Confusion in the Public Square—The Case of Pam Geller and Islamic Jihad


Pam Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, is an activist. She clearly is on a mission to raise awareness of the threat from radical Islam. Most recently, she hosted an event in Garland, Texas. The idea was to award $12,500 to the winner of a cartoon contest for depicting the prophet Muhammad. This is just the sort of thing that riles Muslims worldwide. It is provocative and incendiary. It appears that it was deliberately so. Ms. Geller doesn’t like jihadists, and this is her way of drawing—quite literally—attention to the seriousness of their threat.

The event in Garland turned bloody when two gunman rolled up to the venue, brandished high-powered weapons, and were shot dead by the police. A media frenzy has developed over the event, but it has been focused through a peculiar lens: the misdeeds of Ms. Geller.

Apparently, Geller wishes to test the first amendment protecting freedom of speech in the United States. And she seems to have concluded that this precious right has been trampled in the aftermath of the event. In her media appearances, she has sought to direct attention to the truth of her message, so dramatically demonstrated by what happened at the Curtis Culwell Center: Muslim radicals are a danger and a threat to Americans right here at home.

There are at least three possible motivations for the media outcry against Ms. Geller:

  1. The Chris Matthews of this world probably are motivated by a socially and politically liberal ideology. These ideologues are always at pains to distinguish peace-loving Muslims from those radicals who have highjacked the peaceful religion of Islam, almost as if the “extremists” aren’t real Muslims. They smugly pronounce Islam to be inherently peace-loving, without any obvious awareness of what the Qu’ran teaches or Muslim history. They haven’t discerned that the “true” Muslims that they link together are the reformist progressives who feel no compunction to take the Qu’ran literally. Because they’ve bought the line that Islam itself is harmless, these ideologues are intent on calming emotions about the dangers of Islam. Pamela Geller should be ashamed of herself.
  2. Some of Geller’s critics may be genuinely fearful for American security. They’ve accused her of being dangerous. They’ve suggested that she is a threat to our security. After all, her actions were provocative. She sponsored an event that is offensive to Muslims. And radical Islamists can be counted on to step out of the shadows to shed blood to “voice” their disapproval. If she and her cohorts keep this up, we’re bound to face more immediate and alarming threats in our own backyard. She owes it to her fellow Americans to keep a lid on it and let saner measures deal with the threat she abhors.
  3. Some pundits may simply think Geller is acting stupidly. She’s asking for trouble, foolishly thinking that her campaign will stem the tide of jihadism in the world. There are better ways of answering the threat, and it’s nuts to think that progress can be made on this front through the antics of an extremist counter-Islamist. (Of course it won’t. But it may also be stupid to think that she thinks it will.)

I should mention a fourth potential motive for the media’s present obsession: Their need for another news story. “After all, Baltimore has calmed down, and they need some news to report.” This vague allusion to media cynicism neglects the significance of similarities and differences in media treatment of Ms. Geller’s escapades. They share a distaste for her actions; they differ in their specific criticisms of them.

The Common Sense Objection

The media critique of Geller has generally fallen short of accusations that she crossed the line protecting her freedom of speech. Her freedom of speech is protected. And note, Geller is doubly protected. First, the first amendment protects her from prosecution for her actions. Second, when threatened by violence, she and her cohorts are rightly protected by law enforcement. The gunmen who were killed violated the law. Geller did not. They had murder on their minds. Geller did not.

Here’s a difficult question for the media to wrestle with: If the gunmen were shot and killed for their own violent, law-breaking actions, while Pamela Geller was exercising her first amendment rights and did nothing legally wrong, should we focus on what the jihadists are doing to threaten American civil liberties, or should we focus on the wisdom of Pamela Geller’s actions? Wow, that’s a tough one.

Many media personalities have focused exclusively on the provocations of Ms. Geller and not at all on the nefarious action of the gunmen who represent world jihadism. They’ve blamed her for what occurred on May 3. This is a diversion from the truth that the gunmen were responsible for the outcome and that their acts were motivated by commitment to extremist Islam. And it ignores the report that ISIS has taken responsibility for the murderous decision to attack the Muhammad Art Exhibit.

There is a place for considering whether Pamela Geller is going about things in the right way. I think it’s a mistake. For several reasons. Not the least of which is that it isn’t exactly the Christian thing to do. I hope there aren’t a lot of Christians commending her for the strategy she’s adopted. Rank and file Christians—who have little influence on the international stage and can do little to effect geopolitical change—are called to winsome engagement with those who do not accept their Gospel. On the other hand, I believe there is the possibility of crafting a Christian strategy for dealing with ISIS and others. I even think that a Christian strategy is what is most needed today. Urgently needed.

