A story this week by the Associated Press has caused quite a stir, especially among African-Americans, when multiple news outlets ran it with the attention-grabbing headline, “Some black pastors are telling their flocks to stay home Election Day.”
When I first saw the headline, I was stunned, especially knowing the blood that has been shed over the years by African-Americans and others to gain the precious right to vote.
I read the more than 1,300-word story by Rachel Zoll, with a contribution from Bill Barrow. The first line was “Some black clergy see no good presidential choice between a Mormon candidate and one who supports gay marriage, so they are telling their flocks to stay home on Election Day.”
Nothing in the story legitimately backed up that first line. Anybody who had read the full article would know that.
In reading the piece, Zoll and Barrow quote or mention pastors A.R. Bernard, Jamal Bryant, George Nelson Jr., Floyd James, and Howard-John Wesley, Lin Hill and Dwight McKissic.
Not a single one of these pastors was quoted as saying they have or plan to tell their congregations not to vote in the presidential election. Not one.
Several expressed misgivings about President Barack Obama’s support for same-sex marriage, and others had negative thoughts about Mitt Romney being a Mormon or the effect of his policies on their congregants. One said he hasn’t decided whom he will vote for, and McKissic said he’ll go fishing on Election Day.
But not a one said they were telling their members not to vote.
The only time this assertion that pastors are telling their congregations to stay home comes from a quote, lifted from another newspaper. The story quotes Bryant as telling the Washington Informer, “This is the first time in black church history that I’m aware of that black pastors have encouraged their parishioners not to vote.”
The reporters couldn’t reach him to ask him about it, but going ahead and using the quote is suspect. The writers provide no specifics, no context, or anything else. Bryant said he was aware of this, not that he knew anyone. This is third-hand reporting. Unless you as a reporter know of specific pastors telling their congregations not to vote, it’s wrong to make the assumption.
Bryant even tweeted the AP after the story ran: “WHEN did you contact @jamalhbryant <https://twitter.com/jamalhbryant> in order to get his statement on voting? you need to revisit this & be accurate.”