Tuesday, March 18, 2014

on the leaked open letter, some of Driscoll's public critics have inadvertantly given him his best PR

It's not as though Mars Hill has been unaware of how fluid the boundary between The City and the rest of the internet has turned out to be.  Andrew Lamb's disciplinary case would have stayed a private matter of the content of the disciplinary escalation letter hadn't gotten on The City.  Now historically Andrew's disciplinary situation is not all that important compared to the 2007 by-laws and firings controversy, which was also the period around which 1,000 members left or did not renew membership. 

All that to say The City has been a social media platform susceptible to leaks for a couple of years now.  And by leaks this would mean people who have access to it leak content to others, sometimes bloggers. 

So it's worth bearing in mind that what was posted in Mark Driscoll's name to The City was posted with a historical setting and context.  The leaders of Mars Hill have been reported to have had concerns about how to lock down The City and make it leak proof over the last seven months, clearly to no avail. 

Now it wasn't the plan of Wenatchee The Hatchet to explain this but in light of observations about how Driscoll's letter to members of Mars Hill included wording prohibiting redistribution we can bear in mind that Stephanie Drury posted the December 18, 2013 statement Mark Driscoll posted to The City on New Year's Eve of 2013.  Driscoll's statement didn't even reference that the controversy he was embroiled in at the time involved allegations that he plagiarized the work of others and there's no sign that Driscoll will concede that point now even as publishers continue to revise already published works.  While those who have come to Driscoll's defense have at times questioned the legitimacy of intellectual property altogether or proposed that intent is necessary for someone to be guilty of plagiarism, the non-disclosure agreement of the sort the BOAA stands by includes language that prohibits even unintentional breach of confidential information where former staff are concerned. 

But when the shoe was on the other foot a great deal of "citation errors" happened in books with Mark Driscoll's name on them and so far there's been a Tyndale defense of a Call to Resurgence and Mark Driscoll taking responsibility for errors in the retracted Trial study guide after Mars Hill PR took pains to explain that that book was assembled by a team of researchers that included a research assistant.  If Mark Driscoll wants to show some convincing fruit of repentance a public apology to Justin Holcomb for MH PR passive aggressively implicating him and Crystal Griffin and Brad House, who were the research help for the Trial study guide, as not being responsible for the citation errors, might be a graceful gesture. Wiping out the open letter in which Driscoll boasted about Holcomb's skill in research and how he was sent to Mars Hill from the Docent group doesn't change the historically verifiable facts from the Mars Hill media presence.  Let's propose for sake of public discourse that some anonymous PR sort decided to imply that the research help was possibly guilty of the citation errors.  If Mark Driscoll wanted to make sure the right thing was done in the right way total silence on the part of Mars Hill until a clarifying statement was made would have been better.

While Mark Driscoll has issued a general apology about the use of Result Source and has said he thought it was a way to maximize sales but now sees it as a wrong decision, this seems somewhat like those anonymous people who asked Mark Driscoll if he knew where babies came from when they saw how many kids he and Grace had and his rebuttal was "a hot wife", more or less.  Similar level of overlooking the obvious seems to be in play with the use of Result Source.  Considering the decision wrong in hindsight after journalists have broken the news and a blogger has published a copy of the contract John Sutton Turner signed, if Mars Hill were considering this as a case study in confession and it involved someone having sex before marriage it might look like "mere confession". 

Asking that all his publishers remove the phrase "NYT bestselling author" is a start.  Of course the troubling and disappointing thing is that this only came up after Driscoll and Mars Hill leadership got caught and after no less than seven books had been shown to have "citation errors".  This is not necessarily to the credit of any progressive evangelicals, who spent 2012 disagreeing with Driscoll on complementarianism and calling him a bully rather than say, I don't know, spotting that Allender's work had been plagiarized.  If Rachel Held Evans and Matthew Paul Turner had hoped to break a huge story the disciplinary case of Andrew Lamb was nothing compared to plagiarism.  Now it's true that the harm done to countless people in the name of spiritual authority is a bigger deal in the long run but an organization and leadership culture that can turn a blind eye to copying the works of others without adequate citation might have a weakness for that.  It might simply be, as the axiom has it, the tip of an iceberg.

As for general statements to the effect that some people haven't found peace yet, people who have been harmed by the leadership culture Mark Driscoll and others have cultivated and promoted in the last seventeen years might get the impression that they are being told that the burden of finding peace is entirely on them. 

Meanwhile, in some sense never mind all that.  The facts seem to be that Mark Driscoll posted an open letter to members of Mars Hill Church on to the City and it got leaked to bloggers who then posted it online for everyone to read.

Wenatchee The Hatchet was not one of those bloggers.  It seemed like an imprudent move to me.  Why?  Well, perhaps, at the risk of giving you a list of things, this can be explained by content that at some point showed up on The City that ended up appearing at Wenatchee The Hatchet.

