Pod people: How not to write an attack piece

On one long winter workday in camp, as I was lugging a wheelbarrow together with another man, I asked myself how one might portray the totality of our camp existence. In essence it should suffice to give a thorough description of a single day, providing minute details and focusing on the most ordinary kind of worker; that would reflect the entirety of our experience. It wouldn’t even be necessary to give examples of any particular horrors. It shouldn’t be an extraordinary day at all, but rather a completely unremarkable one, the kind of day that will add up to years. That was my conception and it lay dormant in my mind for nine years.

– From the foreward of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Arkhipelag Gulag 1918–1956: Opyt khudozhestvennogo issledovaniia. Sokrashchennoe izdanie, ed. N. D. Solzhenitsyn (Moscow: Prosveshchenie, 2010).

Should fallacious news stories be allowed to stand unchallenged? If you wrestle with a tabloid, will you not merely smear yourself with more mud? In the latest edition of Crossroads, a GetReligion podcast, Issues Etc. host Todd Wilkin and I discussed my article “A Scottish tabloid libels the Churches of Christ” — my critique of a story that appeared in Glasgow’s Daily Record.

I was unsparing in my appraisal of the Daily Record article about the outreach activities of a Church of Christ congregation in East Kilbride, Scotland school. I wrote the article was written:

in a style reminiscent of Der Sturmer. Substitute “Jews” for “Church of Christ,” and with this article alleging secretive sects seeking to destroy the pure Scottish race through their pernicious doctrines, you have a story straight out of 1930?s Germany.

And …

Yes, it is only the Daily Record, a disreputable tabloid, but this article is libelous, malicious and evil — it is a disgrace to journalism.

Todd pushed me to explain why I believed it was necessary to counter such stories. I noted there were two issues here — the wrong done to the members of the volunteer program at the Church of Christ and the wrong done to the art — to the craft and aesthetics of journalism. My response was directed by my love of newspapers. It was irrelevant to me who the target of the Daily Record‘s bile might have been. An attack by a newspaper against Muslims, Buddhists, Rastafarians, or the Churches of Christ (but perhaps not the Church of England) would have elicited a similar response.

Some commentators on my original post did not believe such a distinction should be made. They believed the Church of Christ’s actions to be malign and its “missionaries” — to use the phrase placed in scare quotes by the Daily Record — were a bad lot. The newspaper’s attack was justified because of the doctrines of the Church of Christ were objectionable to their sensibilities.

I responded to one critic by stating this was not what newspapers are supposed to do. By singling out the Church of Christ for abuse, manipulating photographs and misconstruing the story I wrote that I believed the Daily Record had breached the code of ethical conduct expected of newspapers.

This is not about what the CoC believes or does not believe. It is about shoddy journalism. You forget state schools in Britain teach religion. Banning groups that are anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-evolution would ban Muslim groups from offering religious materials to schools. Do you believe the Daily Record would have run this story if it those helping at the school were Muslims? Would the Daily Record have made the same remarks about the Koran .. Sura 5:6, that Jews are the descendants of Apes and Pigs? This is not about the CoC. This is about a newspaper behaving badly.

The stated the Daily Record story was guilty of the sins I enumerated in my first piece — and frankly they were dopes who did not know their job.

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A Scottish tabloid libels the Churches of Christ

Tabloids will always be with us. Few will admit to taking Jesus-shaped potato chips, astrology, Elvis and UFO sightings and Kardashian stories printed by The National Enquirer, the Star, The Globe, the National Examiner and the Weekly World News seriously — but American Media Inc. does quite well for itself by feeding the guilty pleasures of the American public.

The New York Daily News, the New York Post and similar newspapers are tabloids of a different sort. They are written in a simple and sensational style — compared to the “quality” newspapers or broadsheets like The New York Times, Washington Post or Wall Street Journal — and give more prominence to celebrities, sports and crime than their staid sisters.

A divide exists also in Britain between quality tabloids like the Daily Express and Daily Mail (some will no doubt choke over the appellation “quality”) and the down market “red tops.” Sharing a common red nameplate, the British red tops like The Sun, the Daily Star, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Record and the Daily Sport are more akin to the Daily News/Post than The National Enquirer in that while they too have horoscopes and celebrity gossip, they also report the news of the day — with naked girls on page 3.

But they also have a well-deserved reputation for bile and have earned the sobriquet the “gutter press.” Take this story in the Glasgow-based Daily Record entitled “Parents’ outrage as extremist US religious cult hand out creationist books and preach to kids at Scottish school.”

From start to finish, this article is junk. Not only is it junk, it sets out to be malicious. Below the over-the-top title appears a disturbing photo with this caption: “Face-painted Jared Blakeman is one of the ‘missionaries’ that has been in classrooms at the school.”

The article opens:

HORRIFIED parents fear an extremist religious sect has been trying to brainwash their kids after it was allowed to infiltrate a Scots primary school.

A head teacher invited the US Church of Christ, which rubbishes evolution and counts homosexuality as a sin, to minister to pupils. The “missionaries” at the school include face-painted Jared Blakeman, pictured in a T-shirt with the slogan AIM — short for “Adventures in Mission”.

Many parents at 400-pupil Kirktonholme Primary in East Kilbride only realised their children were being exposed to the evangelical group’s agenda when kids brought home alarming books they had been handed at assembly. The creationist books, defended by head teacher Sandra MacKenzie, denounce the theory of evolution and warn pupils that, without God, they risk being murdered in a harmful, disgusting world.

Parents have called for emergency talks with education chiefs, where they will demand the sect’s removal from the school.

The story continues in this line for another few hundred words in a style reminiscent of Der Stürmer. Substitute “Jews” for “Church of Christ,” and with this article alleging secretive sects seeking to destroy the pure Scottish race through their pernicious doctrines, you have a story straight out of 1930′s Germany.

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