November 24, 2009

How to Write an Anti-Atheist Hit Piece

Reward_of_the_Atheist.jpgDisclaimer: I am using the article referenced in this post to demonstrate the point I am trying to make about the manner in which the sort of anti-atheist hit pieces with which we are all too familiar are written. I am not claiming that the author of this particular article was necessarily trying to write such a piece. For all I know, the author is an atheist trying to raise public awareness about the subject of his article.

I draw your attention to a recent article written by Fred Swegles for The Orange County Register. If you read the article, you will see the extremely common set up for an anti-atheist hit piece perfectly illustrated.

The Set Up

Swegles' story deals with a resident of his city, San Clemente, asking questions about whether a promotional banner erected by the city violates separation of church and state. The banner depicts part of the San Clemente Presbyterian Church, including a Christian cross that is part of the church.

The good news is that the city manager evidently consulted an attorney, decided that the citizen had a point, and asked the Chamber of Commerce to replace the banner.

The Protagonist

Now we meet Lynn Wood, chief executive of the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce. She agreed to remove the banner but "is saddened by it." The key in introducing the protagonist is to depict him or her in the most sympathetic way possible but also in such a way that the audience will not just empathize but will also become enraged over the wrong he or she suffered. Let's see what Swegles comes up with for our example:
With what just happened at Fort Hood and the war in Afghanistan and Iraq,” she said, “I think it’s sad that we can be focused on a banner and not looking at the big picture of what’s going on in this world.
Wow! Fort Hood, Afghanistan, and Iraq! Perfect images to inflame an audience. Not only is this citizen, not overtly labeled an atheist, doing something petty but also something that might somehow harm our troops!

The Villan

Just who is this depraved individual? It turns out to be local resident, Susan Pierce, who had the nerve to suggest that this banner might not be appropriate given that pesky church-state separation and all.
Can public funds be expended for church and religious symbol display?
Oh no she didn't! She has some explaining to do, but naturally, she "could not be reached for further comment." Obviously, she is hiding something, right?

Maybe what she is hiding is a desire to threaten our way of life. We are then told that banners just like this one have been used in San Clemente for 5-6 years. We're assured there is nothing wrong with such banners. And then...wait for it...we're told that this is the first time anybody has complained.

Summary

What I am suggesting here is that there is a fairly simple formula to stories designed to enrage the public and that we see it used in most anti-atheist hit pieces. I am not kidding when I say that this is the fourth such article I have read today that used exactly the same formula even though the context and players were different. I selected this article as my example because it was the one least likely to be viewed as a hit piece, and yet, it still illustrates the formula perfectly well.

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