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WORLD's response to Zondervan's ethics charges

Issue: "Bailing Out," June 14, 1997

I) WORLD's reporting was professional, careful, internally consistent, thoroughly documented, and verified by the fact that 10 weeks after the story was first released, Zondervan, IBS, and CBT-after denying the existence of any firm plans to change the NIV-have conspicuously reversed course and abandoned those plans. (See IBS's press release) Challenges to the story have been sloppy, contradictory, off the point, constantly changing, and not credible to large segments of the Christian public. This controversy highlights the distinction between two types of EPA members, journalists and public-relations officials. The intense interest in this story by the Christian public is a special reminder that whereas public-relations officials work for their companies or organizations, journalists work for their readers. Many times, as in this case, those loyalties come into conflict. While we regard these ethics charges as baseless, the members of the ethics committee have before them a historic decision: they have the power to promote independent Christian journalism or to stifle it. That these charges are even seriously being entertained by the EPA creates a chilling effect against reports that may not please powerful organizations.

II) Extensive portions of the complaint to EPA point to the effect among the evangelical public after learning about plans for the NIV. We urge that all such references be set aside; they are irrelevant to the quality of WORLD's coverage. It is classic corporate public relations practice to shift the focus from the problem itself and to blame the messenger. WORLD was not the party making decisions that proved highly unpopular with the NIV's traditional audience. Those who made the decisions bear responsibility for any loss of trust.

III) WORLD's coverage does indeed carry an adversarial tone and edge-"courageous," to use the term used in EPA's code of ethics . We were originally persuaded, and continue to be persuaded by all subsequent developments, that the evangelical church was being significantly offended. The tone is not different from dozens of pieces carried by other independent EPA publications through the years (Sojourners, The Other Side, etc.) on other topics. Perhaps the significant difference is that this time multi-million dollar organizations with extensive interests throughout the evangelical world have been offended, and then utilized their powerful public relations capabilities to speak back.

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IV) Three complaints about facts can be dealt with quickly:
a. WORLD concedes an error in initially referring to the "Committee for Biblical Translation" rather than the "Committee on Bible Translation." This error occurred in a single instance, and we have acknowledged it in our June 14 issue.
b. We regret that Mrs. Waggoner was offended by our referring to her as Ms. Waggoner. This was not, however, as charged in the complaint, an inconsistency in the application of our style. It is our regular practice to use the courtesy title "Ms." when we do not know the marital status of the woman referred to. In Donna Rice Hughes's case, the fact of her marriage was part of the story ("She wasn't Hughes then-just Donna Rice.").
c. The 35 percent figure-referring to the NIV's market share-was provided to WORLD by Kenneth Barker, spokesman for the NIV. Zondervan's own website uses a 34.4 percent figure. If Zondervan provides evidence that Mr. Barker and its website are mistaken, we will be glad to run a correction.

Responses to specific charges within the complaint:

1. COMPLAINT: While Zondervan Publishing House is mentioned throughout the article, we were not approached for comment or even factual confirmation as the story was being written. This is simply the most rudimentary of all professional journalism principles and it was not practiced.
RESPONSE: The story is primarily about the translation of the NIV, not its production and marketing. Zondervan is mentioned only four brief times in a four-page story. WORLD still stands by all four references. The New York Times and National Public Radio have done stories about this controversy, mentioning WORLD. Their reporters have never talked to WORLD, and we never expected them to. Do The New York Times and NPR therefore not practice the "most rudimentary of all professional journalism principles"?

2. COMPLAINT: In his Publisher's message printed in the August 17/24, 1996 issue of WORLD, Joel Belz wrote, "I hope you won't be unduly scandalized if I tell you how I typically go about reporting a news story. Readers are best served, I have found, if I decide very early in the process what I think the story should say. Then I deliberately look for details to back up my preconception....[T]he idea is basic to our approach here at WORLD...."
RESPONSE: Zondervan is as artful at taking statements out of context as it claims WORLD is. Zondervan should be embarrassed to use a quote so grotesquely out of context-and in an ethics complaint, of all places. The full article is available on WORLD's website and to anyone who asks.


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