not read the words out loud, Silva claims.”
“Claims” is an important qualifier, and that leads to a second question: Did reporters try to find out what Jack said and claimed? The Washington Post reporter and others did not indicate any such attempt. The AP reporter, though, wrote, “Jack did not respond to emails from The Associated Press seeking comment. No one answered the door at the address listed for Jack in Castle Rock [Colorado.].”
I asked Jack last night (disclosure: Worldview Academy advertises with WORLD) whether he had told reporters what he requested. “I have been very open about what I requested on the cakes in different public venues including when I spoke to sessions at the Christian Home Educators of Colorado Convention in June and on a local radio station (KLZ) about a month or so ago,” he responded. “I have not spoken directly with any journalist about what I requested on the cakes.”
He went on to explain that the first Denver station to report the story did “a hatchet job, a classic example of yellow journalism,” so when another station contacted him, he said he “offered a generic statement. … I certainly did not want to give an on-camera interview to 9News, the NBC affiliate in Denver. After all, as an old, bald, white guy, even if the reporter is honest, the editor could choose just the right camera angle to make me look like an angry, old, skinhead.”
I asked Jack specifically about the AP’s statement concerning his refusal to comment. “I did not respond to the AP request,” he said. “I am avoiding print [with the exception of WORLD] and television at this time since I have no recourse if misquoted or if my comments are taken out of context.”
Jack’s skepticism about journalistic balance and honesty is well-founded. He probably would have been portrayed as an angry skinhead. And yet, the result is a classic downward spiral. Reporters are unfair and Christians don’t talk, which leads to more unfairness, which leads to more Christian silence. In the meantime (and this is a mean time), The Daily Beast even runs a photo showing a cake with the words “God Hates Gays” to illustrate its story.
Happily, Jack is now fighting back.
“Due to the inaccuracies reported by the original Fox News affiliate, which were repeated by every other source since, I have decided to give radio interviews—one Tuesday afternoon again on Denver’s KLZ and another on Thursday afternoon with Denver’s 710 AM radio to state accurately what I requested,” he wrote to me last night. “I am, also, releasing statements to other venues to correct the misreporting.”
Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has also been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism. Marvin resides with his wife, Susan, in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.