Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Naked Pastor on the Justin Dean Interview--WtH considers a question of whether or not MH PR responded to journalists and bloggers in the past


It has been very strange to recall that back around 2012 when Mark Driscoll weighed in on the "kerfuffle" of Liberty University, it didn't seem as though Driscoll took bloggers very seriously.

That was then, and now in 2015 we're in some kind of pre-emptive post-mortem year where people sound off on what the causes of decline were, even though the corporation doesn't actually expire until the end of 2015 so far as the state of Washington is concerned.

Even so, we get stuff like ... :

Driscoll’s resignation is unusual, Vanderbloemen says, as it was not prompted by serious misappropriation of funds or an inappropriate sexual relationship, but rather by a steady stream of criticism from popular bloggers, some of whom lived nowhere near Seattle.

It's almost as though the Relevant article goes from start to finish without referencing Janet Mefferd's confrontation with Driscoll on the air regarding intellectual property infringement on the one hand, or the World Magazine coverage of the Result Source agreement to secure a place on the NYT bestseller list for Real Marriage on the other.  How does a feature article of such length manage to go so long without mentioning the details of those controversies? 

On what basis does William Vanderbloemen know that Mark Driscoll resigned in response to a steady stream of criticism from popular bloggers?  If there is one statement presented as a declaration of fact that has yet to be verified by Mark Driscoll himself this would be the big one. 

Driscoll's resignation letter mentioned godly counsel but did that godly counsel ever suggest that bloggers had any role in providing an impetus for Mark Driscoll to resign?

Blaney and Dean seem persuaded that bloggers are not interested in the truth or that they are misguided.  Hayward records the following:

Blaney says:
”Sometimes it’s hard to win when you have a lot of people looking for traffic… they’re looking for eyeballs on their blogs, on their newspapers, on their websites… that’s why people, any famous person has a difficult relationship with the media… Because it’s that love hate… sure we’ll promote you here, but as soon as we get a chance we’re gonna put a knife in your back because it’s going to help me get me a few more readers. I think that was definitely… I think there were so many people that were hoping to get a little bit of traffic, get a little bit of attention, to their blogs, to their newspapers, and, you know, Mark was a great target for that.”
The shortcoming in this line of reasoning is that as Mark Driscoll put it himself
...They have that same freedom, and so, and so others are free to, to say things as well. And being a bit of a public figure I don't have the same, try to get this right, protection sometimes as a private citizen, because I've made myself a public figure. So that's just sort of a blessing and the complexity of the great opportunity that God has given me as a Bible teacher and a pastor, especially in an age of technology, which I praise God for.

In other words, Driscoll had made himself the kind of public figure who can be the subject of discussion and scrutiny.  While Driscoll expressed gratitude for being able to have such a role, it isn't so clear that Justin Dean or Justin Blaney seem as reconciled to the idea that being a public figure at some level opens a person up to public critique on the things the person gained a reputation in.  Had Driscoll not sought celebrity the criticism would not have been possible.  It could almost seem as though people like Blaney and Dean could be construed as having a double standard in which the benefits of celebrity for megachurch pastors shouldn't be construed as having with that any attendant responsibilities or risks?  A little tough to be sure.  But to go by Mark Driscoll's own words from mid-2014 it seems as though Driscoll had a clearer understanding of the risks involved in his being a type of public figure than seems reflected in the recent statements of Justin Dean or Justin Blaney.

Hayward quotes Dean's later statement within the interview as follows:

A little later, Dean responds:
”I would talk to these bloggers, I would talk to these journalists, who were kind of coming after us… it would seem sometimes that they were just trying to build their own platform, trying to, you know, make ad revenue, whatever… They’re going after something that’s intriguing and they know that they’re going to get a lot of hits for it. But I think for a lot of them it was something more. I think they believed that they were trying to do good. They really thought that we were wolves and that (announce) that to the world and protect Christians.”