But the media have a responsibility to get their priorities straight in the encouragement of civil discourse about what matters most. And right now that includes assessment of the potential for future attacks, some of which will likely succeed if we’re not vigilant. It’s not as if it takes a Pamela Geller to stimulate jihadist outrage.

And all Americans should be wondering whether fellow Americans whose tactics they disapprove should be cowed into silence into order to make peace with those who plot the disruption of our civil liberties. Reportedly, the winner of the cartoon contest has gone into seclusion after receiving death threats. Does Chris Matthews think he’s getting what he deserves?

Stock Market Responding to Japan’s Nuclear Crisis—The Role of American Media


The stock market is responding to Japan’s nuclear crisis, and the picture isn’t pretty. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down 242 points today. The Nasdaq dropped by 51 points.

This is because the stock market doesn’t like uncertainty. And uncertainty is the hallmark of the current situation. Japan is in crisis. The American media are trying get to the bottom of things. But they have resorted to sheer speculation on the basis of doubtful evidence. I hold the irresponsible media partly responsible for our stock market malaise.

Japanese officials are holding their cards close to the vest. Is this because the news about their damaged nuclear reactors is far worse than they want the world to know? Or is it because the Japanese culture favors patient and cautious reporting rather than minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow updating? Who knows?

Here’s something we do know. When the American media bring the experts in to speculate about events unfolding in Japan, they are compelled to reflect “two sides” to the “issue.” (Maxim: “There https://douggeivett.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpare two sides to every issue.”) What’s the issue? “Just how bad is the situation and how much risk of spreading radiation is there right now?” So one expert is selected precisely for his relative optimism and another is selected for her more negative outlook. This does not ensure that the media retain individuals on each side who are equally competent to evaluate what little is known.

Case in point: Bill O-Reilly (Fox News) interviewed Professor Richard Muller, a physicist at UC Berkeley, and Rita King who, bless her heart, is a “former nuclear industry journalist.” Speculation without benefit of good data is bad enough. But speculation from a former journalist is painfully specious.

Gunther Oettinger

Cameras with direct feed into some American broadcast studio are an invitation to loose lips. Have you heard what Gunther Oettinger said today? Who’s Gunther Oettinger, you ask. He’s the European Union Energy Chief. Gunther said that Japan’s nuclear plant crisis is “out of control.” This was during a European Parliament committee meeting in Brussels. The stock market went nuclear; the sell-off in equities plunged deeper. Read about this here, where we’re told:

The EU energy commissioner’s spokeswoman, however, later clarified that Oettinger did not have any special or extra information on the situation in Japan.

There you have it. An escalation in alarmist talk with no correlative change in data.

Let’s face it. We don’t know what’s happening on the ground in Japan. Our typically American demand for immediate information and quick fixes isn’t getting us anywhere. Poor Shepard Smith, of Fox News, flew out to Japan to get first-hand information, and he’s learning more about what’s happening in Japan during his conversations with Fox anchors at home than he is from officials in Japan.

In American news reporting, there’s no such thing as keeping your powder dry and your mouth shut. But if there isn’t any more specific real news from Japan soon, the media may have to start covering other important issues and events happening in the world, like our national debt and the Congressional failure to produce a budget, the war in Afghanistan, and Muammar Gaddafi’s goofy and perilous antics in Libya.

Oprah on My Mind


Winfrey on the first national broadcast of The...

Image via Wikipedia

Time Warner was at my house today to troubleshoot instability and speed problems with our internet connectivity. After the fix, we tested the speed at speakeasy.net and speedtest.net. The technician then suggested that I open YouTube for a real world test.

I cranked up the ole’ YouTube and the first thing that popped up was a six-minute video titled “The Church of Oprah Exposed.” We watched the whole thing.

It reminded me of a lecture I heard a few weeks ago by a Christian woman with a far more sophisticated exposé of Oprah’s religion.

Then I was reminded that I had agreed to review a book called “O” God: A Dialogue on Truth and Oprah’s Spirituality, by Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett.

The most limited encounter with Oprah reveals at least the following few facts:

  1. The turning point in Oprah’s spiritual odyssey was when, as a young woman, she heard the preacher in her Baptist church speak of God as “a jealous God.” Until that moment, she says, she was pretty traditional in her Christian beliefs. But the idea that God was jealous offended her sensibilities, and off she went in search of a new form of spirituality.
  2. Eventually, Oprah concluded that spirituality is not about belief but about experience. You would think that she has no definite religious beliefs, but that she only expounds on spiritual technologies that bring people together. She does, however, assert that God is in everything. From this she divines many other “truths.”
  3. Oprah uses her media venues for the overt dissemination of her religious notions. Oprah is an evangelist, with an evangelist’s fervor. You might say that she’s the single most successful “television evangelist.”
  4. Oprah emphatically denies the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, and extols the wisdom of Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth. The Power of Now, published in 2004, just now has 1,166 customer reviews at Amazon.com, and boasts 4 and 1/2 stars and an Amazon Bestseller Rank of 263. A New Earth garners 4 stars, 1531 customer reviews, and a Bestseller Rank of 370.

