Editor’s Note: This article addresses previous coverage from The Mercury, available here.
On Nov. 19, 2019, members of the World Mission Society Church of God stood at the Plinth with petitions asking for student support against coverage from The Mercury. They claimed that The Mercury was defaming the reputation of Elohim Bible Study club, an on-campus religious organization and chapter of the WMSCOG. This was all in response to a recent article we published, “They ruined their life by doing this,” which contained testimonies from five different people, including a student who came forward after the original article was published, regarding their experiences with chapters of the WMSCOG.
The definition of defamation involves publishing or saying false things to ruin someone or something’s good reputation. The evidence we were working with were all testimonies, mostly from UTD students, and all corroborated with one another, so they cannot be considered false until demonstrated otherwise.
The problem doesn’t stop there. We were told by one of the members at the Plinth that their off-campus advisor told them The Mercury did interviews with church members but did not use their quotes for the story. This is completely false.
The Mercury is not a tabloid, nor is it a gossip column. When we receive tips from sources, we investigate them as much as possible and try to find as sources with common experiences. We then approach the other side — in this case members of WMSCOG or Elohim Bible Study club — and give them an opportunity to respond and be quoted in order for the story to be balanced. This is standard practice and what we do for every story we write.
Over the course of approximately three weeks, we made repeated attempts to contact seven different WMSCOG representatives including club members, their off-campus advisor Brianna Redick, the president of the club and a media representative for the national organization. We received little to no response and zero on-the-record interviews from them. Redick sent us an email statement, which was the only response we had from the other side that was included in the article. Redick then told us to refrain from contacting club members for interviews.
After the article was published, we were asked by one of the club members to retract the article and issue an apology. We have yet to receive concrete evidence from church or club members to refute the evidence we have. We’re forced to report what we have when we don’t get evidence or comment from the other side.
As journalists, it’s incredibly unfortunate to have only one side of the story. We want to know the other side and be able to tell it. It’s our duty to provide all perspectives and create balanced stories. When we’re unable to get comment from someone, and then receive demands for apologies and retractions from the same people after publishing what we have, it’s frustrating. In this case, we tried multiple times to contact club members and church representatives, but to no avail. It isn’t our responsibility to depict a source favorably, but it is to depict them truthfully based on what evidence we have.
We may be met with more unfounded claims that we’re defaming and slandering. We will continue to publish truth based on evidence we are given. We will continue to craft stories that represent UTD students and their experiences. We will continue to investigate what students struggle with and showcase voices that need to be heard.