Well, about that, it doesn't seem like it would be that tough for Justin Dean to have noticed that Wenatchee The Hatchet has never monetized the blog.  There's no ad revenue here and there isn't really a plan at this point to monetize the blog.  Long, long ago in college Wenatchee The Hatchet recalled a professor saying that in the field of journalism the greatest threat that would spike a story that needed to get published for the public good was generally not going to be from a hostile source; it was not going to be from an editor; it often even wasn't going to be from a squeamish publisher; it was going to tend to be from advertisers and sponsors who didn't like the impact a story might have on their bottom lines or their public reputations.  If there is a relative silence within the Christian media industries about the significance of the plagiarism controversy and the sales-rigging agreement that were at the center of the most high profile and thoroughly documented issues in connection to Mark Driscoll the question could be why those haven't stayed at the forefront of a discussion of how and why Mark Driscoll's star declined.

As far as hits go, the traffic to the blog these days is a tenth what it was half a year ago, if it's even that big.  There are posts incubating for detailed discussions by case study of the evolution of sonata form in solo guitar literature in the early 19th century.  That'll inspire a lot of hits and ad revenue, right? The trouble with the clickbait canard is that if we consider the old age in which Driscoll's podcasts were popular the traffic was considered a sign of the power of the ministry.  The problem with Dean's frame of reference is that one person's sincere effort being another person's cynical clickbait could go the other way.  Who's to say Mark Driscoll's various instagram and facebook controversies weren't at least potentially ginned up to get traffic, too?  Golden Rule the assertion and apply it to yourself and see how it plays out.  If Justin Dean aims to have any business in public relations he may want to keep in mind that the practice of self-promotion is kind of, by definition, in his vocation.  There's some axiom about how those living in glass houses should avoid throwing stones.  People whose professions involve developing clickbait need to be cautious about how they impute the motive of clickbait to people who may not even be in the field of public relations.

Even if we set aside altogether the problem that ascribing Mark Driscoll's resignation to a steady stream of criticism from popular bloggers is a William Vanderbloemen summary without a direct quote; even if we set aside that such a summary flies in the face of Mark Driscoll's public statements about what he considered to be the reliability and credibility of blogs and bloggers in general; there's still this other problem, what were blogs distributing that could have been construed as in any way making anything difficult for Mars Hill in general or Mark Driscoll in particular? 

Let's be clear, the Janet Mefferd and World Magazine moments were vastly more significant in terms of media events.  When members of the formal press had moments like that the contributions of bloggers could be considered negligible because in many ways there were.  Wenatchee The Hatchet is willing to say that about Wenatchee The Hatchet.  All that happened here was rather basically preserving and discussing primary source statements from Mars Hill leaders about its history and people for long enough that when members of the mainstream and Christian press got around to doing further investigation there were references that were possible to materials that, at least in 2014, had a perplexing capacity to disappear.

So whether Dean and Blaney would wish to address the topic of Wenatchee The Hatchet, a question could be raised as to whether Wenatchee The Hatchet had inaccurate information.  Considering the great lengths Wenatchee The Hatchet went to in order to establish there were factual inaccuracies in Valerie Tarico's initial April 2014 coverage, and considering that a Valerie Tarico came by to offer thanks for the corrections, and clarify that the article had been updated, any attempt at a blanket statement to the effect that blogs and bloggers had misinformation about Driscoll and Mars Hill seems sketchy. 

Wenatchee The Hatchet isn't really a watchblog, it never has been.  Blogs can have a valuable role in keeping a light on stories and issues that are under-reported in mainstream or even independent media and so that's a value in blogging, but it cannot be construed as a substitute for the formal press covering things.  There are strengths and weaknesses to blogging and conventional journalism.  The strength of conventional journalism is that it emerges with an establishment, a culture in which the narrative is accepted as part of the public record.  The difficulty, however, is that the sources which are relied upon to establish that public narrative can and do lie and if the establishment sources that are accepted as viable sources turn out to be misinformed or even deceptive, then the press become dupes for agendas they may not be able to see through.  This would, not coincidentally, be why Wenatchee The Hatchet does not really endorse the libertarian theory of the press. 

