FOXNews investigates the atheist festival, gets it twisted.

FOXNews investigates the atheist festival, gets it twisted. January 29, 2012

I know that Todd Starnes, and the religious right at Fox News have an agenda.Of course I know this ahead of time.

I realize that journalists edit down their interviews, but should strive to do so in an ethical manner. Such ‘ethical editing’ is not what happened on Friday as Fox News ‘reporter’ Todd Starnes wrote his story about the festival. But I expected that. Fortunately, I recorded this interview, (thanks for transcribing, Kate!)It can be read in its entirety at the bottom, but you should read through this post first.

The controversy they are attempting to stir up surrounds our headlining music act, Aiden.


They have a few songs with naughty words, and they have willingly agreed to play clean versions of (or otherwise omit) these songs. This video has some people at Fox News absolutely crapping their pants.


There will also be a number of bands performing – the most famous of which is Aiden. They are featured in a video on the “Rocky Beyond Belief” website that includes images of burning churches and bloody crosses.

Among the lyrics: “Love how the burn your synagogues, love how they torch your holy books.”

The group is no stranger to strong lyrics. Another of their songs says, “F*** your God, F*** your faith in the end. There’s no religion.”

Griffith said that particular song would not be performed at the festival, but defended the video of burning churches. – (Fox News)

Wrong on two counts. I said that Aiden themselves would have chosen not to play that song, having eagerly signed up for a ‘radio friendly event’.

More importantly, I did not “defend the video of burning churches.” I explained that the imagery and lyrics were referring to Christians, Jews, and Muslims doing the burning of their rivals holy places and texts. The song is criticizing such sectarian violence. Basically, the lyrics and imagery do not need defending. Unless Todd Starnes is suggesting that burning mosques and synagogues is a good thing? Surely he’s not, and he knows he is misrepresenting both the band and myself.

“You can buy their albums in Wal-Mart, a Christian-friendly store,” Griffith said. “If you have issues with bands that sometimes have swear words, or naughty words, or shocking imagery, that’s a part of the First Amendment.” – (Fox News)

He left off this last bit: “that I fight very hard to protect.” I guess it didn’t suit his needs to portray me in a positive light, or to let me make my point.

Moving on:

Griffith said there is absolutely no controversy about Aiden’s upcoming performance.

“It’s a little shocking to hear some of this stuff,” he said. “I’m sure you understand that these types of shocking things are not going to be front and center for a rock concert that is on a military base. This is not controversy. This is not a real story.” – (Fox News)

This is what I actually said.

JG: They will absolutely not be performing that. They wouldn’t even choose to perform that. They took this um, they accepted this gig willingly, under the knowledge that this would be a radio-friendly opportunity, just like any other show of this size, and magnitude in the military. Yes, we all swear in the military a great deal, actually. And I do understand your confusion here, because I know, as you know, there are no atheists in FOXNews. So it’s a little shocking to hear some of this stuff. And I’m sure that we can have a friendly dialogue like this. And I’m sure you understand that these types of shocking things are not going to be front and center for a rock concert that is on a military base. This is not a controversy; this is not a real story. This is not a real issue.

And to drive home the point that this was not an issue, I pointed out that they were already thoroughly vetted by Fort Bragg’s legal team. But Todd still pretends to be confused…

But if that’s the case, why is there a video of the band performing in front of burning churches on the “Rock Beyond Belief” website?

The military could not answer that question. – (Fox News)

Well, they didn’t perform in front of burning churches. Your leading question is dumb, Todd. They showed historical footage of “faith-on-faith” fires, and didn’t even blue-screen themselves playing or anything like that. Nor would that have changed Aiden’s disapproval of religion’s tendency to produce such sectarian hatred.

This non-story started on the website of my stalker, who scares my family.

It’s unfortunate that this whole story started on a website run by an evangelical Christian officer in the Air Force who appeared to be under direct orders not to write about me online. I read about an officer who had a no-contact order in place, and noticed all the crap about me suddenly deleted (and several weeks without a peep). It became self-evident that it was the same person. For unknown reasons he started up again. He now writes about me every other day again, though for a while he had deleted his old articles.

I’ve not written a word about or to him since realizing how dangerous he was (about a year ago). I’m not going to give him a ‘gotcha’ that allows him to say “there is a 2 way dialog!” Because there isn’t. It is just him harassing me, and Fox News is the latest conduit of his attacks. I have no idea why he is no longer being held responsible for violating his no-contact order. His level obsession has literally scared my wife so bad that she was in tears, and she suffers from PTSD.

