May 112012
 

Browsing through the archive of newspaper and magazine articles about the COG over the years, one may notice a trend. Journalists and their publications know something is up with these cults. During the course of their reporting, they run across all manner of oddities, accusations and tidbits from WCG’s sordid, controversy-fueled past. Some of that information can be read between the lines, while other details of corruption and controversy are plainly spelled out.

Yet, the media as a whole doesn’t follow-up on those details. Is it because additional information is too difficult to get? Is it because they view information from dissenters as suspect and overtly biased? Honestly, we have a ton of this information and not all of us are trained media professionals. And when it comes to biased sources, none are as untrustworthy on the matter as the cults themselves.

So why doesn’t the media delve into the destructive world of cults more often?

It partially has to do with longstanding policies in many newsrooms to treat religion with kid gloves. Since it’s a very sensitive topic, religious institutions themselves are rarely covered, regardless of what’s going on behind their walls. Similar to how the federal government treats religions, they tend to get a free pass from the media too. When they are covered, the story tends to be glowing.

Take the recent article in the Akron Beacon Journal about RCG’s construction project. It uses a total of three human sources, two friendly to RCG and one neutral public employee, and presents very little in the way of background about the cult. When it does mention something controversial, the reporter is very quick to stick an RCG rebuttal into the mix, creating a classically useless “he-said-she-said” moment where the journalist has failed to figure out and present the truth:

Published reports indicated that Worldwide Church of God members paid as much as 20 to 30 percent in tithes. Leaders of the church said that is untrue and that members have always paid an average of 12.5 percent of their annual income.

The readers are at risk of being left confused as to what to believe. Therefore, the reporter, or more likely a skiddish editor, hasn’t done a great job of informing the public. And when the comments get flooded with claims from ex-members, the paper doesn’t have its reporter follow up with an easily-constructed story about the COG’s history of controversy. Questions could be asked about Pack’s actual history and a true profile of the man, painted using stories from those who have known him over the years, could grace the pages of the paper and the COG’s inter-cult politics could come into full public view.

But that never seems to happen.

Instead, churches usually only get their names splashed across headlines whenever something big happens that involves another party. For instance, the FLDS functioned unnoticed by society for years until the feds raided them, and only then did the media stand up and take notice. The Church of Scientology actually had the media running scared of defamation lawsuits for decades until digital activists tore that iron curtain and thrust the cult into the news kicking and screaming.

Unless an issue has an immediate time-peg and can be tied to a “credible” institution, like a governmental or federal body, cults and other corrupt religious bodies can operate freely without press interference, because it’s not really considered “news” since it’s “the norm” for those groups to behave a certain way.

But while it may not be news in the strictest sense, reporting on it does fall within a journalist’s responsibility to promote an informed citizenry. Tragically though, as investigative divisions are slashed from newsrooms across the world to save money, it becomes increasingly difficult for news publications to cover anything but the most immediate and pressing items. The lingering infections festering throughout society are simply treated as the status quo, and thusly, people largely remain in the dark about a vast array of important topics, including the damage being inflicted upon people by various religious entities.

The job is instead left to blogs and pundits that can be easily dismissed as “biased,” “amateur” and “untrustworthy,” giving the COG a ready-made shield against any all allegations thrown their way and creating a built-in skepticism among their already resistant membership.

