Top Preacher Steps down after Sex Charges Aired -- Colorado Papers Had Been Cautious

By Anna Crane
Editor & Publisher [Colorado]
November 2, 2006

New York Yesterday, Denver area residents tuned to radio or TV started hearing about allegations by self-proclaimed male escort Mike Jones, suggesting that he had a sexual business relationship with nationally known Colorado Springs evangelical leader Rev. Ted Haggard for three years. Today, area newspapers debated how to cover the story.

Late today, Haggard ended the caution when he stepped down.

The story broke Wednesday morning when Jones went on air at a Denver radio station to expose his alleged relationship with the married and anti-gay rights Haggard. That evening, Denver NBC affiliate KUSA-TV 9News ran an interview with Haggard.

Haggard, founder of the 14,000-member New Life Church, has denied the accusations but said in a statement released by the church today that he could "not continue to minister under the cloud created by accusations made on Denver talk radio this morning." He has placed himself on administrative leave.

At first, no factual evidence of any relationship between the two men in the current issue surfaced -- although Jones claimed to have phone messages and other evidence. That made the story difficult to cover, said Jeff Thomas, editor of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"Only the person who made this allegation can provide this sort of evidence," said Thomas. "I'm not sure we can ever find the truth, but we're investigating how the story blew up and trying to be careful and even handed."

Haggard strongly denied the relationship Wednesday night in his interview with 9News, and suggested this may be a political stunt against a measure to ban gay marriage that is on the Colorado ballot next week.

Deborah Goeken, managing editor of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver -- a paper which declared the JonBenet Ramsey case solved the day after John Mark Karr "confessed" -- said that her paper would investigate the allegations, but would be cautious in running stories, considering the sensitivity of the issues. The headline on its Web story for much of today read: "Gay escort claims sex tryst with preacher."

"We will report it aggressively and we will decide conservatively what to publish," said Goeken. "We will be transparent about what we do and don't know, as far as what can be proven and what can't."

Editor of The Denver Post, Gregory Moore, took a line similar to Goeken, after running only a small story today. "If it is what it appears to be, this is a very big story," said Moore.

Said Thomas of The Gazette: "There are a lot of different angles to the story and a lot of aspects that make you nervous. One being the timing. This is an adult making these allegations who knows fully well that there is an election next week. So we're going to be careful with our reporting."

Last December, in a controversial TV interview, ABC's Barbara Walters asked, "If a person does not accept Jesus Christ as his savior, does he go to hell?"

"Yes," Haggard replied, adding a moment later, "unfortunately."

Haggard has boasted of chatting with the Bush White House at least once a week.


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