Public Affairs and Balanced News

Also noteworthy for dropping the ball is Ben Abel from Fort Bragg’s Public Affairs. He messed up here, and was quite harsh on the phone with me when I simply called him to ask if he too was the victim of bad editing. Ben Abel’s job is to lessen the impact of a potentially shocking story, not add fuel to the fire.

I confirmed with all the officials at Fort Bragg before this story happened that there was no issue whatsoever. All he had to do was say “There is no issue… they aren’t playing songs with swear words… radio-friendly etc…” Instead he claimed that Fort Bragg would be launching an investigation! He then made statements that played right into the ridiculous not-troversy that Todd Starnes attempted to generate.

Benjamin Abel, a spokesman for Fort Bragg told Fox News & Commentary that they were launching a review of the bands scheduled to perform along with their content.

“This is a family-friendly event and we expect the entertainment will meet the standards of decency that would be typical on a top-40 music station,” Abel said. “We owe it to our soldiers and families on post to make sure it is.”

As for the graphic, anti-Christian lyrics – Abel said “I would have to think we would have to take a very close look at that kind of lyric.”

“I don’t know how family-friendly that is,” he said.

“I can’t speak to somebody’s website,” Abel said. “We are reviewing the material and will ensure that event organizers understand that we will have to hold them to a certain level of decency.” – (Fox News)

Pretty much the opposite of what was supposed to happen.

During that short phone call I had with Public Affairs, Mr. Abel also falsely claimed to me that we ‘slipped’ Aiden into the lineup a few weeks ago, somehow circumventing the legal review of our artists. This is despite the FACT that we submitted Aiden as part of our ‘media analysis’ last spring! He was eager to get off the phone and told me he didn’t care about getting the story right, and he was ‘going to do his thing’ (suggesting that ‘I do mine’.)

I re-confirmed with Bragg after speaking to Ben Abel. He had indeed gone ‘off script’ despite being on the receiving end of emails communicating Bragg’s official position. They informed him that Aiden was perfectly acceptable, and would be allowed to perform any radio-friendly set of songs (including clean versions, etc…) This same official position made an excellent point – that Fort Bragg’s “Summer Jams” event – a hip hop event – successfully walks this same line. Despite the fact that many of the rappers swear incessantly, they still came together in a radio-friendly way to support the troops.

In no way shape or form is there an impending investigation into the decency of our lineup, or anything of the sort. I would like to see a retraction from Mr. Abel, though I wont hold my breath for an apology (he was quite rude to me). This is just the first of many potentially contentious interviews to come. I’ve been downplaying the previous struggles to get this festival going for several months, even asking that atheists write a thank you letter to the Garrison Commander for making the right call. It feels good to legitimately be accepted on such a scale, but apparently Mr. Abel wants to return to an escalating ‘Us Versus Them’ atmosphere.

Do the right thing. Fix it. Or don’t. Just don’t make it worse.

Here is the entire transcript. (below the fold)

JG: Hey Todd, this is Justin Griffith

TS: Hang on, let me transfer you.

JG: Okay.

TS: First of all,  just wanna ask, what is, in a nutshell, what is the, what’s the purpose of this event?

JG: So, Rock Beyond Belief Festival is a atheist themed festival that is basically going to increase visibility, and awareness and tolerance and respect for atheists in the military community.

TS: [Mumble]I read some earlier stories that this was in response to part at least to the Bill Graham Evangelistic Association’s events.

JG: Exactly. Rock the Fort was the name of that event, and it came to Fort Bragg on September 25th of 2010 and the stated goal was to convert as many, uh, Muslims, Jews, and atheists to their version of Christianity. And they actually brag about how many they were successfully, um, ‘witnessed’. They said they had 300 on stage at last, last year’s event, and they had 500 on stage at this year’s event. A lot of this stuff has been scrubbed from the internet, now that our festival has come about because of it, but–

TS: I take it, I take it you took some offense to that.

JG: Absolutely. We view all soldiers as already “spiritually complete” or whatever. Like, whatever their current religious preference is has no bearing on how fit they are as a soldier, or anything that is related to military business. So we felt it was entirely inappropriate for anyone to say that ‘hey, your current religion is wrong, and you need to drop it’. This is a spiritual fitness event put on by Fort Bragg, and the chaplaincy itself.

TS: Would you prefer that the, or would you say that there really is no place on military installations for Christian events like that?