Supreme Court Hears Sabbath Case (1977)
Apocalypse Now? (1979)
The Armstrongs Keep Battling (1980)
Church Loses Plea to Bar Coast Inquiry (1980)
Kinky Churchman Fools Charles and His Cheque Bought Meeting With Maggie (1982)
Armstrong, 93, Founder of the Worldwide Church, Dies (1986)
Hulme’s Defense Against Fischer Controversies (1992)
Chess genius Bobby Fischer beat the world – and lost his mind (1992)
Clinton administration withdraws from church case (1994)
Worldwide Church of God gathers (1994)
Churches say the Sabbath’s on Saturday not Sunday (1996)
Honey, I shrunk the church (1997)
25 Years Ago (1997)
Stanley Rader, 71; Advisor in Worldwide Church of God (2002)
Garner Ted Armstrong, 73; TV Evangelist Formed Own Church After Break With Father (2003)
Campus mansions put on market (2003)
Church Sells Armstrong’s Works (2003)
Church struggles with changes in its mission, financial woes (2003)
Worldwide Church of God seeks a new start in the face of fresh opposition (2003)
Auditorium Preserved (2004)
Once in cult, student now sees importance of knowing theology (2004)
Suicide gunman kills 7 at service (2005)
Gunman kills 7 in church group near Milwaukee (2005)
After Shootings, Looking for Answers (2005)
Rampage Puts Spotlight On a Church Community (2005)
Police Search for Motive in Wisconsin Slayings (2005)
Police Focus on Religion In Milwaukee Shootings (2005)
Church split may have torn Ratzmanm (2005)
Worldwide Church of God Leaving Pasadena (2005)
Some Christians Shun Christmas and Its Trappings (2007)
Ambassador campus development in Pasadena foreclosed (2008)
House Of Yahweh: A Darker Sect Than FLDS (2008)
House of Yahweh’s Hawkins sentenced to 30 years for sexual assault (2008)
Glynn Washington takes his Oakland-based radio show to the top (2011)
Solving Bobby Fischer (2011)
Wadsworth church continues Bible prophecy ministry (2012)

Silence

  3 Responses to “The Media’s Blind Eye”

  1. ” Leaders of the church said that is untrue and that members have always paid an average of 12.5 percent of their annual income. ”

    12.5%? where do they pull that number from? oh, wait..

    Reply  |  Quote
  2. Yeah, but 2.5% isn’t exactly 2/7ths times 10% is it?

    “News” media is infotainment these days. Unless you can get your “sound bite” to sucker people to read (listen or see) the “News” article, it isn’t worth the advertising dollar. Thus, exposing Armstrongism just isn’t worth it.

    And, oh, yeah, by the way, if it happens to be news of an Australian Armstrongist cultist, they can expect to get sued. Even if you “win” — and it is so very likely with a nuisance case — it is unlikely that as a defendant in such things could ever recoup losses in defending one’s self from, let’s say for hypothethical purposes, a $100,000 lawsuit against you. And watch all those struting “brave” bloggers wilt like fragile flowers in the hot sun and disappear like scared rabbits into the brier patch when threatened by an insane psychopath cultist. The “news” media for all their vaunted “power of the press” are pathetic weaklings, far under the calibre of someone like Mike Wallace.

    Furthermore, “news” men are lazy. If they have to spend in depth research, plying dusty tomes to investigate bogus claims, they simply won’t do it. It isn’t that it isn’t worth it, it’s more like their get up and go has gotten up and gone. The passion has turned to crud. It’s five minute “bake the potato in the microwave”, not the “bake the potato in the oven for an hour” mentality.

    It’s not like extraterrestrials have landed on the White House Lawn, is it? Who cares? It’s such a small segment of the population that no one is going to pay much attention. Now if it significantly affects the jobless rate by a percent or two across the board, then it may reach a level at which it is on someone’s radar. It it threatens to end Social Security payments for everybody, then it will be “news” worthy.

    Or if it happens to titilate sexual interests: GTA exposure was big news. Videos and everything. Something that could go viral.

    In the end, it is the public to which the media panders is the problem: They are fickle, looking for infotainment without much committed to it, ready to move on to the next big thing, of the which, Armstrongism, isn’t.

    Reply  |  Quote
  3. Furthermore, “news” men are lazy. If they have to spend in depth research, plying dusty tomes to investigate bogus claims, they simply won’t do it. It isn’t that it isn’t worth it, it’s more like their get up and go has gotten up and gone. The passion has turned to crud. It’s five minute “bake the potato in the microwave”, not the “bake the potato in the oven for an hour” mentality.

    That’s part of it. It’s also partially because they aren’t being rewarded for that kind of hard work anymore , because news outlets have been struggling to make ends meet for the past decade and investigative divisions have been cut, and in some cases, eliminated entirely. Like you said, they have to pander their audience. It’s part of their survival mechanism. The days of in-depth reporting on serious issues, of which religious fundamentalism and cults is a major one in the U.S., are pretty much over due to corporate conglomeration and the cheap distribution of information due to the internet.

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