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Westboro Church Protestors -- Ignore Them

3 years ago
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Mainstream media don't publish pornography or gratuitous violence. They don't give soapboxes to extremist groups such as the Aryan Brotherhood or the Man-Boy Love Association.
So maybe they should think twice about covering Westboro Baptist Church members, who picket funerals of soldiers and newsmakers.
This small-town Kansas congregation spews hate, vilifies a minority and spreads a message that offends even the thickest-skinned among us. Church members haul out their "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" signs for one reason -- to get national exposure for their bizarre belief that God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality.
This week, church members planned to exploit the funerals of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green and five other Tucson shooting victims until they managed to cut a better media deal for themselves.
But had they demonstrated in Arizona, the media would have lined up to cover them.
Why?
The stories are popular with readers and viewers. News outfits can track which stories get the most eyeballs, and the Westboro wingnuts always track high.
Who knows what the public finds so compelling about Westboro picketers. You'd think the shock value would have worn off by now, the schtick gotten old. Maybe it's the freak-show appeal, ie., it's naughty to look, but your curiosity just gets the better of you.
Editors cite other reasons for covering Westboro picketers. Last month, National Public Radio did a 48-second report on them at the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards in North Carolina. Here's Dave Pignanelli, an NPR news editor, explaining why:
"Westboro church members have been the subject of lawsuits about past incidents," Pignanelli told NPR's ombudswoman. "And since this is another high-profile funeral and they threatened to show up, it is news. Their actions may be distasteful, but it is news. We treated it with as much time as we felt it deserved."
Alicia Shepard, NPR's ombudswoman, admitted to some ambiguity in an article she wrote on the NPR website: "What would happen . . . if NPR ignored the protestors? Wouldn't that be censoring the news? And isn't this group newsworthy just for the fact that they also are at the heart of a case before the Supreme Court? [The father of a dead Marine is suing them for intentional infliction of emotional distress for protesting at his son's funeral.]"
Shepard concludes by wishing NPR hadn't done a 48-second report on the pickets at Edwards' funeral -- "because it gave a hateful message more attention that it deserved." It would have been better if NPR had simply reported the group's presence at the service in a top-of-the-hour newscast, she wrote.
That's a good start. But what if news organizations just decided not to cover Westboro, period? Nothing in writing -- just an agreement that ignoring Westboro's twisted message is the right thing to do. Kind of like what many media did when the Florida pastor said he would burn Korans -- inciting Muslims around the world -- until the mosque in New York City was cancelled. News outlets independently decided not to give him what he wanted, which was publicity.
Collusion? I wouldn't call it that. We do adhere to a few rules we think reflect community standards. We give minimal play to suicides, generally, and we agree to conceal the identities of youngsters and adults who have been sexually molested. We leave out details of pedophiles' actions, and I don't know any editors who think Ted Kaczyinski should be writing a weekly column.
Such topics are off-limits, and maybe Westboro Baptist Church protests should be, too.
One last troubling aspect to this story is how the Westboro group was able to "trade up." Last week, it was reported they had agreed to skip the Tucson funerals in exchange for getting interviews on three radio stations in Canada, New York and Phoenix.
Westboro's foot soldiers may look like hayseeds from Kansas, but they know how to work the media.

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15 Comments

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Rushi2

I am both stunned and outraged, to say the least of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of First Amendment rights expressed by today's majority ruling in the Westboro Baptist Church in a eight (8) to one (1) decision. I most certainly understand that the U.S. Constitution, and the clarity of our Freedom of Speech Rights... I also understand the doors that would open, in the Supreme Court Justices would have ruled differently in this decision. As a U.S. American citizen we have no choice but to accept this decision, and live with it... I have family serving in the U.S. Armed Services, and for me, I don't have to like this decision... This decision is just plan wrong, and shows how out of touch politics is out of touch with the people of the United States. There are probably hundreds of laws in our three state area where I live that restrict Freedom of Speech in "Hate Crimes". If these protests do not fall under "Hate Crimes", then what does...? I really feel like this Sinful behavior of Protest should not only fall under a "Hate Crime", but also be unlawful under the "Patriot Act". The very Freedom that our United States Armed Services provide for the safety of the people of our country, has been severely tarnished today with this Supreme Court Decision. My God have Mercy on us, for such a unpatriotic act by our Supreme Court Justices, and may they never have to fall victim of these unsymmetrical protests... God Bless the U.S.A. Charles / UC (03/02/2011)

March 02 2011 at 11:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Elizabeth

Anybody have an address for this church? I'd like to start a picketing group against them, and go to the funerals of their followers....

March 02 2011 at 8:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ron

"Hayseeds from Kansas?" Very few, if anyone, I know in Kansas is anything but supportive of this group of kooks led by Phelps and his kin. Please stop indicating that they are what Kansas is. Why not place Eisenhower, Chrysler, the Menningers and many others as the normal Kansans? At least you people in the Media would be honest for a change.

January 16 2011 at 7:39 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
tnickerson08

PD and the media are painting a funny picture considering that they sent Amici Curiae (friends of the court) briefs supporting the Westboro Groups right to protest during the Snyder hearing? Shame on the Westboro group and shame on the media for supporing them.

January 15 2011 at 4:56 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
harjacobhar

I think this reporter did a good job exposing how the media encourages them to go to the next event simply because their motive in being there is media coverage. dont give them what they want and they go away

January 15 2011 at 2:37 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
CalSailor

The Southern Poverty Law Center has long ago designated this "group" a hate group. They are not a Christian Church, neither baptist nor any other. If anything, they are a study in the question: Is mental illness (or just "cussedness") contagious? Or, a study on how hatred is passed on. This collection of people, mostly related to Fred Phelps, the "pastor" [another co-opted term used incorrectly], all show the same collection of hatreds. There is a text in the bible that says: Train up a child until he is 7, and he will not deviate from it. This group is no different that the white supremicist family whose three year old thild knew all the nazi era slogans, salutes, etc. Another generation wasting their lives on hatreds that accomplish nothing. The Westboro group spends its time, and whatever money gullable people send them, running around with sickening banners that sane people recognize as fueled by hatred, and best rejected.

I truly hope that the Supreme Court finds in favor of the father of a young Marine killed in war whose funeral was totally disrupted by these people. No matter what the issue, a funeral ought to be neutral territory by law. This is not the time to protest laws, condemn the one who died, or any other, point out that some stupid decision may have cause the person's death, or for any other reason. A family gets ONE change to bury a member of the family. This is the last memory of that person they will ever hold. There is no do-over. NO ONE should have a funeral turned into a circus. If we as a nation can't get to the basic civility of understanding that there is a time and place for things, and some things and some places are not to become embroiled in dispute, then we need to give serious thought as to whether we are really civilized at all.

Pr Chris

January 15 2011 at 12:23 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
mgl53

I wish they would take 'Baptist' out of their name. They are not like any Baptist I've ever known.

January 15 2011 at 9:42 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
tymicha3

I have always wondered where they get thier money to travel to all these funerals. From what I have read, they are a very small church consisting mainly of family members. They must receive funding from some source other than the collection plate. Follow the money and it might be possible to bankrupt them.

January 15 2011 at 9:20 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
mamasilverhair

As much as I love to hate this group. I agree, let's quit giving them attention.

January 15 2011 at 6:56 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
cqdeed

I see no problem with the media getting together to not show FDR's wheelchair and I see no problem with the media telling these guys to take a hike. I think the media is doing this because they agree with them. The media decides what is or is not newsworthy. Not the public.

January 15 2011 at 2:15 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

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