JG: Well, Christian events are fine. Christian events are fine for Christians. As long as the same opportunities are afforded to all the other groups. Which is basically the case that we have now, that’s called a limited public forum. But when the goal is to convert as many as possible, and that’s the sole goal of it; they talked about it as a ‘training for discipleship for the future’, ‘this is how we have the next generation’. Now, we’re taking the high road, in the atheist event. We’re not doing any goofy stuff, like de-baptisms, which do exist, you know. We’re not doing anything like that.

TS: One of the bands I had, I’m looking at your website now, Aiden

JG: Right.

TS: They’ve got a video up, that’s pretty shocking, I mean, you know, they’ve got churches burning, synagogues burning, uh, is that reflective of the type of entertainment that will be at the, at the event?

JG: Well, we’ve got a wide variety of entertainment at the event. We’ve even got a kiddie-land, a childrens’ area, where Amy Monksy from Camp Quest South Carolina, she’s awesome, she’s going to be setting up a like, a kiddie pool, where you can walk on water, and this is some weird, non-newtonian fluid, where you can actually walk on it. And, that’s pretty cool, lots of science-based stuff for the children, and bounce houses and face painting and things like that.

And then we also have speakers, like Richard Dawkins, who I’m sure you’re familiar with, and um, we have lots of speakers and lots of musicians, including a rapper who raps about evolution, Baba Brinkman. We have so many artists, but as for Aiden itself, Aiden is a great band. They’re probably our most famous band, and they also, you can buy all of their albums in Wal-Mart, you know, the Christian friendly store. So, if you have issues with bands, sometimes have swear words or naughty words or shocking imagery, I mean that’s, just a part of the 1st amendment and freedom of speech, that I fight very hard to protect.

TS: Sure. Will the bands, do you know, how many songs they gonna perform, do you know?

JG: Typically, we’re going to give most of our musicians, we have such a packed lineup, we’re going to give most of our musicians and speakers, uh, somewhere around 30 minutes.

TS: Great. And uh, so, will they, have you asked them not to perform any of their songs? There’s one particular one that has lyrics, Christ died for, I guess, s-h-i-t, and one’s [indistinct] an effing—

JG: Right. Yes—

TS: Will they be allowed to perform that?

JG: They will absolutely not be performing that. They wouldn’t even choose to perform that. They took this um, they accepted this gig willingly, under the knowledge that this would be a radio-friendly opportunity, just like any other show of this size, and magnitude in the military. Yes, we all swear in the military a great deal, actually. And I do understand your confusion here, because I know, as you know, there are no atheists in FOXNews. So it’s a little shocking to hear some of this stuff. And I’m sure that we can have a friendly dialogue like this. And I’m sure you understand that these types of shocking things are not going to be front and center for a rock concert that is on a military base. This is not a controversy; this is not a real story. This is not a real issue.

TS: I see. Um, and this song, “I love how they burn your synagogues, I love how they torch your holy books”?

JG: Right. I think he is referring to other religious groups that are doing such a thing.

TS: Sure. So in your estimation, there’s not a big controversy here?

JG: No, there is absolutely no controversy here. This has been vetted by the absolutely wonderful people at Fort Bragg, that are working with me, very closely on this, for over a year now. And the legal team has sorted through lyrics and videos, and uh, they clearly stated, ‘you cannot say anything that you would not be able to say on the radio.’ And everyone has agreed to that. We’ve even had to turn away some people who offered, you know. Because their stuff is just too, maybe sexual in content. Or, we umm, we had a punk rock band that was uh, we chose not to accept their stuff because they wanted to say something about the war, or that they were against war. And like, that’s not our message. That’s not what we’re doing here.

TS: Okay.

JG: Keep on –

TS: -That’s just what we need sir. I really appreciate you giving us a call.

—-end of interview—

It really doesn’t matter which artist or speaker Fox News chose to highlight. It could have been Spoonboy, for instance.

SpoonboyWhat You Want

“…we understand that people are sensitive/ But I feel like I’m dealing with kids / Who think they’ve got the answers / And they’ll call it Religion…”

Those lyrics would surely play into the hands of someone with a persecution complex. ZOMG! TEH ATHEISTS CALLED RELIGIOUS PEOPLE ‘KIDZ’!!!! LETS KILL THE CHRIST BASHERS!!!!

This is how I feel after reading some of the comments at Fox News:

Brace yourself.

