Washington Post, Your Attacks on Evangelicals are Getting Dangerous

By Michael Brown Published on December 10, 2016

On December 8, religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey wrote an opinion column for The Washington Post titled, “Evangelicals, your attacks on ‘the media’ are getting dangerous.” The reverse is actually true, and it is the secular media’s attacks on evangelicals that are getting dangerous, including Bailey’s article.

Her fundamental argument is that because evangelicals talk about “the mainstream media” as “Satan’s newspaper,” they are now buying today’s “fake news” as if it were gospel truth, as evidenced by the fact that the Washington pizza shooter said that “he has been influenced by the book Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge about faith and masculinity.”

Based on this ridiculously-thin, completely-unsupported line of reasoning, Bailey sounds the alarm: “The jokes aren’t funny anymore. We are living in a post-truth time of fake news and misinformation, something that should be deeply troubling to people of faith who claim to seek truth in their everyday lives.”

With all respect to Bailey’s call for truthful reporting, including a good number of mea culpas for the mainstream media, it is reporting like this that is misinformed, misleading and potentially dangerous, since it fits with the stereotypical demonization of American evangelicals as uneducated, angry, gun-toting, religious supremacists.

The Demonization of American Evangelicals is Nothing New

In May, 2005, John McCandlish Phillips, formerly a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times reporter, pointed out how newspapers like the Washington Post and the Times told their readers that evangelicals and traditional Catholics were engaging in a “jihad” against America — and his article ran as an op-ed piece in The Washington Post.

I share with the Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey a disdain for “fake news,” and I deplore the destructive results of such “news.” In the name, then, of truthful journalism, I appeal to Bailey either to support her claims in detail or to retract her charges.

Since then, the rhetoric has only intensified, to the point that not a few Americans believe that evangelical Christians want to take over the culture by force and impose their faith on the nation, by violence if needs be. (Just search for “dominionist” and “Ted Cruz” if you don’t believe me.)

And this rhetoric is not just coming far-left sites like Daily Kos, whose founder Markos Moulitsas wrote a 2010 book titled American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right. (Yes, conservative Christians are the “American Taliban.”) It is being stoked by the mainstream media on a regular basis.

For example, during the 2012 presidential debates, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews launched a tirade against Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan, calling Ryan’s pro-life position “extremism” and claiming it was “almost like Sharia.” (He was referring to Ryan’s “personhood” argument, which would grant 14th Amendment rights to the baby in the womb.)

Calling the Post’s Evidence “Specious” is Giving It Too Much Credit

Bailey’s article is just the latest in this steady stream of attacks by the mainstream media against evangelicals, but what makes her article especially insidious is the absolutely specious nature of the evidence she presents (to call it “specious” might actually be giving it too much credit).

She begins her article addressing evangelicals directly (starting with the words “Dear evangelicals”) stating immediately, “You tease about the mainstream media being ‘Satan’s newspaper.’”

Her source for this sweeping statement, which will certainly come as a surprise to countless evangelical readers who never heard the term before, is a Christian blogger named Jonathan Acuff who made the comment, “It’s true, we Christians sometimes treat secular media as if it’s Satan’s newspaper.”

It is from this one, quite generic (“we Christians”), fairly lighthearted, hardly comprehensive comment, that Bailey now has her working premise.

From here, she comes to the heart of her concerns:

For many conservatives, the phrase ‘fake news’ is now being used to describe ‘liberal bias,’ but fake news has real consequences. A man who was investigating a conspiracy theory about a secret child sex ring showed up at a Washington pizza place on Sunday with a rifle and fired at least one shot. Gunman Edgar Welch says he has been influenced by the book Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge about faith and masculinity, a popular one for some evangelicals.

This paragraph is absolutely stunning.

To begin with, to turn her argument on its head, for many liberals, the phrase “fake news” is also being used to describe “conservative bias,” to the point that The Washington Post recently alleged that it was Russia feeding fake news to sites like Drudge that helped shape recent election news.

The Sword Cuts Both Ways

The sword cuts both ways, but Bailey seems to think that it is only conservatives who are accusing liberals of fake news and that it is evangelicals in particular who are prone to believing this fake news. Again, the flawed reasoning and wrong assumptions are striking.

