Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 18, 1957

Champion Of Journalistic Integrity

Luther Blackmon, Pasadena, Texas

On October 16, 1956, the editor of the Firm Foundation wrote under the above title, "Journalistic Integrity." He was obviously irritated about some things that had been said about the one-sided, "iron curtain" policy of the paper he edits. I wrote the article from which he quoted. I thought when I first read his editorial that I would take some notice of his "journalistic integrity," but kept putting it off. In reading some old papers the other day I decided that it is not yet too late to call attention to his journalistic ethics. But read what he said in the editorial:

"Religious publications have an unusual responsibility when it comes to reporting facts. The secular press may color the facts, but the religious press cannot. The secular press may be profuse with adjectives and adverbs that can mean much or little, but the religious press has the heavy obligation of being absolutely honest in its reporting.

"Brethren trust brethren until brethren prove themselves unworthy of trust. When a brother makes a report or writes an article, he is writing for brethren who trust him for his very word's sake. He has a heavy obligation to report facts exactly as they are.

"It is a shame to see in print a report of something when one knows that the man who wrote the report knew better and knew DIFFERENTLY. Journalistic integrity must be maintained. And a writer is obligated to print the truth, not only in FACT: he is obligated to present it in REPRESENTATION.

"If an editor proposes to print both sides of an issue, he ought to do so. Occasionally we see some brother's expression of 'contempt and resentment' for 'such unfairness' as may be shown by an 'iron curtain policy' on the part of some journal that 'doesn't print both sides.' Really, it would be a laughable matter if it were not so serious. Such charges are usually made by editors or staff writers who have on their desks, at the very moment they write, many answers to their own writings which they will not print. And when one reads it, when his own desk is stacked with carbon copies of articles sent to 'the paper that prints both sides' — which articles of criticism never have and never will be printed — forgive him if he smiles a little. Confidentially there is not a religious journal among us that print what it receives on both sides of all issues. (All emphases are Lemmons'. LB.)

Brother Lemmons is too ethical and nice to call names but he is writing about the Gospel Guardian, its editor and its writers.

Brother Tant has never intimated that he prints ALL he receives on both sides of any issue that is being discussed. Anyone who has had any experience in the editing of a religious paper knows that this is impossible. But when Brother Lemmons tries to leave the impression that the editor of the Gospel Guardian will not print representative articles on both sides of these issues, he is flying in the face of established facts. And anyone who has read the paper for the last few years knows this well. But Brother Lemmons knew that many of his readers would never read the Gospel Guardian, and that they would "trust him for his very word's sake." I might remind the editor of the Firm Foundation that he said, "a writer is obligated to present the truth not only in FACT: he is obligated to present it in REPRESENTATION." Brother Lemmons, you misrepresented Brother Tant. Whether you did it ignorantly, or in a deliberate effort to deceive, you did it.

More Journalistic Ethics

On July 12, 1955, there appeared an article in the Firm Foundation by Bryan Vinson, Sr., entitled, "The Middle of the Road." When I read this article I was in a meeting in Cleburne, Texas, with the Granbury Street Church. When I had finished the article, I remarked to the preacher of Granbury Street Church, "I am sure Brother Lemmons has not printed all of Vinson's article." You see, I knew Bryan Vinson! And I knew that he would NEVER write an article that would leave the impression that article left on the readers who did not know him. When I returned home from the meeting, I asked Brother Vinson if the article had not been mutilated. He gave me a carbon copy. Here follows the last paragraph of Vinson's article as it appeared in the Firm Foundation, and then in boldface type follows the part that Lemmons deleted; Brother Vinson wrote:

"Whenever a preacher or a religious journal becomes obsessed with but one facet of the system of gospel teaching and restricts his or its efforts in teaching to this, it results in a regrettable species of extremism. One can become a hobbyist of some gospel truth by exclusively, or nearly so, talking or writing on it. An issue can exist which in its seriousness justifies a great deal of attention and discussion, but it would be unwarrantably extreme to devote every sermon to its discussion or every issue of a paper to its treatment."

Now follows the part that Brother Lemmons deleted.

Do You Wonder Why? Read It!

