One aspect of the Ted Haggard/Mike Jones story that hasn't gotten much national-spotlight time is the way the tale reached the public in the first place. Jones sat down with 9News investigative reporter Paula Woodward (pictured) andWestword
editor Patricia Calhoun over the past two months, but details of the high-profile pastor's relationship with Jones, a male escort, weren't disseminated until after he appeared on Peter Boyles' KHOW radio program. Only then did 9News go forward.
In a column from Westword's current issue, Calhoun explains why she didn't run with the revelations the second she heard them; Jones was committed to giving a then-unnamed TV station first shot, and shortly after his initial visit to Westword, he told her that he'd decided not to go public. Channel 9, for its part, hasn't gotten very specific on the air -- but 9News executive producer Nicole Vap offered some inside dope to an e-mailer who quizzed her on the topic.
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Here's Vap's response:
Thank you for emailing 9News. We appreciate all of the response we get on our stories—both positive and negative. Comments from viewers like you help us cover our community and the issues affecting it in the most ethical and journalistically sound way.
The decision on when to do this particular story has not been easy. We had many editorial discussions regarding these accusations and the decision on when and how to break the story did not come lightly.
The individual, Mike Jones, came to us with this story two months ago. We looked at the documentation he had and listened to his whole story. Senior management at 9 News was included at that time. We told Jones then that he did not have enough proof for us to do this story.
We had another decision to make this week when Mike Jones, appeared on Peter Boyles radio show. Jones told listeners that he had a relationship with a nationally known and prominent Colorado Springs Pastor.
We already knew who it was because Jones told us two months ago his allegations were about Pastor Ted Haggard. Because Jones had decided to go public, and it was a matter of time before Pastor Haggard's name came up, we contacted the Pastor and asked him if he knew about the allegations and wanted to respond. He had heard about them and chose to respond and that is why we did the story. To be fair to him, whether he wanted to respond determined whether we would broadcast a story. We would not have aired the story without hearing from Pastor Haggard. We talked with him last night at his home in Colorado Springs. You can watch our unedited interview with him streamed on www.9news.com.
We believe strongly that once Mr. Jones made his decision to tell his story publicly, that we had an obligation to Pastor Haggard to get his response.
The decision to run this story at this time was complicated by the upcoming election, but was not made because of it. 9News has spent countless hours covering the upcoming election we've sponsored debates, run extensive "Truth Tests" on political advertising and written extensively on the proposed amendments, referendums and candidates for public office on the Decision 2006 page on www.9news.com. Please take a look at our collective reporting on our website.
I hope this clears up any questions you may have about the story. We are continuing to follow developments in the story and will report any new information we discover.
Critics may slap 9News for its initial reticence, but the station's caution was justified. Although Jones' narrative sounded credible, he had precious little in the way of actual evidence to back up his words -- just a couple of phone messages that made no explicit mention of sexual trysts or drug use and an envelope that may or may not have had the pastor's DNA on it. Had Haggard remained in the top position at New Life, the Colorado Springs megachurch he founded, and the National Association of Evangelicals, an organization with some thirty million members, there's a good chance Jones' accusations would have caused a brief sensation and then petered out, as it were, rather than exploding into the full-fledged firestorm that erupted when he stepped down from these posts. That's especially true if Haggard had stuck with his initial denial instead of acknowledging at least some of his sins to reporters and New Life higher-ups in the days that followed.
In this scenario, Haggard probably could have ridden out the media storm, and 9News would have been attacked for engaging in character assassination without incontrovertible proof that Jones was on the level. When viewed from this perspective, 9News still took a risk by broadcasting Haggard's denial before his dual resignations took place. His confession was not only good for his soul; it was good for Paula Woodward, too. -- Michael Roberts