LAT: Christian terrorists’ PR secret

Another painful story from He Who Shall No Longer Be Named. Really, I feel like a broken record that is beating a dead horse.

If you recall a post I wrote last Tuesday about a puff piece from the Los Angeles Times — a story that appeared to be just a rewritten press release — I made the point that reporters need to filter what their subjects say, not just parrot them.

Yeah, really went out on a limb there.

But I may have been asking too much still. In yesterday’s LAT the same reporter made an error so fundamental, and by extension so egregious, that I felt it necessary to again comment on one of his stories.

I write this for two reasons: so readers know of the error in the article titled “‘Islam in a nutshell’ explained at Episcopal church” and to remind other reporters not to make the same mistake.

The “Islam 101″ talk at All Saints Episcopal Church was led by Dr. Maher Hathout, senior advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Oddly, this story provides very little background on Hathout — there is plenty, and it’s not all rosy — and doesn’t really support why he is “a leading voice of Muslims in Southern California.”

Hathout is. But I was always taught to show, not just tell.

What stopped me in my tracks, though, was this line:

Hathout expressed horror at the discovery of explosives bound from Yemen to the United States, part of a suspected Al Qaeda terrorist plot. He said terrorism violates Islamic theology and could ultimately destroy Islam. By using it “to defend Islam, you sacrifice Islam,” he said.

At the same time, Hathout complained about the use of the term “Muslim terrorist.” No one ever says a “Christian terrorist” bombed an abortion clinic, he said, adding, “They will not give the religious adjective to that person.”

What’s wrong with that quote? It’s patently false.

Ever heard of Eric Rudolph or Timothy McVeigh? Neither Rudolph nor McVeigh were even close to being practicing Christians — I’d say both were pretty agnostic — but both were routinely referred to as Christian terrorists.

Even the Wikipedia page on Christian terrorism includes this cross-reference under United States: “See also: Anti-abortion violence in the United States.”

And then there were the Hutaree this past spring, though they weren’t anti-abortion extremists.

Why is it the reporter’s responsibility to fact-check someone else’s comment? Well, because that is one of the most basic functions that reporters serve. Just because the statement is in quotes doesn’t absolve the reporter of their duty to verify that what they are relaying is actually true.

This is one of the first things I teach the new Daily Bruin and student magazine interns at UCLA. I would certainly expect a reporter who shared a Pulitzer Prize to know it.

PHOTO: Via the message boards at DemocraticUnderground.com

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  • Jerry

    Oddly, this story provides very little background on Hathout — there is plenty, and it’s not all rosy — and doesn’t really support why he is “a leading voice of Muslims in Southern California.”

    Of course it’s your prerogative to make that claim without a cite, but I think we would have been better served with some references on your part. He’s a fierce critic of Israel, http://www.jewishjournal.com/community_briefs/article/maher_hathout_partner_for_peace_or_antisemite_in_centrist_clothing_20060915/ but that’s all that I could find.

    And I do agree that the article should have had at least a parenthetical comment about his stature which I found in 2 minutes using google: http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/2000/06/Dr-Maher-Hathout.aspx

    Why is it the reporter’s responsibility to fact-check someone else’s comment? Well, because that is one of the most basic functions that reporters serve

    I absolutely agree with you. Reporters who don’t spend 5 minutes with google in such situations should be metaphorically shot at sunrise.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    Not prerogative, just mistake. I’m on my phone now, but I’ll add a link or two when I get to my computer.

  • Ryan

    Let’s just say for the sake of argument that both Randolph and McVeigh were in fact Christian terrorists (which the facts show is patently false).

    Wouldn’t the forced narrative of many in the media and people like Joy Behar who try to equate Christ followers being just as big and broad of a terror threat as the contingent of Islamic terrorists, be like comparing a dumpster fire to the Chicago fire of 1871?

    I mean seriously are we really at a point in which the made up Christian terrorist you can count on one hand are equal in terror, danger, and evil to that of Muslim terrorists? How about a new rule, until you need at least two hands to count supposed Christian terrorists, journalists will lay off in making this stupid comparison.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    I was not making the comparison. I was merely stating that others, incorrectly, have. Yet, despite this, the LAT parrots someone criticizing the use of “Muslim terrorist” as saying that no one ever refers to non-Muslim terrorists as, for example, a “Christian terrorist.”

  • Ryan

    Pardon my poor writing Brad. I was not implying that you were making that link. Your post was clear enough to convey that this was not what you were saying.

    I was more commenting in general about the propensity of pundits, journalists, and writers to try and draw this comparison when it is so absurd.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    OK, good. I just wanted to be clear.

