WFAA Response: (taken whole and unedited from WFAA.com)
WFAA-TV respectfully disagrees that interview subjects in our stories are “disgruntled former members that are the source of these slanderous and inflammatory … accusations.” In fact, not one former member making critical remarks about Homestead as part of our investigation sought out our reporter. In every case, those willing to share their allegations of abuse and trauma were cautiously approached by Brett Shipp. Most were reluctant to speak on the record for fear of alienation from friends and family still closely associated with Homestead. In no case was it evident that any of our sources harbored “an agenda” as described by Homestead leaders. Every major allegation was unimpeachably corroborated by documents or by witnesses to events under scrutiny. We also reject the assertion that Shipp’s “methods and manner in pursuing the story demonstrated a bias and commitment to a preconceived story line.” An acceptable way to combat that assumption would be to grant an interview and or afford our reporter the opportunity to ask important questions and respond to specific allegations. WFAA has, for several months, given Homestead officials repeated opportunities to speak on the record in a recorded interview to tell their side of the story. They repeatedly declined to do so citing an inherent bias in Shipp’s reporting. Our mission in pursuing this story with vigor is simple. We were dealing with credible evidence that children have been and continued to be abused in a closed environment where members allegedly foster that abuse by “agreeing to never expose a member’s shortcomings and sins to any outside its covenant.” Those are not WFAA’s words. That is language taken directly from the contract prospective members are asked to sign before being accepted into the church.
1. The title over WFAA’s web page regarding our statement reads: “Statement from Homestead Heritage to WFAA” (emphasis added).
Actually, our statement title was: “Statement by Homestead Heritage for WFAA” (emphasis added). The distinction is important because the casual reader might assume from WFAA’s title that we wrote our statement to WFAA in response to their story about us. But in fact, as evidenced by the email below, we sent our statement to WFAA before we saw one word of their story, specifically requesting that it be included in their story to provide our side:
Dan Lancaster <****@gmail.com> Thu, Apr 19, 2012 at 8:41 PM
To: “Shipp, Brett” <****@wfaa.com>
Cc: “Carolyn Mungo”<****@wfaa.com>, “Devlin, Michael” <****@wfaa.com>
We ask that you include the attached statement in your story concerning our community. We ask that you would use it over and above any other material that you might use to represent our position in these matters.
Please confirm your receipt of this email and the attached statement.
For Homestead Heritage
Ironically paralleling exactly the trend set by the Texas Observer, WFAA included only one and half sentences from our statement in part two of their story. (Part one of their story made no mention that our statement even existed.)
As it turns out, our statement so perfectly anticipated their story line and angle that it could indeed appear plausible that we wrote it after the story. But, again, we sent it to them a full week before their story aired.
2. WFAA introduced our statement with these words: “Below is the complete, unedited statement from Homestead Heritage to WFAA...”
Though WFAA didn’t even mention our statement in their first broadcast and only used one and a half sentences from it in their second broadcast, we appreciate that they at least had the decency to post all of our statement on their website. It isn’t entirely true, however, that it is “unedited.” Our original statement included four live web links to sections of our website, but WFAA removed the link capabilities from their version of our statement to prevent their audience from being able to link directly to our site.
3a. “WFAA-TV respectfully disagrees that interview subjects in our stories are ‘disgruntled former members that are the source of these slanderous and inflammatory … accusations.’ In fact, not one former member making critical remarks about Homestead as part of our investigation sought out our reporter.”
Again, when we wrote our statement we had no certain knowledge of exactly who the interview subjects would even be in Shipp’s story. Our point was not that the interviewees personally “sought out [the] reporter.” Our point was that the accusations came from disgruntled former members. Is that not true? In what way has WFAA shown otherwise?
The second sentence above is cleverly constructed, for while it might be true that those individuals whom WFAA chose to make “part of [their] investigation” didn’t seek out Brett Shipp, we have much plausible evidence to suggest that other ex-members who didn’t want their names embroiled in the public story did seek out Shipp.
Moreover, while stating strongly that their interviewees were not the source of their story, WFAA doesn’t offer even a hint as to who was the source of their story.
See The Genesis of the WFAA Story for more background on the story’s origins.
3b. “Most were reluctant to speak on the record for fear of alienation from friends and family still closely associated with Homestead.”
This is obviously intended to imply that members of Homestead are prone to being harsh with family members who “expose” Homestead. But if we remove the assumption of Homestead’s guilt from the picture, it becomes clear that some ex-members would be reluctant to participate in this smear campaign because they knew that publicly slandering us would be likely indeed to affect their relationship with family members thus harmed.
Of course, there were scores of other ex-members (such as the 89 who signed a petition against this story) who refused to participate for a much simpler and more noble reason: they knew the accusations were false and that the story was an injustice.
