The Minnesota Post’s media critic David Brauer has done some digging into the Lavender magazine profile of Rev. Tom Brock and provides some additional insight into the magazine’s justification for sending a reporter undercover to a Catholic support group for gays that operates similar to a 12-step program.  Brauer’s story–plus a mention of NLGJA’s blog–was picked up by Romenesko.

The most interesting tidbit in Brauer’s analysis is that Lavender publisher Stephen Rocheford has participated in a 12-step program as a recovering alcoholic.

Ironically, Rocheford is a recovering alcoholic of 27 years who attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings weekly. I asked the Lavender publisher: would he have printed Brock’s statements had the pastor confessed to sexuality struggles at Rocheford’s A.A. meeting? Presumably, the publisher’s fellow alcoholics would look dimly on anyone violating the sanctity of anonymity for any reason.

After a long pause, Rocheford says, “I’d have to think about it.”

The publisher’s get-out-hypocrisy-free card? That the gay-chastity program, sponsored by Courage, a Catholic organization, “doesn’t come anywhere near” to classic 12-step programs. “They’re mimicking on 12-step programs,” he declares.

It seems to me that it doesn’t matter whether it is a “classic 12-step program” or not if it was clear that confidentiality was expected. The reporter admitted to Brauer that he knew confidentiality was expected, yet reported Brock’s name and comments anyway.

I emailed with a Courage participant I was familiar with and asked him about the expectations of the meetings. He said that whenever someone new attended a meeting–usually after being referred by a priest–that the meeting’s confidentiality expectations were reiterated. So there is little doubt the reporter knew about the ground rules.

The other side of the ethics question is whether the story was so important it justified violating the confidentiality of the meeting and participants’ expectations. In other words, was this the only way to get the story and is the story important enough to breach this ethical line.

To me, the answer is no. While you may not like what Brock says and stands for–and you may feel the same about what Courage stands for and does–there probably isn’t a compelling enough reason to agree to confidentiality and then breach it.

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