On the other hand, while the strength of a blog is not being tethered to the institutions that can spike or spin stories, what blogs do not have is the kind of credibility and clout to be treated as seriously as a magazine like Time or a newspaper like The Guardian would be.  Bloggers don't have copy editors, fact-checkers, staff or people and resources to ensure things have been accurately sourced.  And bloggers can often be woefully ignorant (to their own peril) of what constitutes a defensible journalistic line of enquiry and what is likely to end up becoming the basis for a defamation suit.  This seems to be where folks like Justin Dean might be most eager to camp on, especially when the word "evil" gets brought up, though Dean seems to have granted that bloggers think they are aiming for the right thing.  This, too, is the kind of diagnosis that could boomerang.  After all, didn't Mars Hill leadership consider Result Source a good idea at one point, a strategy that would help get the message out to the most people?  Dean's sincerity or insincerity is moot here, what's interesting is that the lines of reasoning he proposes about bloggers end up being critiques that can be applied as equally to his former employer and even to himself as to "bloggers". 

Golden Rule it, if you would be willing to cheerfully grant that someone say about you what you're willing to say about them and concede that it could be accurate, proceed.  If you're going to suggest that bloggers are motivated by clickbait and grudges can you concede that that's part of your motivation? 

Wenatchee The Hatchet does not suggest this to actually provide any interpretation of the motives of Dean or others but to propose that if you're going to wade into a public discussion about media theory and media motivations you have to think through what philosophies motivate people in a way that opens yourself up to the same criticism you might subject others to.  If a person wants to suggest that nobody wants to write anything that's untrue, except for bloggers, what about Mark Driscoll's blog?  At the peak of Mark Driscoll's celebrity around 2012 he had that "A Blog Post for the Brits", didn't he? Well, it was up for a while but it's down and not exactly archived.  A bit of the post can be read as preserved by WtH over here. What was striking about the blog post for the Brits was that Mark Driscoll published in advance of his full interview with Justin Brierley being made available to the public, if memory serves.  If a Justin Dean were to argue that blogs and bloggers might be willing to write things that don't turn out to be true, what could be said about Mark Driscoll's blog post for the Brits?  Did it seem like a pre-emptive strike of some kind with respect to Brierley?  Could it be possible that by the measure of Justin Dean's own arguments against the ethics of bloggers Mark Driscoll could have had a few missteps?

If Mars Hill advocates believe that Wenatchee The Hatchet has misunderstood or misquoted anyone in the history of Mars Hill it's not like they can't say anything in settings where comments are available.  By and large nobody's commented here and Wenatchee won't deny discouraging comments.  The aim here was to document things and to also prevent people from venting things about former members and staff that could be construed as even potentially defamatory.  If you aren't willing to swear to it in court don't say it as a comment in a blog, basically. 

To the extent that bloggers are not really journalists and the internet has opened up new risks and opportunities it's not unfair for someone like Dean or Blaney to express reservations about the power that social media has, even as they could have gone a bit further to concede that the majority of Mark Driscoll's public role hinged precisely on his use of social and broadcast media.  If Jesus once said "he who lives by the sword will by die by the sword", today's parlance might be that those who live by twitter will die by it. Thank God humans do not live by twitter alone.

The thing Hayward "may" have missed is that Justin Dean suggested to Matthew Paul Turner that he listen to the 2008 Spiritual Warfare series.  Dean mentioned that "I would talk to these bloggers."  Really?  Because why would anyone imagine that Justin Dean and MH publicity WEREN'T talking to at least one blogger?

**UPDATE**According to Mars Hill, Mark performed a “Spiritual Warfare Trial” (a definition and instructions for a Spiritual Warfare Trial can be found here, toward the bottom of the page). They also deny using the word “exorcism”.**

**Late yesterday, I notified Mars Hill Church’s publicity department that I was running this story and offered them an opportunity to comment along with a few questions. Initially, they were going to issue a statement, but later said they would wait to comment until they read the story. They also directed me to this sermon series by Mark Driscoll.

So SOMEBODY on the MH PR side got in touch with Matthew Paul Turner and even recommended he consult the spiritual warfare teaching.  That material has been removed but should you want to ever review it for yourself the sixty-five part majority transcription with commentary series is available for reading here.

