A radio exec says he doesn’t think an SBC official’s failure to cite the sources of comments read on the radio violates industry standards.

By Bob Allen

Richard Land’s formal reprimand and cancellation of his weekly radio program apparently had more to do with damage control than any violation of on-air ethical standards, a religious broadcasting executive said in a World Magazine web article June 5.

Clarifying that he spoke only for himself and not his employer, Tom Tradup, the vice president of news and talk programming at the Salem Radio Network, said he didn’t think Land’s failure to cite the sources of his comments on air quite qualifies as plagiarism, the term used by trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission in a rebuke of the agency’s 24-year leader June 1.

“I found this to be a case where theologians approach talk radio from a different perspective than those in the industry,” Tradup said. He said that since articles read by Land without attribution appeared in program notes on a blog there was no intent to deceive, and while radio hosts usually mention the source of a commentary before reading portions on air, it is common practice to blend others’ commentary and their own opinions seamlessly to be provocative and generate calls.

“As long as we’re having full disclosure in the process, I sleep well at night,” he said.

The executive committee of Land’s trustee board launched an investigation of his use of sources after a Baptist blogger found the most racially charged words in a March 31 broadcast about the Trayvon Martin killing that black Southern Baptist leaders found offensive had appeared previously in a newspaper commentary.

The June 1 trustee statement reprimanded Land for “unwisely accepting practices that occur in the radio industry” and acknowledged “that instances of plagiarism occurred because of his carelessness and poor judgment.”

“As a Christian, a minister of the gospel of our Lord, and as president of the ERLC, Dr. Land should have conformed to a higher standard,” the statement said. “We expect all future work of the ERLC to be above reproach in that regard.”

But it was Land’s other offense, hindering progress toward racial reconciliation just as the Southern Baptist Convention is poised to elect its first black president in history, that “requires the termination” of his weekly radio program as soon as contractually possible, according to the trustee report.

Land apologized twice for his March 31 comments, first for any misunderstanding they caused, and then after a meeting with black Southern Baptist leaders in an open letter expressing “genuine and heartfelt apology” for harm caused to “specific individuals, the cause of racial reconciliation and the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The trustee executive committee acknowledged that one of the most unfortunate things about Land’s remarks is they “do not accurately reflect the body of his work over a long career at the ERLC toward racial reconciliation in the Southern Baptist Convention and American life.”

Land, 65, was among those who spearheaded an SBC resolution in 1995 marking the convention’s 150th anniversary with an apology for the denomination’s historic support for slavery and acceptance of past racial injustice including segregation.

The statement went on to “genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously” and “ask forgiveness from our African-American brothers and sisters, acknowledging that our own healing is at stake.”

The resolution further pledged to “commit ourselves to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry.”

While Land defended his March 31 comments in subsequent broadcasts, he hasn’t said much publicly about the trustee investigation. When the executive committee issued its report June 1, he sent Baptist Press a statement saying he supports the trustee process and looks forward to working with his board in the future.

Announcing June 2 that it was his final broadcast, Land spared his listeners of details, chalking it up to “a variety of circumstances” and saying he has enjoyed his decade-long relationship and conversation with them.