In addition, some in this latter, larger group actually did offer to be interviewed in order to give a different side. They were ignored.
4. “In no case was it evident that any of our sources harbored ‘an agenda’ as described by Homestead leaders.”
Almost all of Brett Shipp’s selected witnesses have publicly attacked Homestead for many years and some can even be easily shown to have a strong anti-Christian bias. For example, a few weeks before Shipp’s story aired, one even posted a comment on the Homestead Heritage website saying, “I hope that this article [in the Observer] and others blows the lid off your whole shame Christian ‘church.’ . . . I am now a staunch atheist who can refute every one of your god claims.” He also sent a message to Brett Shipp’s fraudulent Facebook page thanking him for doing this story and voicing his “hope” that it would bring “the charade of a wholesome Christian community crashing down.” How much clearer can an agenda be?
For more examples of some interviewees’ anti-Christian bias, see our video: “For the Sake of the Children…”
5. “Every major allegation was unimpeachably corroborated by documents or by witnesses to events under scrutiny.”
This incredibly confident statement is quite remarkable given the facts we’ve presented here. Could WFAA have employed any stronger language in claiming the veracity of their story? But in fact, not one single “major allegation” was truly corroborated by documents, and the only witnesses that “corroborated” at all (much less “unimpeachably”) were the few ex-members selected for the story. And even then, their testimony sometimes directly conflicted, such as in Jeremy Crow’s story that Becky Crow denied.
See our Brief Facts about the WFAA Story and see for yourself if this statement by WFAA holds water.
6a. “We also reject the assertion that Shipp’s ‘methods and manner in pursuing the story demonstrated a bias and commitment to a preconceived story line.’ ”
We were told early on by a news manager at WFAA that “if there are concerns regarding a reporter agenda, I can assure you … that is simply not true.” But then, what news agency on earth would admit that their reporter was pursuing a story with an agenda?
See The Genesis of the WFAA Story and judge for yourself if our concerns were warranted.
6b. “An acceptable way to combat that assumption would be to grant an interview and or afford our reporter the opportunity to ask important questions and respond to specific allegations.”
“Acceptable” to whom? To Brett Shipp? To WFAA? Was our refusal “unacceptable”? If we are being held accountable to the media for our behavior regarding their story, who is holding them accountable for their treatment of us? Was the way they handled this story “acceptable”?
We were concerned that granting an interview that would be directed and edited only by the people whose character and motive were in question would only serve to give their story an appearance of fairness and balance. How would giving in to the pressure to give an interview “combat” this concern?
Furthermore, now that we see how Shipp used (or didn’t use) the information we did give him (including our statement), we do not regret our decision not to grant an interview in this circumstance. We have almost always given interviews with the media in the past, and we gave an interview on this particular “story” to a local station (KCEN HD Channel 6) on an hour’s notice. But this circumstance carried all the warning signs of a careless, irresponsible sensationalistic piece at best, and some elements even pointed to darker motives.
See The Genesis of the WFAA Story for more of the circumstances and details that informed our decision.
As noted in many places throughout our response, this “vigor” to “save the children” from criminal behavior did not even include obtaining testimony from law enforcement, who have already thoroughly investigated every situation in which there was truly “credible” evidence that children were at risk.
7b. “We were dealing with credible evidence that children have been and continued to be abused in a closed environment where members allegedly foster that abuse by ‘agreeing to never expose a member’s shortcomings and sins to any outside its covenant.’ Those are not WFAA’s words. That is language taken directly from the contract prospective members are asked to sign before being accepted into the church.”
As noted elsewhere, this fragment from an outdated church document has been taken completely out of context. It is presented here as a final touché for WFAA’s story, but they failed to note some very important facts: First, this is not “the contract prospective members are asked to sign before being accepted into the church.” This document hasn’t even been used at all in 15 years, and was never a “membership contract.” WFAA is simply stating as fact what they’ve been told by their selected ex-members.
Moreover, as noted repeatedly elsewhere, our ministry exposed and reported all of the criminal cases in which the perpetrators were remotely associated with us. This fact alone obviously disproves WFAA’s implied interpretation of this document.
Furthermore, the recent Observer story had already broadcast this erroneous interpretation of this same document a couple months before the WFAA story. (The reporter for the Observer interviewed several of the same ex-members.) So we had already specifically addressed and explained this very misinterpretation on our website. We specifically pointed WFAA to our website for information long before they aired their story. Yet WFAA never mentioned any of this.
(click here to view our original explanation of this document)
And finally, 89 other former members have signed a petition making explicitly clear that this never was or would be our implementation or interpretation of this document. (How much more would our hundreds of current members confirm this fact. We have specific documentation of numerous services over the years when these very issues have been made explicitly clear to our congregation.) Yet WFAA never even mentioned this dissenting testimony, though they well knew of it.