Follow up on the tragic case of Rev. Brent Dugan

by David Blakeslee

In November, 2006, Presbyterian minister Brent Dugan was about to be outed and took his own life in a Mercer, PA hotel room. I wrote about that tragic event here and was prompted to look into aftermath of the situation by a recent comment left on that post from a person who knew Rev. Dugan.

On July 1, 2010 I called the Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania and spoke with their executive director, Rev. Dr. Donald B. Green about the FCC complaint which was asserted by others to be filed against KDKA for its sensationalistic and provocative reporting on Pastor Dugan’s personal behavior.

Reverend Green was very generous to answer questions by phone from a person he did not know.  According to Reverend Green CASP is an association of pastors and bishops which need to reach consensus in legal matters before filing formal complaints to government bodies like the FCC.  Reverend Green stated that unfortunately, such a consensus could not be reached among participants in this association.  Instead they reached a consensus about facilitating a formal meeting with KDKA on the ethical issues involved in reporting Pastor Dugan’s private behavior in such a sensationalistic way.  The results of that meeting can be found here.

We also discussed the reporter involved in the Dugan journalistic “investigation.”  Marty Griffin apparently had a sensationalistic “journalistic” style prior to his targeting of Pastor Dugan.  This style cost his previous employer 2.2 million to settle the defamation suit that followed:

In 1997, Griffin’s then-employer, Dallas station KXAS-TV Channel 5, paid a reported $2.2 million to settle a defamation suit arising from a story Griffin aired about Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin. In that story, a topless dancer accused Irvin of participating in a rape with two other men — accusations she later recanted, and which resulted in perjury charges against her. Griffin also conducted a hidden-camera investigation of Irvin’s purported drug-buying activities, a story for which KXAS paid an informant $6,000. The station admitted no wrongdoing in the 1997 settlement, which Griffin opposed. In fact, Griffin’s online bio on the KDKA Web site boasts of winning awards for his reporting on Irvin, and adds, “That’s right — Michael Irvin doesn’t like Marty Griffin very much.”

Reverend Green reports that Mr. Griffin currently has a talk radio show which takes advantage of his sensationalistic and emotional style.

I would encourage readers to review the article above which thoughtfully addresses the chronology of events, the important considerations that journalists should consider when judging religious leaders who are in violation of their vows and the brand of journalists who may be ratings driven, rather than ethically driven in their pursuits.