By Larry Hartstein and Mike Morris
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
11:56 a.m. Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Reaction to the lawsuits alleging sexual coercion against Bishop Eddie Long reverberated both locally and nationally Wednesday morning.
CNN and Good Morning America both ran pieces on the lawsuits, as did the local TV news shows.
It was a major topic on local urban-themed radio stations. On the “Frank and Wanda Morning Show” on V-103, host Frank Ski held off on discussing the lawsuits until after 8 o’clock because, he said, “we’re going to get the kids off to school” first.
Ski is a 12-year member of Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia. In an interview with the AJC, Ski said his reaction is one of “extreme support.”
“It’s difficult for me because Bishop Long and I are very close,” he said. “I’m one of these people who’s really old school. When you’re a friend and I support you, I support you. Right now it’s allegations.”
Two men, ages 20 and 21, filed lawsuits in DeKalb County alleging Long coerced them into having sex in exchange for trips, cars and cash. The plaintiffs say Long began having inappropriate relations with them when they were 16. They are seeking a trial by jury and unspecified damages. Long adamantly denies the allegations.
Ski said the reaction he’s heard from fellow church members has been disbelief of the claims. But the reaction Ski’s gotten from the public at large has been far more mixed.
“It’s going to cause a lot of destruction in our community,” a caller told Ski. “I just hope it’s not true.”
Across the radio dial on Kiss 104.1, Roland Martin interviewed the plaintiff’s attorney, B.J. Bernstein, on the nationally syndicated “Tom Joyner Morning Show.”
Bernstein said that when she first got a phone call from one the alleged victims, “the chills went down my spine because I immediately knew the seriousness…and I knew the stature of Bishop Long in this community and across this nation. I got the boys in and spoke with them and that’s when I knew that I had no choice but to get involved. I was shaken by the seriousness of these allegations.”
Bernstein told Martin that she would be subpoenaing Long’s phone, e-mail and travel records as the case moves forward.
“To say to the world as a young man that you had that happen[to you], the ridicule and scorn that these young men are willing to put themselves through for the truth, is extraordinary,” Bernstein said.
She said that last May, one of the plaintiffs approached Long for counseling after his best friend died. “Instead, the bishop makes a move on him.”
Martin said he would be talking with a spokesperson for Long on Thursday morning, and was attempted to set up an interview with Long.
Afterward, Joyner said if that he were Long, he would be immediately making radio appearances to try and clear his name.
“I would have beat me to work,” Joyner said. “I would have been in my studio before I got here.”
Church spokesman Art Franklin did phone interviews with CNN and the “Frank and Wanda Morning Show.” He strongly denied the allegations but declined to get specific when pressed, saying the lawyers had yet to look at the full lawsuits.
“It’s really unfortunate these two men have decided to take this course of action,” Franklin told Ski. “The plaintiffs, these are not innocent victims. …I just caution people to consider the sources and their motives.”
On CNN, Franklin said the plaintiffs were motived by “retaliation” and called it “a shakedown for money.”
One plaintiff, 20-year-old Maurice Robinson, was arrested in June in connection with a burglary at the church.
The allegations also were a hot topic on the Internet. Among trending topics on Twitter, Bishop Eddie Long was No. 1 in the Atlanta area Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
The website for Long’s church, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church — www.newbirth.org — has been inaccessible since the story broke Tuesday evening. The reason for the site’s problems were not immediately known.