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Half-baked reporting

Half-baked reporting

Silva, owner of Azucar Bakery in Denver (Associated Press/Photo by Ivan Moreno)

Remember last month’s trumpeted story about a Christian asking a Denver baker for a cake proclaiming “God hates gays”? Turns out the customer denies ever having requested that wording—and now the bakery owner, Marjorie Silva, says he’s right.

The story first went public in Out Front, a Denver LGBT newspaper that on Jan. 14 said a man ordering a Bible-shaped cake talked with pastry chef Lindsay Jones, who apparently did not want to use the specific word the customer had used: “‘He wanted us to write God hates …’ she trails. ‘Just really radical stuff against gays.’” The customer also spoke with Silva.

The next day a pro-gay website, NewNowNext, used Out Front as its source but upped the ante with a headline charging the customer with demanding “an obscene anti-gay cake.” The website did not identify the man but called him “a right-wing nut.” Later that day another website, the Inquisitr, repeated NewNowNext’s charge of obscenity and hyped the story further by showing a “God Hates …” cake with the third word covered over but the beginning of its first letter, “F,” still visible.

Five days after that the story jumped to major newspapers. On Jan. 20 USA Today identified the customer, evangelical educator Bill Jack, and said he “pulled out a piece of paper with phrases like ‘God hates gays’ and requested [the baker] to write them on his cakes.” Two days later The New York Times ran an Associated Press account with Silva’s story that Jack “showed her a piece of paper with hateful words about gays that he wanted written on the cake.” That same day The Washington Post said Jack wanted “anti-gay phrases including ‘God hates gays.’”

ABC News and other major media repeated the charge. On Jan. 26 The Daily Beast website, which has merged with Newsweek, ran this headline: “My Big Fat Anti-Gay Wedding Cake: When Haters Cry Discrimination.” The website, like the major newspapers, did not invest in additional reporting—but it did invest in creating a picture of the purported cake.

That same day, though, Bill Jack told WORLD that he had requested two cakes in the shape of an open Bible, with the first cake showing on one page, “God hates sin—Psalm 45:7,” and on the facing page, “Homosexuality is a detestable sin—Leviticus 18:22.” Jack says 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 said he made this request because of the lawsuit against another Denver bakery 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, so he filed a complaint about the Azucar Bakery with Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies. (Disclosure: Jack’s Worldview Academy advertises in WORLD.)

In tracing out this timeline I suspected we’d have a classic “he said, she said” story, but I asked Kiley Crossland, one of our Denver correspondents, to visit the Azucar Bakery and ask whether Jack specifically requested the words “God Hates Gays.” On Jan. 30 at 3:45 p.m. Crossland found Silva at Azucar and popped the question. Silva said Jack did not ask for that wording.

Crossland and Silva sat at a table in the lobby of the bakery until about 4:10 p.m. It was a quiet afternoon, with only two or three customers walking in as they spoke. To be sure, Crossland asked Silva again: Did Jack request “God Hates Gays”? Silva said he did not, and said she thought it weird that pictures of cakes with “God Hates Gays” were appearing, because Jack did not ask for that.

We’ll track whether any of the publications that got the story wrong run corrections. For my analysis of why the misreporting occurred, please turn to “Anatomy of a media mugging” in this issue.

Comments

  • VortexSpin
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:04 pm

    I've had the opportunity to meet Bill Jack and hear him speak on several occasions - at Worldview Academy as well as TeenPact Leadership Schools where he used to serve as a guest speaker. He was something of an inveterate prankster, quick to crack jokes and engage in some good-natured needling. (All with a devilish twinkle in his eye.) To those who would criticize him for stirring up the proverbial hornet's nest - Mr. Jack isn't to blame. The world will always leap at an opportunity to paint Christians as bigoted monsters. We cannot concern ourselves with avoiding that portrayal. Instead, we must concern ourselves with spreading the message of sin and how it separates us from the holy God - and the good news of Christ's redemption that will justify us before Him.

  • markp
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:04 pm

    I could think of a thousand better ways to apply that scripture than to put it on a cake in Denver.