Oct 4th, 2006 · Categories: PCUSA · 7 Comments

PCUSA: Do we need a spin doctor?

In a story on the just-concluded GAC meeting in Louisville, the Layman Online reported this little nugget:

After the issue of communications was raised, one council member suggested the denomination needed to hire a press secretary to make sure the news is positive. Council members have frequently complained that news stories – even some from the denomination’s Presbyterian News Service – have given the council and the denomination a negative image.

This was a joke, right? Surely this unidentified council member didn’t mean to suggest that a PR flack could alter reality and “make sure the news [of the PCUSA] is positive.” Surely he or she didn’t believe that squandering the denomination’s shrinking funds on a spin doctor would be responsible stewardship – or be likely to succeed. Surely this council member wasn’t serious.

Alas, the unidentified member probably was serious and simply reflecting a common knee-jerk reaction to published reports that the denomination has once again done something dumb. This blame-the-press/control-the-press mindset is well-established in the PCUSA.

Oscar McCloud of the New York City Presbytery tried the same tactic at the 217th GA with regard to the divestment debacle. Rather than just admit that trying to punish Israel for the actions of Palestinian terrorists was a bad idea, he offered this language instead: “We regret any reporting that has caused any misunderstanding of the PCUSA’s commitment to peace and justice in Palestine and Israel.” [emphasis added] McCloud seemed to be saying “We’re fine with beating up on Israel; we just regret that it was accurately reported.” A few others climbed on the same tired, old bandwagon but, in the end, the GA wasn’t interested.

[In the same story, McCloud was credited with a brutally frank and accurate assessment of how the PCUSA responds when the GA’s actions cause members to suffer: “I don’t believe we have a tradition of apologizing when what we do pains Presbyterians.” Indeed.]

Those of us who have been around for a while remember 1993 when the Louisville bureaucrats thought they could manage the news of the original Re-Imaging God conference. But the news was too awful and too widespread. It eventually cost one staffer her job and was very likely the reason long-time Stated Clerk James Andrews lost his bid for re-election in 1996. [At the time, given his efforts to paint a happy face on the hideous paganism that permeated the conference, I thought Andrews got what he deserved. Looking back over the reign of the man who defeated him, I’m not so sure.]

These folks remind me of Amity mayor Larry Vaughn in the movie Jaws. He had to deal with the arrival – just before the lucrative Fourth of July weekend – of a man-eating shark off the town’s beach. His solution to the problem was spin control. Ignoring the obvious danger to both swimmers and the long-term welfare of his town and its merchants, he tried to manage the news and minimize the threat.

He was living in a dream world, of course; no positive word, however skillfully spun, could deter the great white shark patrolling the waters crowded with bathers. But Larry tried, fully prepared to sacrifice both people and Amity’s future for a profitable holiday.

We shake our heads at Larry’s lack of integrity. We wonder at the blind self-interest that leads people like him to think they can change the harsh realities they face by trying to “make sure the news is positive”. But the truth has a nasty habit of leaking out despite the best (or worst) intentions of those who would like to mask or hide it.

The PNS isn’t going away; we hope it won’t be compromised any more than it already is.* The Layman isn’t going away; neither are the readers who find it – with all its flaws – more trustworthy than the denomination. The secular press that reported the GA’s stealthy implementation of local option and the PPC’s publication of David Griffin’s trashy book isn’t going away. The truth isn’t going away.

If the PCUSA wants to “make sure the news is positive”, it should make positive news.


* For example, the PNS story on the “Hope of the Church” conference in July simply gushed with enthusiasm and good vibes over the optimistic assessment by “this unprecedented body of PC(USA) heavyweights, including 16 general assembly (GA) moderators and nearly all of the 11 PC(USA) seminary presidents.” Curiously absent was any mention of former moderator David Dobler’s sober assessment that the PCUSA was already in schism.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 4th, 2006 at 11:46 pm and is filed under PCUSA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 Responses to “PCUSA: Do we need a spin doctor?”

  1. Quotidian Grace Says:

    October 5th, 2006 at 2:07 pm

    The PNS is a house organ with marginal credibility on both sides of the church these days,isn’t it? Then headquarters wonders why The Layman and the publications from other conservative groups are widely read. The More Light folks and their allies also have their own publications and websites for the same reason. Thanks for the historical perspective on this!

  2. Dave Moody Says:

    October 5th, 2006 at 2:46 pm

    “Looking back over the reign of the man..”

    Can we PLEASE say ‘tenure’ and not ‘reign.’ We ought not encourage said clerk’s, uh, majesterial ex cathedra type aspirations. He’s a clerk, not a bishop, for heavens sake.

    That said, thanks for the blog.

  3. Grumpy Says:

    October 5th, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    qg: I included them just because people seem to think they’re TOO honest about problems.

    dm: Of course I agree with you. I chose “reign” for the very reason that said Stated Clerk seems to view himself as an ersatz bishop.

    Thanks for visiting.

  4. Classical Presbyterian Says:

    October 5th, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    I really found that comment that you cite prety funny. Talk about clueless, eh?

    There are people like that on every committee that I have been a part of. I call them the ‘ostrich types’–They pull their head out of the sand and then make some comment that tells everyone else in the room how out of touch they are.

    But usually there is not a reporter in the room to write it down…

    How embarassing.

  5. Grumpy Says:

    October 5th, 2006 at 11:43 pm

    I don’t know if it was lazy reporting or kindness or something else that kept the member’s name out of the story. Probably just as well.

  6. will spotts Says:

    October 6th, 2006 at 1:25 am

    There is another issue aside from cluelessness and denial. Spin of the kind described is by its very nature dishonest. I can’t see how anyone claiming to worship One who called Himself the Truth could believe that dishonesty was the right thing to do.

  7. Larry Says:

    October 6th, 2006 at 2:54 am

    The GAC seems to not have a clue regarding what the media thinks about them. The leadership’s outlandish actions have made the PCUSA the butt of jokes and in some cases the PCUSA gets blamed for doing something stupid that they were not involved (one radio talk show host blamed the Presbyterians for bringing Khatami to the National Cathedral).

    Those Presbyterians who have no problem with the antics like Trinity Report are the first to criticize the Layman for reporting the news. If the denominational leadership stopped being stupid, then the Layman and other media would have nothing to report.

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