PITTSBURGH – A Christian group sent a complaint to the Federal Communications Commission over a television news investigation that apparently led to the suicide of a pastor who was videotaped going into an adult bookstore.
In the letter, the Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania asks KDKA-TV to apologize to the pastor's church and to the Pittsburgh Presbytery "for the misleading promos and unfortunate lapse in journalistic reporting that led to the Rev. Brent Dugan's unfortunate death," the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Friday.
Dugan, pastor of Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon, a Pittsburgh parish, committed suicide by overdosing on aspirin and alcohol in a motel room on Nov. 3. He killed himself a few days after KDKA-TV, the CBS affiliate in Pittsburgh, began airing promos showing his face and saying it would reveal his illicit behavior.
The station announced during a Nov. 2 newscast that it would not air the story because it had learned the pastor was missing and contemplating suicide, but Dugan apparently never learned of that decision.
In a last letter to the Pittsburgh Presbytery, the local governing body that oversaw Dugan's church, Dugan acknowledged having a sexual relationship with a man and said that man set up his visit to an adult bookstore that was videotaped by KDKA, said the Rev. James Mead, pastor of the presbytery. Dugan's letter was one of several that he left behind for friends, his congregation and others before he died, Mead said.
Dugan expressed "profound sorrow and sadness, and sense of solemn grief and embarrassment, about what he thought would come to be known about his personal life," Mead said.
KDKA general manager Chris Pike would not comment beyond a statement of condolences that the station has already issued to Dugan's family and friends after his suicide.
Christian Associates, a coalition of 24 Christian denominations in the 10-county greater Pittsburgh area, hoped the letter to the FCC would shine more light on Dugan's death and the questions of media ethics surrounding it, Mead said. The coalition argues that KDKA's promos "sentenced" Dugan before church officials had a chance to investigate and deal with his behavior.
Such letters are reviewed when the station's FCC license comes up for periodic renewal, but Mead said the group isn't asking the commission to take official action and he doubts the letter would prevent the station's license from being renewed.
"We expect that would be pretty much automatic," Mead said.
KDKA officials have agreed to meet with church officials on Feb. 20, Mead said.
Mead said church officials are not trying to stop stories about clergy who commit crimes, but they want the media to avoid sensationalized stories about the clergy.