  • Suzanne

    From Eric Rudolph’s manifesto, which he released after pleading guilty to the four bombings:

    “The Republican party is the modern day equivalent to the Pharisaical sect in ancient Judea. “You are like whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and inequity.” Matthew 23:28.”

    “One cold day in December of 1998 I huddled underneath the rock for half and (sic) hour as the chopper slowly hovered overhead scanning the ridge. The whir of his blades became less audible and finally he was over the ridge, and then there was silence. I climbed out of my hide brushing off the icy dirt and remembered thinking about the words of the Psalmist who wrote about seeing his enemies in “great power, spreading his branches and roots like a large tree,” but after a little while he looked and beheld his enemies were “nowhere to be found.” In defiance I looked toward the ridge into which the chopper had just gone and said, ‘I am still here.’”

    “I was born a Catholic, and with forgiveness I hope to die one.”

    You can say that other statements he made at other times contradict this, but nobody can say definitively that Rudolph didn’t identify himself as a Christian. This was the first major statement he made to explain what he did and why he did it.

  • Jeffrey

    Adding to Suzanne’s post, it seems that the LAT has this right and there was no need for a fact check.

    Rudolph has been all over the place in terms of identifying his motivations, but he has clearly stated that he mentioned being a Catholic in his post-conviction manifesto where he quoted the Bible. In addition, there was evidence that Christian extremists helped hide him while he was on the lamm and that his crimes–an attack on an abortion clinic and a gay bar–are hallmarks of Christian extremist terrorism in the U.S.

    As your own Wiki source shows, most abortion clinic bombings have been unsolved. But anti-abortion violence has been carried out routinely by Christian extremists–just look at the list of doctors and clinic employees who have been killed–and the radical pro-life fringe is populated by Christian extremists.

  • Ryan

    Jeffrey this still ignores the obvious that trying to equate or put “Christian” terrorism on the level of that which is rampant in the Muslim world is absurd. It is a narrative that many journalist are shoehorning in to fit their view of reality. It is careless, sloppy and above all false.

    As I said before even if I granted Rudolph the toll Muslim terrorists rack up daily is far more significant. Just this week we had Muslim terrorists kill dozens of Christians in Iraq. But lets not hone in on that because it does not fit what you want to be true.

    Or what about the ilk of left wing extremism terror acts like what happened at the Discovery Channel offices earlier this year, or what groups like ELF have been doing for decades. Don’t hear a chirp from the media about how dangerous they are, even though if the facts were laid out we would see greater carnage from these actions than that of supposed “Christian terrorists.”

  • Ryan

    Also do you have any numbers to support your claim that the pro-life fringe (whatever that is) is populated by Christian extremists? If memory serves me correctly that the last abortion doctor that was killed was also followed by the murder of a pro-life advocate in cold blood on a street corner.

    Bottom line is you would be hard pressed to walk into just about any Christian church in America on a Sunday morning and see people organizing for violence or mayhem. You may hate what they believe but to paint a picture that churches are filled with radical people ready to do violence is just uninformed.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    Regardless, Jeffrey your statement only supports my point that the LAT was wrong for taking at face value that “Christian terrorist” is a term never used.

  • Jeffrey

    was wrong for taking at face value that “Christian terrorist” is a term never used.

    But you’ve moved the goal posts from an issue of facts–your post was about the factual question of whether there were Christian extremists involved in terror actions–to a subjective criticism lodged by someone in a story about whether the term is used by the media (which you haven’t really proven to be wrong).

    Bottom line is you would be hard pressed to walk into just about any Christian church in America on a Sunday morning and see people organizing for violence or mayhem.

    The same could be said of mosques.

    You may hate what they believe but to paint a picture that churches are filled with radical people ready to do violence is just uninformed.

    Again, the same could be said of mosques.

  • Brad A. Greenberg

    Actually, the misunderstanding here is that we’re not playing football. We’re playing baseball.

    The “fact” that I said was patently false was not that there are no Christian terrorists. It was Hathout’s assertion, freely parroted by the Times, that anti-abortion extremists are never labeled Christian terrorists.

  • Ryan

    Actually it is not true Jeffery. There have been multiple mosques in the USA and many worldwide in the last decade that have had terrorists activities taking place or being planned in them. Tell me Jeffery how many churches have been monitored by the FBI? How many of had video recordings of their pastors calling their people to commit acts of terror or call for Holy violent wars?

    Mosques all over the world in numerous countries call for the death of Israel and USA every week. Really Jeffery I bet you are a smart guy, but you only make yourself look foolish by trying to draw this comparison.

    Let me know the next time a Christian suicide bombs a mosque or puts planes into buildings, because that will be the first.


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