Washington Post Uses Unitarian Shooting to Demonize Conservative Christians, Talk Radio

“Liberal Dedication in the Face of Hatred” was the lead teaser on the front page of the print edition of the Washington Post's Metro section on August 2. Inside, staff writer Jacqueline Salmon reported on Unitarian Universalist vigils held in the wake of the July 27 shooting in a Unitarian church in Knoxville, Tenn. in which two died and seven were wounded.

Salmon noted the Knoxville police chief's assertion that the shooter “hated the liberal movement.”  This corroborated other media reports about a letter that the shooter had left in which he expresses a visceral antipathy to liberals.  

Salmon moved on to report about a gathering on July 28 at a Unitarian Congregation of Fairfax in Oakton, Va.: “Bill Welch, the congregation's minister for programs, talked about how isolating it can be to be a liberal in today's world of right-wing talk radio and conservative Christians 'that talk about liberals as if we are bad people.'”

Salmon did not bother to quote a talk radio host or Christian conservative in response to the minister's broad-brushed charge. Nor did Salmon bother to acknowledge that the shooter at the Unitarian church, Jim Adkisson, had also rejected conservative Christianity.  One of Adkisson's neighbors told The New York Times: “[Adkisson] said if you read the whole Bible, everything in it contradicts itself.”   Salmon didn't even bother to challenge the dubious proposition that “right-wing talk radio” is “isolating” liberals, when most major media are dominated by liberals, as documented in the new Culture and Media Institute Special Report, Unmasking the Myths Behind the Fairness Doctrine,  

Meanwhile, on the same page as Salmon's piece, the Post ran an excerpt of a Post/Newsweek Internet column “On Faith” by the column's editor, David Waters. Entitled “Now Liberals Are the Enemy,” the column relates how Chris Buice, the minister of the targeted Unitarian congregation, had written an op-ed for the Knoxville News Sentinel in which he “compared past intolerance of interracial couples to today's intolerance of gay couples.” Waters said that Buice cited a character from the movie Hairspray “who warns a newly formed interracial couple, 'You two better brace yourselves for a whole lotta ugly comin' at you from a never-ending parade of stupid.'”

Thus, resistance to homosexual “marriage” is the equivalent of racial bigotry. And “stupid” to boot. Waters then relates that “Sunday morning, a whole lot of ugly entered the church's sanctuary in the form of a man who was angry about 'the liberal movement' and its tolerance for gay couples, among other things.”

Waters' excerpt finishes with: “So now we can add liberals to the list of enemy combatants in America's culture war.”

Conservative Christians have been the targets of murderous shooters more often than liberals, but the media have not shown the same zeal in identifying possible ideological motives for the murders.

A gunman killed four people on December 9, 2007 at New Life Christian Church in Colorado Springs and at the Youth With a Mission center in Arvada, Col.  After the shootings, a letter surfaced from the gunman in which he said Christianity was “"hate, abuse (sexual, physical, psychological, and emotional), hypocrisy, and lies." Nevertheless, media speculation about the gunman's motives centered on his personal problems and the scandal of former New Life pastor Ted Haggard, who had stepped down after an accusation that he used a male prostitute. No ink or airwaves were wasted investigating the impact of relentlessly negative depictions of evangelical Christians or devout Catholics on primetime sitcoms and in films.

A gunman yelling anti-Christian epithets massacred seven people at a youth gathering in Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, on Sept. 15, 1999.  The media did not immediately report the killings as a “hate crime,” nor did major media speculate as to whether negative depictions of Christians by the news media, movies and television had anything to do with the mindset of the shooter.  No headlines such as “Christian Dedication in the Face of Hatred” graced the front pages of newspaper sections.

Given the Post's one-sided depiction on August 2, could the paper be contributing to a climate of hate against conservative radio talkers and conservative Christians?

Robert Knight is Director of the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.