Oprah enjoys enormous popularity and her influence in the lives of individuals is considerable. There clearly is a need for sober reflection on Oprah’s significance as a spiritual guru.

Even cursory exposure to her teachings is unsettling. Her claim that religious or spiritual reality is not really about believing anything is self-defeating, since the technologies she promotes are rooted in certain definite beliefs. By denying the significance to true belief, Oprah takes the important role of evidence off the table and promises a set of attractive experiences. Meanwhile, her avid disciples or “fans,” if you prefer) abandon their more traditional beliefs, or try somehow to line them up with the principles of “the power of now.”

Oprah believes that Jesus Christ was not the unique savior of the world. That’s a pretty fundamental belief. It’s no use denying that she has control beliefs. The question is whether her beliefs are adequately grounded in evidence and whether her beliefs are true.

Here are some suggested principles for evaluating Oprah’s claims, or anyone else’s for that matter (including the preacher at your neighborhood church):

  1. If she denies that beliefs are important to her spiritual outlook, she’s being dishonest, or else she has deceived herself.
  2. If experience is promoted over truth, then there is no way to gauge the validity of the experience. Does it connect with reality, or is it a counterfeit of reality?
  3. If Oprah’s entire odyssey in the direction of a New Age religion was prompted by an altogether naive understanding of the claim that God is a jealous God, then expect the rest of her perspective to be riddled with equally naive holes.
  4. If you accept Oprah’s claim that Christianity can be harmonized with Oprah’s gospel, then count yourself a convert from Christianity to something that isn’t Christianity.
  5. If Oprah has made herself wealthy and politically influential, take special care to examine her claims, lest you be snookered by a media pro taking selfish advantage of others who aren’t sure what they believe.
  6. If Oprah’s success is owing to her media skills, then understand that she is no more credible than any other television evangelist who is known solely as a public persona.
  7. If you’re going to read Eckhart Tolle’s books, check each of his claims against reasonable standards of truth and evidence.
  8. If Oprah and Tolle make statements about what Jesus really taught, or what the Bible really means, take care to examine their statements for yourself to see if their interpretations are accurate.
  9. If you’re a Christian, check the fundamental claims of Christianity against reasonable standards of truth and evidence.
  10. Whatever it is you belief about the things that matter most, check your beliefs against reasonable standards of truth and evidence.

Chris Matthews an Authority on Negative Campaigning and Wing-Nuts


WingnutsTonight, on MSNBC’s “Hardball” show, Chris Matthews says he “can’t stand” negative campaigning, from Republicans or Democrats. But earlier in the same segment he repeatedly calls right-wing conservatives “wing-nuts.” His Democrat strategist guest was more honorable. Even he couldn’t  call them wing-nuts, after being pressed to do so by Matthews.

Who’s the real wing-nut here?

Has Obama Cut a Deal with FOX News?


The President’s advisors and spokespeople have publicly castigated FOX News and pronounced their verdict that FOX News doesn’t report news. Presumably, this is a calculated strategy to accomplish a certain goal. On the surface, it may seem that the goal is to discredit FOX News. But how realistic is that? Can the White House staff actually change minds about FOX in this fashion? Not likely. What’s far more likely is that more attention will be directed to FOX and that FOX will garner an even larger share of the cable media market. This has to be good news for FOX. But presidents surround themselves with smart people. Since it would have been predictable that FOX would benefit from this kind of “exposure,” you have to wonder, do “all the president’s men” (and women) have a different agenda? Are they out to promote FOX because deep down they regard FOX as an ally?

Again, you have to wonder.

Flight Ends Well


I’ve never heard of it happening before on a commercial flight, though I may have missed mention of such or am now forgetting. But the news today is stunning. Continental Flight 61 landed safely in Newark, despite the fact that the pilot had died en route from Belgium on a trans-Atlantic junket.

Perhaps in the attempt to sensationalize, news broadcasts have been repeating one other fact in connection with this flight: “passengers report that they had no idea the pilot had died.” Are we supposed to be surprised? I’m surprised if that what’s the media think.

I’m so surprised, in fact, that it wouldn’t surprise me at all if some listeners think they must have heard “co-pilots report that they had no idea that the pilot had died.”

That would be newsworthy. But if it’s what you think, don’t say you heard it here.

* * *

Footnote:

It has also been reported that “the crew gave no indication that the pilot was ill or had died.” Certainly, if the crew did not know of the pilot’s death, this would explain why they gave no indication of it. But that would leave certain other things unexplained, like the safe landing of the plane at Newark.

