Monday, August 29, 2011, 1:50 PM
A quote often (mis)attributed to German National Socialist propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels is “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it.”
That thought process certainly appears to have been absorbed by the Washington Post. Friday’s Post blared a headline “Mormon Glenn Beck: Hurricane Irene and East Coast earthquake a ‘blessing’ from God,” connected to an article by Elizabeth Tenety in its “On Faith: A Conversation on Religion and Politics” section.
Tenety’s first paragraph reads:
Not willing to be outdone by Pat Robertson, Glenn Beck recently weighed in on God’s communication by way of natural disasters, telling his listeners that this week’s East Coast earthquake and hurricane are a “blessing” and a message from God to “be prepared.”
After that headline and first paragraph, the article – which some people admittedly do go on to read after reading the headline and lead paragraph — becomes fairer. Tenety goes so far as to include Beck’s actual words, which had everything to do with preparedness and nothing to do with any sort of “blessing” beyond a reminder from God that “you’re not in control” and a suggestion to “be prepared.” (The “are a ‘blessing’ AND a message from God to ‘be prepared,'” phrasing suggests, of course, that the “blessing” and “be prepared” aspects are not intimately connected.)
Later on, the article includes information about Mormonism’s emphasis on preparedness in terms of food storage, as well as video clips of Beck and (regarding “Becoming Provident Providers”:) Mormon elder Robert D. Hales.
Of course, damage is done via misleading headlines and lead paragraphs, as the Washington Post editors are cynically aware. And, in this case, it worked beautifully.
In dutiful Big Media fashion, New York magazine followed up with a story with the headline “Glenn Beck Calls Hurricane a ‘Blessing’.”
Technorati went an analysis step further, with “Several Die in Hurricane Glenn Beck Called a ‘Blessing’.”
The next day, outside United States borders, the U.K.’s Daily Mail ran a story with the headline “It’s a blessing! Glenn Beck’s own unique take on the arrival of Hurricane Irene.”
The misinformation effort found its way to, of all places, the philadelphiaeagles.com message board. There, user “EMB [Eagles Message Board] Legend” [please interpret the psychology behind that chosen alias however you like] started a thread titled “Glenn Beck says Hurricane Irene is a blessing,” with the oh-so-sensitive introductory comment “I have a feeling those who get hit hard, lose their homes and maybe lives wont [sic] consider this a blessing.” “Dark Lord,” for example, responded by saying: “beck is an idiot, nothing more nothing less” [grammar/capitalization sic]. Later on in the message thread, “EMB Legend” postulated: “If the Jerry Falwell’s [sic] and the Glenn Beck’s [sic] of the world get in to heaven, I’m not sure it’s a place I want to strive to enter.”
As for the inclusion of “Mormon” in the headline, it speaks for itself. Jewish Culture Examiner cannot remember any time recently when the Washington Post used headlines of the “Jew Bernie Madoff” or “Muslim Osama Bin Laden” variety.
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