If you’re still reading this, thank you for giving a shit. Hopefully I’ll see you at Fort Bragg on 31 March! It’s free, and civilians are welcome. Check it out.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • The song is criticizing such sectarian violence. Basically, the lyrics and imagery do not need defending.

    they did the same kind of quotemining with Common, the rapper who visited the White House a while back. They quote-mined the lyrics of an anti-violence song to make it look like he’s a violence-glorifying gangsta-rapper.

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM

    Fox has won a court case allowing them to lie. So they do so. Fox is not a news channel, it’s a right-wing propaganda channel.

  • John

    I would be blowing up that guy’s phone, demanding that he correct his reporting. That’s ridiculous.

  • Daron

    Justin, the best way to deal with those type of people, who constantly miscontrue information, is by e-mail. That way you can show a send/receive receipt and also a complete text of the information discussed. At that point it becomes harder for them to change their story, and if they do then you have proof of what was said/not said.

  • Justin Griffith

    @Daron, #4

    He’s no stranger to this story, though the tables have certainly turned. He was once the guy in charge of handling the swarm of internet atheists who wrote Fort Bragg after the fallout the first time around.

    As I was pleading with journalists to call me after to speaking to him, one of them tipped me off to a lesson I’ll never forget. “Public Affairs job is to run interference. Real reporters don’t listen to them.”

    I was frankly shocked that he let his cards show like that on the phone. I really did assume that he was just quoted out of context, or otherwise the victim of bad journalism.

    I seriously doubt he’ll make the same mistake again. He’s either going to realize his mistake and change, or dig in and get way more subversive. I mean, he already went against his own boss on this interview – for reasons unknown….

  • Well, it looks like the fear-mongering people at Fox news succeeded in manufacturing outrage in their target market. Those people have swallowed the FOX lines hook, line, and sinker.

    Good luck trying to straighten them out though. Atheists are not allowed to post except in one section, and that one ain’t it.

  • Posted a rebuttal. Probably won’t make a blind bit of difference, but at least there’s a comment on there supporting you over FauxNews…

  • Pierce R. Butler

    … there are no atheists in FOXNews.

    Well said!

  • annie

    Ugh! I wish another news network would pick up this story, but I worry that this is rather old news: FOX is making up bullshit again. I commented on the FOX article, but I am sure I will just get blasted by the poor, picked-on Christians. I hope just one person will stop for a minute and actually think for themselves. What does FOX put in their koolaid??

    PS- You did a great job in the real interview. The fake one? You sound like one of those crazy atheists! 😉

  • passerby

    Such horrible quote-mining. Have you no decency, Mr. Starnes?

    As PAO myself, I have to say that it’s somewhat both: we have to get the Soldier’s story out there, and we do our best to make sure the whole story is told, but on the other hand we have to do damage control and outreach in the same vein as a PR rep. And, usually, real reporters go to the source for their material, which we usually have to do Media Escort for.

    From what I understand, this was a civilian hire attached to the PAO shop on Bragg, which means the line gets a little fuzzy on his specific duties and responsibilities. Still, from what I’m seeing here (I don’t have all the facts, just what I’ve seen here and on the article) he went to press with information that was either out of date or wrong. A retraction should be in order, or at least a clarification. Then again, it would be up to Starnes to air it, which I wouldn’t hold my breath for.

  • It is an avalanche of stupid over there, so I expect my post will be buried in a huge pile of vitriol (if it isn’t deleted entirely by Todd Starnes), but here is what I wrote:

    I wonder if any of the thousands of faux outraged people posting comments here have actually listened to the lyrics of the song in question. To David Hartman, yes “these bastards” did include Muslims in their song: “Now faith is a question you can choose, Faith whether Christian, Muslim, Jew” To Mike Jennens, first of all, the line reads “Love how they burn your synagogues” and there is not even one single solitary reference to churches or crossses. Not one. As for any “hostility toward Christianity, burning churches and crosses”, they are OBJECTING to what religions do to each other, not supporting it. The band goes on to sing: “This is just the world we live in, Can you justify the pain?” And no Stephanie Stephenson, Christianity is not “singled out” – it is barely mentioned. To Shirley Koockogey, Nancy Colvenback and many others – not all soldiers are Christians or believe in your God. Don’t they have a right to a concert they can enjoy just like the Christians had last year? I can’t even begin to address all of the misstatements and nonsense in all of the comments, but I hope that what I have written will prompt at least one of you to investigate beyond what Todd Starnes and Fox News is printing, particularly as Todd Starnes has cherry-picked his quotes to the point of unethical unrecognizability.

