October 21, 2008

The Story, The Truth, and Fred Phelps

by Emily Norton

In the United States, it’s well understood that the media have a vast amount of power. With enough thorough coverage, any group can gather momentum for their cause. Obviously, the effects of this are not always positive (read: terrorism). Fred Phelps is a perfect example of the ramifications resulting from media manipulation.

Pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), Phelps is the leader of a gang of intermarried Christian extremists whose aim is to teach America that it is a doomed nation and to spread hatred for multiple groups (namely homosexuals). As one of their key goals is to gain publicity for their message of extreme prejudice and damnation, the group has assumed drastic measures to gain attention. The WBC has enjoyed extensive broadcasting of their highly disruptive picketing of soldier and celebrity funerals, as well as television interviews, and notice for their outrageous websites, entitled GodHatesFags.com and GodHatesAmerica.com (to name a few). Worse yet is that the 71 members are passing on their profoundly twisted message to their young children. With the attention they are getting and the way their parent-to-child system is structured, it seems unlikely that the foundation of the Westboro Baptist Church will be shaken anytime soon.

Undeniably, a primary focus of the media is to spread the truth. But what happens if that truth has an overriding negative effect? Although the Fred Phelps story is highly interesting and profitable, its widespread coverage only perpetuates the life of a hate group and extends an already tainted misconception of the Christian religion.

Consider, part of the stock market collapse was due to the panic produced by the media; it was not until the public discovered that the market was declining that they cashed in all at once and caused the greatest damage. Therefore, is truth always good? Is a “good story” always worth its consequences? Although I can posit no perfect solution or answer to these questions, I would hope that in the future either the media more aggressively fight manipulation, or the terrifying and detestable truths they share would only incite social activism rather than panic or hate.

(The image is from godhatesfags.com which allows the free reproduction of its media materials.)

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