Paige Capossela, a spokeswoman for ABC News, sent us a lengthy response to Glenna Whitley's August 3, 2006, cover story "The Cult of Ole"--an in-depth look at Ole Anthony and his Dallas-based Trinity Foundation. ABC takes issue with our reporting on the famous 1991 PrimeTime Live expose of Dallas televangelist Robert Tilton. ABC relied heavily on Ole Anthony for its investigation of Tilton; Anthony and other Trinity folks even went dumpster-diving for ABC to retrieve stuff discarded from Tilton's many mass mailings to supporters.
Ms. Capossela--and hey, if you want a sharp, aggressive spokesperson in your corner, she's a good one--also asked that we correct the "inaccurate and repudiated" statements in our story.
Well, that's a loaded request if ever there was one. Our response, in summary: We stand by our story.
As ABC has pointed out to us again and again, it trounced Tilton in his lawsuit against them. ABC prevailed each and every time on the issue of libel in a case that was virtually impossible for Tilton to win because of his public-figure status.
We'll say it again: ABC won. I repeat: ABC WON.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Even so--and this was our point in "The Cult of Ole"--the court record suggests that ABC employed some ethically questionable practices in its investigation of Tilton. We'll address some of those practices in a post later today.
But first, after the jump, ABC has its say. --Julie Lyons
The following is a letter sent to the Dallas Observer from ABC News:
Following are excerpts from your story and our responses as to why we disagree.
But an examination of thousands of pages of court documents in lawsuits triggered by the ABC expose shows numerous misrepresentations by Anthony and his cohorts at ABC, who employed deceptive journalistic techniques that ended up embarrassing Diane Sawyer. Tilton's lawyers proved that the prayer requests discovered by Trinity could not have been found as claimed: Thus, the most memorable part of the Primetime Live story was bogus.
One of Tilton's chief claims in his lawsuit was that what PrimeTime had said in its broadcasts about the trashed prayer requests was false. Court after court flatly REJECTED this claim. In fact, the record demonstrated that thousands and thousands of prayer requests were found in trash receptacles, having never reached Tilton. (That the evidence log compiled by Mr. Anthony's staff may have been faulty because material had been mixed together does not negate the proof that thousands of prayer requests sent to Mr. Tilton were thrown in the trash and never received or prayed over by him.) And, as the courts noted, Tilton acknowledged in a deposition that he did NOT personally receive or pray over all the actual prayer requests.
In short, the record refutes, and court after court rejected, the contention that this or any other portion of the PrimeTime broadcasts was "bogus."
And few covered what would be revealed about Primetime Live in the next few years. Reams of documents released in discovery, raw ABC footage and depositions would show that producers had edited interviews out of context, distorted facts and omitted information favorable to Tilton.
With regard to the claim that "producers had edited interviews out of context," we assume that you are referring to claims by Tilton that two particular passages in the broadcasts (one involving Mr. Moore and one involving Mr. Taylor ) were edited in a misleading fashion. Court after court flatly REJECTED these claims, finding that the editing did not alter the meaning of or distort these individuals' statements. We have sent you the court opinions which exhaustively document the edits and demonstrate that they "did not materially change the meaning" of or knowingly misrepresent the individuals' comments to ABC.
As to distorted facts, again, court after court flatly REJECTED Tilton's claims that ABC had libeled him by distorting facts.
As to whether ABC "omitted information favorable to Tilton"--certainly, ABC did not include in its broadcasts every potential favorable statement about Mr. Tilton, just as your article does not include every potential favorable statement about Mr. Anthony or about ABC. No court ever concluded that ABC had omitted information about Tilton in a way that made our broadcasts false or libelous.
Now a private investigator in Florida, Holloway credits Anthony for his new career. But after apprenticing under experienced PIs, Holloway realizes the Trinity garbologists got too lucky, finding discarded prayer requests where no Tilton mail had been processed for months, unearthing letters before their corresponding envelopes had reached the mail room and discovering mountains of Tilton trash but only a few pieces from other televangelists, though their mail was processed at the same place. Had ABC used Anthony and Trinity as dupes, pawns to "discover" the trashed prayers? Or had Trinity fooled ABC? That question was never answered.
For the record, ABC adamantly denies any suggestion that it "used" Anthony and Trinity as "dupes" in any fashion or, specifically, that any ABC personnel planted prayer requests or any other material anywhere.
In fact, this question was answered--and flatly rejected--by court after court, which found absolutely no evidence to support the contention that the prayers had been planted by ABC, by Trinity, or by anybody else. Moreover, the prayer requests found by Mr. Anthony and his group were not the only evidence relied on by ABC in its broadcasts. As detailed in ABC's brief to the Tenth Circuit, which we have previously sent to you, more than 150,000 prayer requests were found in a recycling center in Tulsa, having never been sent to Tilton; his former housekeeper testified that he told her to throw away boxes filled with prayer requests without his having seen them; and Tilton admitted in a deposition that he did not personally pray over many prayer requests.
Also, we wanted to address the question regarding the edit of "I" to "we." Following is the passage from Judge Burrage's opinion dealing with the edit:
"Although Mr. Taylor used 'I said' instead of 'we said' in part of the interview when referring to becoming a revival preacher to get rich, he later used 'we said' when referring to that same topic. Defendants state that the edit change to 'we said' was for clarity reasons and did not alter the meaning of the statements in any way.
"...In regard to the 'I/We' change, the Court finds that such editing change does not establish actual malice. An edited or altered quotation is not sufficient to establish actual malice 'unless the alteration results in a material change in the meaning conveyed in the statement'...In the instant case, the edited change to 'we said' did not materially change the meaning conveyed by Mr. Taylor. During the interview, Mr. Taylor, in response to Ms. Gordon's question about joking with Plaintiff, did state: 'We said if we didn't, if, after we graduated that we had a hard time making a living, or if we weren't making the kind of money that we wanted to, that what we should do, would be to grab an audience, become a revival preacher. And through that means we'd be able to be rich.'
"The meaning conveyed by Mr. Taylor in the interview was that he and Plaintiff used to joke about becoming revival preachers to get rich. The alteration of the 'I' to 'we' did not change the meaning which had been conveyed by Mr. Taylor. Although Plaintiff contends that Mr. Taylor was not referring to Plaintiff when using 'we,' the Court finds that no reasonable jury would find that Mr. Taylor did not include Plaintiff when referring to 'we' and no reasonable jury would find by clear and convincing evidence that Defendants acted with actual malice in making the edited change."