What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
In August, President Obama made an appearance in Arizona to headline a rally for supporters of his Obamacare plan. Unsurprisingly, protesters swarmed the area with homemade signs to make known their outrage. Among the group was an individual carrying an AR-15 rifle slung over his shoulder, and a pistol holstered at his hip. MSNBC ran footage of this man later in the day, with one commentator expressing concern about the racial overtones evidenced by a white man bringing a gun to an appearance by the first black president.
However, this story was completely inaccurate. Not only was it factually incorrect, but the implications of MSNBC’s error sparked a conversation on a subject that otherwise would not have been a concern at all, and could have easily served as the basis for much more heated controversy regarding this element of armed racists parading around in close proximity to Obama, had the truth not come out soon afterward. The error?
(MSNBC had deceitfully edited the video so as to exclude any portions that showed the man’s bare skin.)
In a masterful video commentary produced shortly after this event, Pajamas Media writer Bill Whittle exposed the deceptive background behind MSNBC’s careful editing. His main point: an armed black man protesting against a black president did not fit a pre-conceived narrative the media outlet desired to convey.
Several books, such as Bias, have been written by insiders documenting instance after instance of this manipulation Whittle describes. The charge of engineering facts to fit an agenda is not a new accusation being made against this industry—far from it. But this instance serves as one of the latest of countless examples where an intentionally misleading story is put forward to attempt to have the public buy into the pre-approved narrative.
Another recent example has sparked a firestorm of articles and blog posts from local news reporters and commentators. Last week, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave a powerful discourse on the subject of freedom of religion, counseling students at BYU-Idaho (and the world at large) that the battle rages on and that their participation is needed to preserve our freedoms.
Just about every media outlet, except those owned by the Church itself, chose to regurgitate the Associated Press article written in preparation for the very minute at which the agreed-upon news embargo was lifted (when Elder Oaks’ devotional concluded), when they could pounce with their coverage of the talk. (It should be noted that this article contains an inaccurate statement; it claims that blacks were denied “full church membership” until 1978, when that was not the case at all. Access to the priesthood and the temple do not constitute full church membership. To claim otherwise is to suggest that women and children are not “full members”. But I digress…)
In succeeding days, most of these media outlets inflated the already-artificial reaction to a statement by Elder Oaks who, when referring to the tactics of intimidation used by proponents of proposition 8 and gay marriage to silence their Mormon political opponents, said:
These incidents were expressions of outrage against those who disagreed with the gay-rights position and had prevailed in a public contest. As such, these incidents of “violence and intimidation” are not so much anti-religious as anti-democratic. In their effect they are like the well-known and widely condemned voter-intimidation of blacks in the South that produced corrective federal civil-rights legislation. (emphasis added)
Comments were sought—and all too readily obtained—from gay rights groups, disaffected members of the Church, black civil rights leaders, and other interested parties, regarding the comparison Elder Oaks made between persecuted Mormons and persecuted Southern blacks several decades ago.
The only problem is that, like MSNBC’s manipulation of the facts to support their narrative, these news agencies have published reports of and encouraged conversation regarding a comparison that was never made (examples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5), with the widely-circulated Associated Press article leading the way with its misleading opening paragraph.
Reading the above quote again, you’ll see the words “in their effect” prominently highlighted to help indicate what Elder Oaks really said—not what his opponents are saying that he said. Taken in its true context, Elder Oaks was making a simple comparison between the end results of the persecution of both parties, namely, that both parties felt less safe and had less desire to exercise their political and civil freedoms. There was no comparison made anywhere regarding the extent of the persecution, nor the similarities of each group’s persecution, nor anything other than the fact that the effects on both parties were similar—not the same. Yet, the AP article and other content produced by the various news outlets (yes, it seems that some of them still actually write their own content—shocking, I know!) ignores this and perpetuates the myth regarding a comparison that was never used.
To be fair, the Church’s press release may have influenced some of the wording used by news agencies. It says that “…Elder Oaks likened the incidents of outrage against those who prevailed in establishing marriage between a man and a woman to the ‘widely condemned voter-intimidation of blacks in the South.'”. However, it is not naive or unrealistic to assume that good (and honest) journalists would seek context to this explanation and deeper analysis before simply fanning the flames of controversy without any substance to support the furor.
But the reality of Elder Oaks’s statement does not fit one of the prominent Utah media narratives, since that narrative is implemented by a fairly numerous group of individuals who are either former/inactive members of the LDS Church, (vehemently) ideologically opposed to its teachings and practices, or disaffected in some other way. These individuals clearly have a vested personal interest (though they may parrot their “journalistic objectivity” in protest) in seeing the image of the Church damaged in some fashion. The narrative allows them to continue to develop and distribute stories that are in reality based on misunderstandings and misleading information.
As Whittle concludes in his video, “You can’t stop the signal. The truth will get out.” It is increasingly becoming clear that there exist people who are hostile to the truth and a sincere presentation of events and facts, wrapped though they may be in the sacrosanct shroud of journalistic integrity. Those who want the undistorted truth must—and easily can, thanks to the internet—reject the media distortions and go to the source (in this case, here) themselves.