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Misquotes lead to firing of Baptist Press reportercomment (0)

May 1, 2003


The Baptist Press (BP) announced April 11 that it will discontinue use of articles written by Todd Starnes. In an April 7 BP story, Starnes misquoted U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige. The story had church state watchdogs and public school advocates calling for Paige’s resignation.

According to the story by Starnes, Paige said he ‘would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith.”

The story also said that Paige considered the “animosity to God in public school settings …puzzling,” and represented him as favoring strong values taught in religious schools over the diversity of thoughts taught in public schools.

Public school officials in Washington and several civil rights groups attacked Paige’s reported comments. A few members of Congress called for Paige to apologize or resign. On April 10, Paige held a press conference to clarify his quoted remarks. He made clear his comments used in the article refered to institutions of higher learning, not elementary or secondary schools. “I understand completely and respect the separation of church and state,” said Paige. He clarified that his personal preferences had nothing to do with his job as the education secretary.

An interview tape showed that Starnes asked Paige whether public or Christian universities had the “best deal.” Paige responded, “Each of them have strong points and some have vulnerabilities, but, all things being equal, I’d prefer to have a child in a school where there is a strong appreciation for values, the kinds of values I think are associated with the Christian communities, so that this child can be brought up in an environment that teaches them to have a strong faith and to understand that there is a force greater than them personally.”

Paige said his comments were used out of context and were used to lead readers to think he was discussing a preference for Christian values in elementary and secondary education, rather than at the college level.

A note from BP said, “We regret the misrepresentations by the writer.”


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