  • P.S. Thank you for introducing me to the music of Aiden. I will be buying “Hysteria” as soon as I log off here 🙂

  • ginseng

    1. Articles like this are the reason for the myth that atheist are angry all the time. Which, ironically, leads to angry atheists. Like me at the moment.

    2. For some reason I find the comment section more depressing than usual when reading those kinds of articles, probably because of the Facebook plugin. The comments are not just some anonymous person on the internet, no, they are actual people with names and faces. For me, that makes it more infuriating.

  • GvlGeologist

    How do you deal with someone who is legally entitled to lie on the air, who has no compunction about doing so, is totally biased towards one point of view, and is the primary source of information for a large portion of the electorate? How do we show that portion of the electorate that they are being consistently being lied to?

    I am getting depressed about this. As has been pointed out in FTB a number of times, people who listen to Faux News are chronically misinformed, and they are getting moreso, without a way to get through to them. It is the equivalent of TASS in the old Soviet Union. Total propaganda, all the time.

  • I am truly upset how Fox news treated you… That was rude and disrespectful… I am hoping I am well enough to come out and see the performance, my ex (the father of my child soon to be here) is in the Marines and right now is in boot camp.. But I never heard of Aiden before until I read the interview in Fox then this interview… I actually went to check them out and I actually love their songs…..

    Good luck!

  • cag

    One of the rabid at the fox site is using Josephus as proof of Jesus (the spellings are as per the original post).

    You actually are ignorant… Which in termns that you would better understand means * your stupid* where do you get your facts? …Proably from Bill Meher or Christoher Hitchens whou couldnt even debate a brain damaged worm! … Seriously you need to actually open some history ooks!!!…. Josephus (38-97 A.D.) wrote, “Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die…. His disciples… reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive.” Thats a hisitorical fact dummy!

    Again proving that christians cannot see that hearsay is not proof. Josephus was not even born when the jesus story was concocted. The part about disciples reporting sure looks like “proof” to me. Not!

  • Rike

    I am so sorry that I will not be able to attend Rock Beyond Belief. You are doing an absolutely superb job – I don’t know how you keep up! Thank you for everything, because what you do is for every single one of us!

  • Larry

    Justin, let’s not forget that any publicity is good publicity when you’re trying to promote a show. I know you hate being misrepresented and even lied about, but those dopes that are so thin skinned, the ones who think that if we say we don’t believe in their religion we are attacking it, the ones looking for any reason to bash you and the show – those people are never going to be convinced of anything. Our goal can’t be to reason with the unreasonable or to convince the koolade drinkers. Meanwile, you just learned a little more about how to deal with the media. And while those people are bashing and misquoting you, how many regular people just heard about the show and may show up simply to hear the music? Great job promoting the show!

  • I just read some of the posts on FOX and I need a hug. I wanted to crawl in bed and grab a teddy bear close and mutter “Facts, logical fallacies and common sense.” Over and over again… There was just so many things wrong with what the posters said, not just wrong but untrue. This is job for Reddit atheism.

  • Justin Griffith

    @Nichellewrenn #19

    And reddit has always been extremely kind to this festival. Without them, I probably would not have maintained hope that it would succeed. I hope they can suffer through another two months of my posts, because I fear the situation may turn rocky very soon.

    @ #18,

    I’d do it again in a heartbeat. We’ll be communicating with Todd Starnes in the future, and like I said from the beginning – we knew what to expect with them. The only real surprise was the inexplicable reaction from Public Affairs, stirring up trouble with false claims of launching an investigation. It just does not set a positive precedent for what is surely to be hundreds of forthcoming interviews.

  • Thomas

    I will certainly be at the event. A friend and I are traveling down from D.C. to support this very important event. I spent 20 years on active duty, the entire time I was afraid to admit that I was an atheist. When I joined I told them that my religious preference was catholic (as I was baptized as such), but I never followed the religion. After about 10 years in I finally got the courage to have it changed to no rel pref. It didn’t even occur to me that atheist would be an option.

    Thank you for standing up for what is right and fair and making it a bit easier for other atheists to “come out from under the stairs”.

  • chriskg

    To continue the play on words, “Fox” plus “Assholes” = “Foxholes.”

  • Cuttlefish
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  • Jeremy

    Great job with all the work you’ve put in. This is a great achievement. I’m stuck overseas, so I can’t join you this time, but I expect to be back in time for year 2. In the meantime, we can be online foxhole atheist buddies.

    Your post is particularly poignant with that last bit, btw. I ignore comments because they make me hurt inside, but for some reason I read a few dozen this time. Ugh. Great reply, melaniewood.

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