"However as regrettable as this may well be, it is not as censurable as the opposite course of silence which ignores the existence of an issue and thus avoids the necessity of becoming identified in relation thereto. Worse than this latter is the avenue of expression which is one-sided, partial and prejudiced in its policy. Any position too weak to be reviewed is wholly untrustworthy; and any periodical unwilling for its readers to appraise both sides of a question has little confidence in the security of its position or the intelligence of its readers."

Yes, we all know that an editor has the right to blue-pencil some of an article, or to refuse to print any of it. But when you read these lines that Lemmons cut out of the Vinson article, ask yourself the honest question: Why were they cut off? You can see that there is nothing personal in them; that would not be the reason for their being blue-penciled. They are not sarcastic or vitriolic. They are definitely on the subject, and are absolutely necessary to a "fair representation" of what the writer was saying. When I see a statement from the editor of a paper to the effect that ". . . . the religious press has the heavy obligation of being honest in its reporting," and then see where that same editor has mutilated an article like the above, pardon me if I smile just a wee bit.

Brother Lemmons' "Stand"?

In the January 4, 1955, issue of the Firm Foundation, the editor sets forth what shall be his policy in the editorial chair of the paper that he says has been "the leading influence in this area of the world." Among other things he said, "The church faces a constant crisis. There has never been a time since the day of Pentecost when the church didn't face a crisis. There never will be. These things come and go but we have them with us always. It becomes the obligation of an editor to take a stand in every crisis. He cannot afford to take the wrong stand." (Emphasis mine, L.B.)

So Brother Lemmons believes it is his obligation to "take a stand." I wonder what his stand is on the kind of orphan homes that may be sustained by the church! I have read the Firm Foundation a good deal since he became the editor, and about all I have seen from him concerning anything that might be called a stand, is contained in the slurs and sarcastic insinuations against those of us who believe that the church cannot build and maintain organizations and institutions separate from the church through which to do her work. But sometimes a fellow will say something when he is a little peeved that he will not say in his more sober moments, and that is what the editor did. In the Gospel Guardian of April 1, 1955, there is an "open letter" from Reuel Lemmons to Roy Cogdill, in which Lemmons writes:

"If by an 'institutional orphan home' you mean one with a board scattered all over the country, if you don't have as much trouble corralling your memory as you did your reasoning, you will remember that as a high school kid I was cutting my teeth on this issue you fellows are just now raising so much sand about . . . . I taught then that such a set-up could not be defended, and I haven't changed my mind about it since."

There you have it. The editor of the Firm Foundation knows that a set-up like Boles Home, Childhaven, Southern Christian Home, or Tennessee Orphan Home cannot be defended. But have you heard him say anything like that in the Firm Foundation? Have you seen any writing from him to that effect in his paper? If so, tell me where; I missed it. But I know that the editor believes he must "take a stand." And that "he cannot afford to take the wrong stand." Maybe he is just so busy with other problems that he hasn't had time and space to tell us where he STANDS on such things as Boles Home. In the Firm Foundation, that is.

If Brother Lemmons wants to give us some lessons on "How To Straddle A Journalistic Fence," or "How To Write Editorials Without Stating Your Real Position," he may get some students; but nobody who is keeping up with what is going on in the brotherhood is going to take seriously his editorials on "journalistic integrity."

I have been reading the Firm Foundation some for about forty years now. My grandmother Blackmon took it, and many is the time she has sent me to the mail-box, about half a mile away, to "see if my 'Firm' has come," as she put it. Through its pages have spoken some of the greatest advocates of truth the world has known since the days of inspiration. It bears the scars of many battles. Its influence for truth and righteousness only eternity will reveal. It has served two or three generations of men as a medium for discussing the issues and questions that arise from time to time among the Lord's people.

But it now is evident that those days are no more. At least, not under the present editorship. For this man has adopted to a very marked degree, the Roman Catholic attitude that, "Error has no right to be heard." And, of course, whatever is contrary to the views and convictions of the editor is "ERROR" — in capital letters. I am sorry to see this happen. Such an attitude bears in it the seeds of apostasy. It is not healthy; it is not ethical; it is not democratic; it is NOT Christian. A once great paper is far on its way to becoming an instrument of narrow sectarian propaganda.