So MH PR seems to have contacted or responded to a blogger.  So what would be different? 

Justin Dean may have been unfamiliar with the history of MH leadership interacting with bloggers about their blogs


The other puzzle about Dean's comment that he would talk to bloggers and journalists is that it sure seems like he did.  Why as recently as March 6, 2015 Brendan Kiley wrote:

A few years ago, Dean used to answer e-mails from The Stranger, even if we were asking inflammatory questions—but last spring and summer, when things started to really unravel, he went silent.
Around the same time, former Mars Hill members wrote me to report that Dean had been trying to join Facebook discussion groups for ex-Mars Hill members and current members who were thinking about leaving.

"It caused a bit of an uproar," one ex-member wrote, "as he could not convince the members that he was doing anything other than gathering info to use against us. He's the PR guy, he's in charge of the spin that has continually tried to publicly invalidate people's experiences."
When I asked why he thought Dean had stopped answering questions, the ex-member wrote that a friend who worked at the church had recently said that the go-to Bible verse during controversies at Mars Hill was Proverbs 26:20: "For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases."
A veil of silence doesn't sound like the best approach to massive controversy—but what do I know?

So it turns out that The Stranger can confirm that there was a time when Justin Dean was happy to respond to questions from the press, even deliberately inflammatory ones, but by the spring and summer of 2014 Dean was unresponsive. 

So precisely what Justin Dean could mean by having said: "I would talk to these bloggers, I would talk to these journalists, who were kind of coming after us… " is a bit vague. There seems to be at least some evidence he WAS talking to bloggers and journalists for a while, at least until the spring and summer of 2014.  One can only make a guess or two as to what happened in the spring of 2014 that may have changed things.


nakedpastor said...

The defensive posture still held, as evidenced in the comment section of my post, is a loud and clear signal that this problem will continue.

Justin Dean said...

Jeremiah, your posts are so long it's hard to even respond to your points. I'll do my best. I would respond to bloggers and journalists all the time, trying our best to be open and communicate well. There were periods of time when we'd not respond at all. That was frustrating at times but we were doing our best to try and wade through the storm. The Stranger was just brutal and mean and would twist what I would say so we eventually just ignored them because they were hateful no matter what. They even posted a whole conversation with me once that was completely made up. It never happened. They aren't to be trusted.

I would reply to Warren Throckmorton as well, only to have him not report my comments or only report one part of my response and not the whole thing. He manipulated his stories how he saw fit. So one sided and we couldn't win.

So I'm not sure what your point is. We tried, but when "reporters" aren't acting with integrity how are you supposed to deal with it?

Anonymous said...

"We tried."

Tried what?

Repentance? Transparency? Open books and accountability to the elders and members of the church? Reconciliation? How about just doing the right thing?

Bill Kinnon said...

when "reporters" aren't acting with integrity how are you supposed to deal with it?


Your "integrity" comment prompts a Princess Bride response, "You keep using that word..."

For your own sake, and the sake of the Church, please find another line of work — PR is not your strong suit.

mike w said...

Justin seems incapable of admitting much of anything, it's everyone else's fault: The Stranger, Throckmorton, bloggers, critics of MH, etc. This tactic is commonplace among cult members, sociopaths and fools. I do not know into which category Mr. Dean falls, or if there is another category for Mr. Dean that I did not mention, nor is it particularly my place to say. That is God's province.

But one thing I can say is that he is a worst case scenario PR man. Every time he takes to the keyboard or opens his mouth, both he and his organization take a hit.

sitguidelines said...

Justin - For the record, I strenuously disagree with your assertions that I reported you incompletely. An examination of my posts will show I not only used what you sent me, I went out of my way to provide your point of view.

The reason you couldn't win is because you apparently were not allowed to answer my questions (how much did the wellness program cost, how much did you spend on Ethiopian missionaries?). When a church can't reveal what it spends donor money on there is a problem.

Warren Throckmorton

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

"They even posted a whole conversation with me once that was completely made up. It never happened. They aren't to be trusted."

Justin Dean, which article, author, and conversation does this statement refer to?