For those bloggers who may have been excited to have content from The City sent their way ... well ... it's old news. There are reasons Mars Hill Church, at this point, might have a basis for posting content to The City they wouldn't be ashamed to have leaked to outsiders.  Whether or not any of the content that was posted to The City that was passed along to Wenatchee The Hatchet that showed up in these posts qualified as that sort of content can't really be answered.  But, in case any readers got the impression that content from The City being leaked on to a blog or media platform is actually unusual or special, these links with content sent along from The City may serve as a contrary education.

So that's to point out that by March 2014 Mars Hill was aware not just that Stephanie Drury had posted content from The City but also that Warren Throckmorton had gotten ahold of stuff from former staff such as a separation and release agreement as well as 2011 bylaws.  And over here at Wenatchee the Hatchet, well, you've just seen the links.  
But Wenatchee The Hatchet has made a point of not just posting any old leaked content sent along.  It had to have some actually important content for the history of the community and have some numbers.  Given that Driscoll was willing to say in the face of a roughly $30 million budget "We're not a wealthy church" even content posted to The City cannot be taken entirely at face value.  The amount of money Mars Hill Church contracted to pay Result Source is as big or bigger than the annual budgets of smaller churches.  
Wenatchee The Hatchet has not and will not divulge how content from The City has been presented for consideration as possible blog content or avenues for research.  There's a matter of journalistic ethics in protecting sources.  If someone were to attempt to contact Wenatchee The Hatchet imagining it were even possible to broach the subject of revealing sources that would be a complete and utter waste of effort.  
In the wake of the observation that sources have not been discovered, it's not impossible Mars Hill has opted to include language prohibiting redistribution of privileged content.  The enforceability of such an edict seems to be wanting and so an adaptive gesture would be to compose something that would be known to get leaked, likely to blogs considered very critical of Mars Hill in general and Mark Driscoll in particular.  Wenatchee The Hatchet did not bite in this particular case about the open letter.  An open letter to Mars Hill members posted to The City simply does not count as a public acknowledgment to the press and academics that citation errors in no less than seven books and contracting to buy a #1 spot on the NYT bestseller list should raise issues about the priorities and ethics of the leadership culture at Mars Hill.  It doesn't matter what Driscoll wrote in an open letter if it had been kept inside of Mars Hill circles.
But thanks to blogs that have been critical of Driscoll, what was ostensibly presented as an open letter not to be redistributed was transformed into what amounts to a press release.
It almost comes off as though it could have been one of the only actually brilliant PR moves in the last three years of Mars Hill Church.  By the happenstance of critical bloggers publishing and then opining on a letter posted to The City with an exclusionary prohibition, the critical bloggers look like they don't care about the confidentiality of the information (which, let's face it, they didn't).  Furthermore, in an attempt to keep up with whatever was leaked (even though it said virtually nothing that would fit even a Mars Hill definition of real confession and repentance on the citation error issues) bloggers can be thought of as unwitting emissaries of the kind of leaked content that has convinced a whole ton of people Driscoll's really sorry and is turning over a new leaf.  Driscoll actually defended the development and installation of the leadership system that has, it seems, alienated nearly all the campus-level leadership over the last two years.  
So if you were a megachurch with a controversial leader and you realized that for well over a year your social media platform was not leak free because a "communication error" led someone taking content dealing with a disciplinary case and sent it to the discipline subject who then went to Matthew Paul Turner then after two years of not being able to stop leaks what would be reasonable?  Crafting statements that could be leaked and still serve some purpose, this would seem particularly reasonable in the wake of months of controversy about the number of Driscoll books that feature plagiarism, one of which turns out to have been bought a spot on the NYT bestseller list in addition to its plagiarism issues. No actual public statements or apologies have been made.
And now, thanks to bloggers deciding to leak things that seemed juicy, Mark Driscoll may never even need to issue a public apology if bloggers and journalists report the leaked open letter posted to The City in a way that vets it as a public apology that was never made. 
Congratulations eager beavers who have blogged critically of Mark Driscoll recently and decided to leak that open letter posted to The City and/or comment on it, you may well have just been played by what might be the most impressive PR recovery in the history of MH and, arguably, it all depended on you.
Without meaning to sound as condescending as this is going to sound anyway, there's a proverb that says "Only a fool blurts out everything he knows".  This might have been one of those times.
Just a speculative theory, take it or leave it. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Plagiarism in my mind disqualifies an author. There can be repentance and restoration, of course, but MD made things worse by attributing the errors to others. Not a big fan of books written by ghost writers, research teams, etc. If you are worth your salt, write an authentic product yourself.

On the $ front, I am a member of a church that is over 100 years old with 600 members, and I think our budget is in the range of $350,000/year.