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April 26, 2005

Christian Terrorists, Abortion and Manifestos

This entry has been eating at me for a couple of weeks now, ever since news of Eric Rudolph's guilty pleas in a string of terrorist attacks across the South in the mid 1990s was major news for about half a day here in the US. A bunch of things have always troubled me about the media coverage of Rudolph's story. I'll address them one at a time.

Double Standards in Effect

Eric Rudolph is a Christian fundamentalist. Yet the same media outlets that love to point out when a terrorist is Muslim almost universally failed to note Rudolph's extremist Christian worldview. I ran a Google News search for "Eric Rudolph" and turned up about 4,100 results. But when you add the word "Christian" to that search, and the results drop to just 81 stories.

By way of comparison, a search for "Zacarias Moussaoui" -- the so-called 20th 9/11 hijacker -- already garners about 3,870 results (his guilty plea is far more recent), but add terms like "Muslim," "Islam" and "Arab" to the search, and you find about 83 stories noting Moussaoui's religion or ethnicity. And I would venture a guess that if you asked the average American the extreme version of which religious ideology drove the 9/11 hijackers, vs. which one drove the Olympic bomber, the gap would be drastic. In fact, probably a number of people would say Rudolph was Muslim...

How about the terms "terrorism" or "terrorist"? Add those to "Eric Rudolph" and Google News yields about 786 results. But add them to "Zacarias Moussaoui" and your search returns about 2,830 results.

Take these same searches to Nexis.com -- the high end facility that indexes major print media. I scanned the previous month for ALL NEWS, ENGLISH, and here's what turned up...

Eric Rudolph (OR Eric Robert Rudolph): 754
  AND (terrorism or terrorist): 287
  AND (christian OR christianity): 121
Zacarias Moussaoui: 605
  AND (terrorism or terrorist): 542
  AND (muslim OR moslem OR islam OR islamic OR arab): 148

Adopting the Perpetrator's Preferred Language

The second thing that should stand out about the coverage of Rudolph's treachery is the acceptance of the terrorist's language. Rudolph sees the women's health clinics he bombed as "abortion clinics." For about a third of the US population, that means "murder factories." But the places he attacked were health care facilities that happened to provide abortions as one of many services.

Remember those 3,870 stories Google News found about Eric Rudolph? Well, about 3,430 of them use the terms "abortion clinic" or "abortion clinics." Query instead for terms like "women's clinic" or "health clinic" and... drumroll please... about 68 results. Maybe Rudolph won, after all...

Care to Read a Manifesto, Anyone?

The very same news media that refuse to even ponder the complex motivations behind terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists perpetrated against Western targets -- let alone print in full the communiques of terror groups -- couldn't help but publish extensive excerpts from the hate-filled statement Rudolph released in conjunction with his remorseless guilty pleadings. It's really amazing that the Associated Press and others chose to run significant promotion of Rudolph's manifesto, without comment. Google News finds at least 77 online news sources that published the AP release.

Can you imagine the response from the Religious Right if the AP were to begin publishing excerpts of Al Qaeda statements? Any time the slightest portion of an Islamist terrorist video or communique runs in the Arab or Western media, the liberal and conservative establishments here in the US go virtually berserk, worried that it will inspire more such attacks.

The Associated Press was good enough to report the effects of its choice to publish the extremist manifesto, running an article the next day noting in its lead:

Abortion clinics around the country are bracing for attacks after Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph issued his manifesto justifying the use of violence to stop "the worst massacre in human history."

Oh, boy. Rudolph's words feature prominently in the lead of the story. The AP is basically saying here, "Hey, in case you didn't hear yesterday, abortion = massacre." And instead of pointing out that Rudolph believes stopping the "massacre" justifies murder, or using a term like "rationalizing" (which implies uncertainty) instead of "justifying," the AP just tells us straight out that Rudolph's manifesto serves as objective justification for murder.

Am I being overly analytical and overly harsh toward the AP? Well, perhaps. But I am just applying the same standards we apply in our own work here at TNS. Is that really too much to ask?

Comments...

Linda: Reporters' Subconscious Beliefs Showing

I apologize that right now I don't have time to write a presentable letter to the editor worthy of posting to your site--I'm late for a meeting right now, so I'll jot away. I realize that word choice is everything so hope that my stream of consciousness doesn't betray my supportive intent here. I did want to voice my support for Dominick's article.

Any writing or marketing class teaches the importance of word choice towards influencing readers. The AP writers' own subconscious beliefs, or their desired outcomes, are reflected by their phrasing----"we write to know what we think." In my opinion, it is possible that the statistics Dominick compiled from the subset of AP writers in this country do portray the tendency of a percentage of the mass population in this country.

Critical analyses like Dominick's help thinkers to understand where their own word choice may be influencing their own lives in ways of which they hadn't been aware. Sheep follow rather than think, so critical analysis would be wasted on Christian fundamentalist sheep.

The value, to me, in the last 4+ years politics in this country, is the lesson in regards to that same percentage of the mass population. They would rather, or possibly may only, be followers. Prior to these last 5 or so years, I had given every human more credit, perhaps, than they deserve. It seems our only choice is to use the same marketing/brainwashing techniques as the power brokers who manipulate the religious right in order to bring us back to behavior that respects the earth and other life forms.

Thanks for your services--gotta run.

revgorgo: Christian Terrorists, Abortion and Manifestos

I'm reading something wrong. You're saying there's a sharp contrast between 83 stories and 81 stories? Do you have the right numbers here? The links seem to show a wider difference.


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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.