Another Footnote:

The same ABC news article, authored by a team of two journalists, also includes this remarkable statement:

The pilot . . . died of apparent natural casues.

I don’t know how that happens. I understand the concept of dying from natural causes. But the article says the captain died of apparent natural causes. Does anyone else think that sounds metaphysically bizarre? I should think that if it’s soon determined that the pilot died of actual natural causes, then it will be false, if it means anything, that he died of apparent natural causes. There must be some distinction between natural causes and apparent natural causes that makes it impossible to die from both.

You may be thinking, “But what the journalists meant was that the pilot, apparently, died of natural causes.” But this would be ambiguous. Would it mean more precisely that apparently he died of natural causes (i.e., it appears that he died of natural causes)? Or would it mean that he died of natural causes in an apparent manner?

OK, we should probably infer that the first of the last two options is what the journalists meant by what they actually wrote. But what explains how ABC journalists or in-house editors could make such a simple grammatical mistake?

Simple error? Don’t be too sure. It is the media, after all.

Does “Somewhere in Between” Mean “Ideologically Neutral”?


At Politico.com, Michael Calderon has a piece assessing the significance of the drop in viewership at CNN—“CNN fades in prime-time picture.” The brief article is mostly just straight reporting.

  1. Viewers seem to rely on CNN the most at election time, while turning to other cable networks during the long intervals between elections.
  2. CNN just won a Peabody Award.
  3. Doubts have been raised about whether CNN will be able to compete with MSNBC and FOX.
  4. CNN president Jon Klein says yes and that he can explain evidence to the contrary.
  5. Anderson Cooper is CNN’s most valued trick pony, followed by Campbell Brown (who’s about to return from maternity leave).
  6. Cooper’s ratings have fallen off dramatically in recent months, and it’s expected that this will continue.
  7. CNN staffers and former staffers report that concerns within the ranks are greater than reported by Klein.
  8. The critical demographic is viewers ages 25-54.

These are the “facts”—except for the part about the trick ponies, which I slipped in. And there’s a reason why I use the term “trick pony” to refer to cable TV “news” anchors. To begin, the persona of an anchor is crucial to nabbing and keeping viewers. Everyone acknowledges that. But we should wonder why.

The answer may seem obvious. Take CNN, for example. They claim to be “the most trusted news . . .” Leave aside the question whether the tag captures the truth. Why would they be trusted more than the other networks? Remember, the answer has to have something to do with persona. So why would Anderson Cooper, the leading news anchor for CNN, be, in effect, the most trusted news reporter, period?

The answer we’re supposed to come up with is that CNN is ideologically neutral, and Anderson Cooper is the embodiment of that neutrality. And, we must remember, ideological neutrality is good . . . if it’s news you want.

Calderon begins to reveal this outlook early on, when he contrasts the CNN strategy with the “more opinionated programming” at FOX and MSNBC. Notice that—FOX and MSNBC are “more opinionated” in their programming. Maybe that’s true. But what does it mean, and why believe it?

Well, a network can be more or less opinionated. FOX and MSNBC are “more.” So CNN is “less.” Thus, it follows that CNN may also be airing “opinionated programming,” but just not as much as FOX and MSNBC. But then, what is this more or less of opinionated programming? And are viewers supposed to be able to tell when it’s happening and when it isn’t?

Surely things aren’t that simple.

I think we can agree that Keith Olberman is an opinionated guy, and that he unleashes his opinions pretty regularly on his show at MSNBC. Sean Hannity comes to mind when thinking of FOX. So does Bill O’Reilly, who has created a whole new meaning for the phrase “I’ll let you have the last word.” (If you’re a guest with whom he disagrees, he will, indeed, “let you have it.”)

We agree in thinking that prominent anchors at MSNBC and FOX are “opinionated” because it’s obvious. But here’s the significant point: what’s obvious is what their opinion is. That is, they make it obvious that they are presenting an “opinion” because they tell us when they are giving us their opinion.

Why is this so significant? Because opinions don’t always come flying at us with banners telling us that we’re in the trajectory of an opinion. Often they sneak up on us, clothed with disclaimers that their message is completely “objective.”

Calderon is mistaken in suggesting that CNN is ideologically neutral on the grounds presented by him in his piece. Being neither overtly conservative nor overtly liberal, in the style of FOX and MSNBC, respectively, does not mean that CNN is “in the middle” or “neutral.” It has been convincingly argued that they are not neutral but considerably left of center.

Viewers need skills in detecting the ideological commitments of media outlets, the more so when their commitments are more subtly packaged and publicly advertised as “neutral.”

%d bloggers like this: