Ex-anchor cites interference at Monitor

September 02, 1992|By Boston Globe

BOSTON -- Former network anchorman John Hart, whose resignation helped precipitate a crisis over the costly media expansion by the First Church of Christ, Scientist, has broken his long silence on the reason he quit, complaining that officials failed to disclose the religious mission of Monitor broadcasting and censored news stories.

In an article in the September-October issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, Mr. Hart charges that the Christian Science church tried to have it both ways, reassuring members that its radio and television operation had a religious purpose while telling the largely non-member broadcasting staff that their purpose was secular.

"In the end, neither side bought it," said the former anchor of World Monitor, the church's daily TV news show. Hart declined comment on the article and said the piece spoke for itself.

Financial problems forced the issue, after the church spent a half-billion dollars on new radio and TV programming and a consumer newsmagazine. But "the real contest within the church was theological," writes Mr. Hart, who is not a Christian Scientist.

"What drove the demands for an end to the enterprise was a charge that the board had not been faithful to Eddy's writing in all this, and that the church's mission had been subverted," he concludes, referring to church founder Mary Baker Eddy. "I believe the enterprise died in the unresolvable conflict between a religious mission and independent journalism."

Church officials referred questions on the Hart article to David Cook, a member and current chief of Monitor broadcasting.

Mr. Cook, once managing editor of World Monitor, attributed the conflict to "professional differences," not religious interference.

"We were new to the nightly national televison news business," Mr. Cook said in a phone interview. "We never did anything dishonest. Our goal was always to serve viewers with news that met the standards they had come to expect from the Christian Science Monitor, and we are proud of what we accomplished."

Sandy Socolow, the first executive producer of World Monitor, declined to respond to questions about Mr. Hart's account but insisted that "we did have editorial independence for the 18 months I was there, up until December 1989." Mr. Socolow, another non-church member, came to Monitor TV from CBS and left to begin a home video project with retired CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite.

But Mr. Hart complains in his account that the church appointed a "religious commissar" to oversee the content of news programs and allowed church public relations concerns to dictate the timing and form of news stories.

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