At a five-hour meeting held behind doors closed to the press and guarded by plainclothes Nashville police, the 77-member Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee fired the denomination’s two top press executives, Baptist Press (BP) director Al Shackleford and news editor Dan Martin.

Conservatives in the SBC have long alleged that Baptist Press coverage has been unbalanced in favor of the moderates. Said executive committee member David Hankins in statements prior to the July 17 meeting, the editors in question “weren’t responsive to reconsidering their own set of biases.” “I’m not sure that reporting all the news that’s fit to print is the role for Baptist Press,” Hankins said, adding, “If it doesn’t help us, why do it?”

Critics of the firings allege the conservative SBC leadership wants to turn BPinto what some have called a “propaganda machine.”

Martin and Shackleford refused to speak on their own behalf at the meeting at which they were fired, citing the fact that it was closed to the press. But prior to the meeting, in anticipation of the action, Martin told Religious News Service, “They’ve redefined the terms of objective reporting to mean they want to tell their story their way, and anyone with another opinion is a troublemaker.”

By and large, reporters outside the SBC have regarded Baptist Press coverage of SBC affairs as fair and thorough. The Southern Baptist Press Association, comprising editors of the SBC’s 38 state news journals, early last month passed a resolution supporting Shackleford and Martin.

Journalist Bill Moyers, who has followed the SBC turmoil closely as part of his work with Public Affairs Television, Inc., supplied Baptist editors with a sharply worded letter decrying the firings. In his letter, Moyers commended Baptist Press, while describing Paul Pressler, architect of the conservative SBC takeover, as “a little dictator so puffed up with power that he cannot distinguish God’s will from his own whims.”

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