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Saturday, May 22, 2004

What is going on in Texas?

So the Texas state comptroller denies a Unitarian church's application for tax exempt status, even though the criteria she uses has been overturned by a judge — in 2001, a ruling upheld by an appeals court and, in April of this year, by the state supreme court. I'm confused: When did the Unitarian church apply? And when was it turned down? The Fort Worth Star-Telegram has reported on this story twice this week without ever reporting these basic facts. This matters, because it seems that the newspaper is chasing its own tail.

The congregation appears to have been turned down quite some time ago — although I still don't know when — and had filed an amicus curiae brief in the Ethical Culture Society's three-year-old suit against the comptroller's policy.

And yet, the newspaper's followup story in today's paper (reg req'd) — by the reporter who got pretty much everything wrong when he wrote about UUA President Bill Sinkford's visit to Fort Worth back in 2003 — freshens itself up only by noting that the general counsel to the comptroller commented "this week" on the case. Hey! Is it news that somebody rehashed the justifications for an old policy? How old is the case? When was the church denied its exemption?

Read the opening paragraph and note just how much of a newspaper-makes-news, reports-on-followup story this is:

Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn stirred up a firestorm this week after her office denied tax-exempt status to a Unitarian Universalist church in Denison.

The firestorm didn't erupt because the comptroller denied the tax status this week; the newspaper generated the firestorm on Tuesday when it ran a non-news story that nowhere mentioned when the application was made, or turned down.

But a bunch of Knight-Ridder newspapers printed the story earlier in the week, and a bunch more published it on their religion page today, which means the firestorm is guaranteed to continue — even though the Unitarian Universalists in Texas think the story is "dead in the water." Another great moment in religion reporting.

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 22 May 2004 at 12:06 PM

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Eric Posa:

May 25, 2004 12:07 PM | Permalink for this comment

Tax exemption granted--it seems our state comptroller changed her mind yesterday.

Could good results have come from a bad news story? As misleading as the Star-Telegram article was, it stirred up many responses to the comptroller's office, and may have forced her to change policy.


May 25, 2004 01:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

Thanks, Eric! Here's the first news account of the reversal, which may be a Star-Telegram article picked up by the Victoria Herald: "Strayhorn reverses herself on church's tax status."

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