Ed. Dept. Says Interview Misquoted Paige

By Sean Cavanagh — April 23, 2003 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A week after Secretary of Education Rod Paige was widely criticized for comments on religion and public schools, Department of Education officials released transcripts of an interview that they said showed his remarks were mischaracterized.

The written text of the interview with the Baptist Press released by the department detailed instances in which the agency said Mr. Paige’s statements were not reported accurately. The Education Department prepared the text from a recording it made of the original interview.

Rod Paige

“Our goal was to ensure that Secretary Paige’s comments were understood in the proper context and in their entirety,” Daniel Langan, a spokesman for the department, said last week. “And that appears to have been achieved.”

On its Web site, the Baptist Press published an “editor’s note” on April 11 stating that its story had “contained factual and contextual errors” made by the reporter, who it said “no longer will be employed to write for the Baptist Press.”

Mr. Langan said the Education Department asked the Baptist Press, an online publication that has a central bureau in Nashville, Tenn., to review the actual transcripts of the interview, and consider posting the full transcript on its Web site. Department officials did not ask the Baptist Press to sever its ties with Todd Starnes, the reporter who conducted the March interview, according to Mr. Langan.

More Context

Mr. Paige was roundly criticized by advocacy organizations, members of Congress, editorial writers, and others for the interview that appeared in an April 7 edition of the Baptist Press, a national news service serving Southern Baptists.

The secretary was at one point quoted as praising the “strong value system” in Christian schools and universities, in contrast to public schools “where there are so many different kids” with different kinds of values.

Critics said those comments, and others in the story, made it seem as if Mr. Paige was openly voicing a preference for Christian institutions, or advocating a greater Christian influence in public education. In an April 9 news briefing, Mr. Paige said those remarks were taken out of context, reiterated his respect for the separation of church and state, and rejected calls from critics to either apologize or resign. (“Paige Remarks Prompt Calls for Retraction,” April 10, 2003.)

Over the next few days, however, the department went further, releasing a transcript of Mr. Paige’s interview with Mr. Starnes. In addition to the transcript, agency officials composed a document—annotated in electronic “red pen"—showing instances in which they said the secretary’s original comments differed from those that ended up in the published article.

In some cases, department officials said words were omitted; in other cases, sentences and phrases were deleted that otherwise would have put Mr. Paige’s remarks in context.

Mr. Paige and department officials pointed out at least one of the apparent discrepancies at the April 9 press conference, in reference to a quote in the article from Mr. Paige saying, “All things equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith.”

The transcript showed that the secretary had been asked about the choice among private, Christian, and public universities, and began his answer by saying, “That’s a judgment, too, that would vary because each of them have real strong points and some of them have vulnerabilities.”

Later, Mr. Paige said in the transcript that he would prefer having a child in a school where “there’s a strong appreciation for values,” the kind that are associated with Christian communities, “so that this child can be brought up in an environment that teaches them to have strong faith and understand that there is a force greater than them personally.”

Question of Values

In another section of the Baptist Press interview, the department’s transcript shows Mr. Paige was asked, “What do you think one of the chief benefits of religious education is?”

The Baptist Press quoted him as giving this much-scrutinized response: “The reason that Christian schools and Christian universities are growing is a result of a strong value system. In a religious environment, the value system is set. That’s not the case in a public school where there are so many different kids with different kinds of values.”

The transcript shows Mr. Paige responding this way: “Because of the strong value-system support. Values go right along with that. In some of our other schools, we don’t have quite as strong a push for values as I think we would need. In a religious environment, the value system is pretty well set and supported. In public schools, there are so many different kids with different kinds of experiences that it’s very hard to get consensus around some core values.”

Another part of the transcript makes it clear that Mr. Paige was quoted out of context as saying he would pray for those who opposed his view that religion had a place in public schools.

In fact, the question Mr. Paige was responding to when he said “I would offer them my prayers” concerned how he would answer critics who said that President Bush was “too religious.”

But seeing the actual transcript of the interview did little to satisfy Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Washington-based Americans United for Church and State, who said Mr. Starnes was being made a “fall guy” for doing his job.

Mr. Lynn said he continues to believe that Mr. Paige should either retract his comments or resign. A close reading of the transcript showed that Mr. Paige’s comments were taken in context, he said, and that the secretary showed a belief in promoting one faith over others in schools.

“I have read this and reread this, and I don’t see how with a straight face they can say he was misquoted,” Mr. Lynn said. “I don’t think [releasing the transcript] helps any.”

Mr. Starnes, the director of communications for Union University, a Southern Baptist institution in Jackson, Tenn., had said earlier that his story on Mr. Paige was scheduled to appear in a university publication alongside another story, but that the university had agreed to let the Baptist Press use an advance copy of it.

Neither Mr. Starnes nor officials at the Baptist Press could be reached last week for comment.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Your Questions on the Science of Reading, Answered
Dive into the Science of Reading with K-12 leaders. Discover strategies, policy insights, and more in our webinar.
Content provided by Otus
Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Electric School Buses Get a Boost From New State and Federal Policies
New federal standards for emissions could accelerate the push to produce buses that run on clean energy.
3 min read
Stockton Unified School District's new electric bus fleet reduces over 120,000 pounds of carbon emissions and leverages The Mobility House's smart charging and energy management system.
A new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency sets higher fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles. By 2032, it projects, 40 percent of new medium heavy-duty vehicles, including school buses, will be electric.
Business Wire via AP
Federal What Would Happen to K-12 in a 2nd Trump Term? A Detailed Policy Agenda Offers Clues
A conservative policy agenda could offer the clearest view yet of K-12 education in a second Trump term.
8 min read
Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, March 9, 2024, in Rome Ga.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, March 9, 2024, in Rome, Ga. Allies of the former president have assembled a detailed policy agenda for every corner of the federal government with the idea that it would be ready for a conservative president to use at the start of a new term next year.
Mike Stewart/AP
Federal Opinion Student Literacy Rates Are Concerning. How Can We Turn This Around?
The ranking Republican senator on the education committee wants to hear from educators and families about making improvements.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal Biden Calls for Teacher Pay Raises, Expanded Pre-K in State of the Union
President Joe Biden highlighted a number of his education priorities in a high-stakes speech as he seeks a second term.
5 min read
President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol on March 7, 2024, in Washington.
President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol on March 7, 2024, in Washington.
Shawn Thew/Pool via AP