Remarkably, Bailey makes the blanket statement, “Fake news has taken hold in religious circles,” citing this as proof: “Ahead of the election, a widely circulated website insinuated that famed evangelist Billy Graham endorsed Donald Trump.”

Seriously? This is proof that “Fake news has taken hold in religious circles”? One example of one false report that was believed by some people (who knows how many) justifies her sweeping indictment?

Perhaps we should say, “Fake news has taken hold in movie-goer circles,” since many movie-goers believed the false report that Denzel Washington had endorsed Donald Trump.

Or maybe we should say, “Fake news has taken hold in black circles,” since many blacks believed the false report that Ferguson’s Michael Brown was shot by police while saying, “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!”  (And what of the fact that this fake news, circulated widely by the mainstream media, led to violence against police?)

Or maybe we should say, “Fake news has taken hold in government circles,” since the Obama administration actively disseminated the lie that the deadly Benghazi riots were provoked by an obscure anti-Islam video.

And speaking of “fake news” being spread aggressively by the mainstream media, according to The Intercept’s Gary Greenwald, “Back in October, when WikiLeaks was releasing emails from the John Podesta archive, Clinton campaign officials and their media spokespeople adopted a strategy of outright lying to the public, claiming — with no basis whatsoever — that the emails were doctored or fabricated and thus should be ignored. That lie — and that is what it was: a claim made with knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard for its truth — was most aggressively amplified by MSNBC personalities such as Joy Ann Reid and Malcolm NanceThe Atlantic’s David Frum, and Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald.”

It is highly irresponsible, then, for Bailey to paint such a one-sided picture, as if evangelicals in particular were prone to believe “fake news.” But it is even worse to connect evangelicals in general with acts of violence, based on this incredibly tenuous line of reason: 1) the gunman at the pizzeria believed fake news; 2) he mentioned in an interview that he had been  “influenced by the book Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge about faith and masculinity, a popular one for some evangelicals”; 3) evangelical attacks on mainstream media are getting dangerous.

I mean no insult to Bailey, who describes herself as a Christian, but this is not sound reporting.

Sound Reporting? Try Again.

First, there is not a syllable in Eldredge’s book (or, for that matter, in any of his preaching or writing) that would inspire someone to pick up a military weapon and storm into a pizzeria to disrupt a suspected pedophile ring. (For the record, the gunman expressed remorse for his actions and did not, in fact, shoot anyone, nor did he say he was “influenced” to go to the pizzeria because of Eldrege’s book. He simply said he was “influenced” by it, also noting in a 45-minute interview that he had recently become a Bible believer. Perhaps the Bible too should be questioned?)

Second, who gave anyone the right to indict tens of millions of law-abiding, God-fearing citizens based on the actions of one individual who may not even belong to that group and who was acting totally independently? Shall we indict all blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Asians, Muslims, Catholics, atheists or others based on the actions of one black or Hispanic or Jew or Asian or Muslim or Catholic or atheist?

And shall we now indict all publications read by criminals? Perhaps a New York bank robber was an avid read of the Times. What then? Or perhaps a Wall Street embezzler loved Agatha Christie novels. Shall we suggest a nefarious connection between the two?

What makes Bailey’s article all the more unfortunate is that it not only brings false allegations against a substantial percentage of the country, but it completely ignores the very real dangers of anti-evangelical misreporting, such as the SPLC’s complicity in the near massacre at the FRC’s DC headquarters, when a demented gay gunman walked into the building intent on killing as many staff members as possible.

He had learned from the SPLC that the FRC was a “hate group,” finding their location by means of the SPLC’s hate map, which led a number of conservative commentators to state that the SPLC had blood on its hands.

Of all this, however, Bailey appears oblivious, instead making sweeping, unsubstantiated claims about millions of Americans, claims which could lead to further violence against them. After all, if you wrongly think your neighbor might be prone to violent acts against you or your family, you might be inclined to misread their innocent actions and act violently yourself.

I share with Bailey a disdain for “fake news,” and I deplore the destructive results of such “news.” In the name, then, of truthful journalism, I appeal to Bailey either to support her claims in detail or to retract her charges.

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