Monday, April 6, 2015

2015 media bias against Rand Paul, chapter 4

Back in early February, when there was already a firestorm of criticism surrounding Rand Paul due to the first three incidents in this series, the Huffington Post decided it was a good time to publish this story: 

Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee To Appear In Anti-Gay Documentary
Posted: 02/12/2015 8:00 am EST Updated: 02/12/2015 11:59 am EST

WASHINGTON -- Two possible GOP presidential contenders and four congressmen are slated to appear in a new documentary that claims the push for gay rights threatens Christianity.

"What kind of freedom of speech do we have if a person who expresses a biblical viewpoint about marriage is told they can't open their businesses in a location?" asks Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and prospective 2016 presidential candidate, in the trailer for the documentary "Light Wins: How To Overcome The Criminalization Of Christianity," which was first reported by Right Wing Watch.

The film is a project by socially conservative activist Janet Porter, who plans to release it later this month.

According to an email Porter sent to supporters last week, the documentary also features Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), as well as Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) and Steve King (R-Iowa).

None of these lawmakers were featured in the trailer. Their offices did not return requests for comment on their participation and whether they agree with the direction of the documentary, but on Thursday, after this piece was published, Paul told The Huffington Post that he didn't know anything about the film.

"I saw [the news about the documentary] this morning," he said while at the Chamber of Commerce for an event. "I don’t know anything about it. I’ve never heard of it until today."

Porter didn't immediately return a request for additional details on how Paul would be featured in the film..."

The article went on to give an overview of the documentary's radical participants, quoted the Human Rights Watch calling upon Paul and Huckabee to renounce their participation, and concluded with an helpful explanation of why it was more surprising to see Paul appear in the film than Huckabee due to Huckabee's far stronger ties to social conservatism.

The critical background information here is that Paul's only appearance in this film is an excerpt describing his views on state's rights, in which he lauds the Supreme Court's decision in Windsor for spending seven pages highlighting the importance of federalism. This is an abstract constitutional matter that is quite separate from one's views on homosexuality in general. And crucially, these remarks were not addressed to the makers of the film, but were taken out of context from some other interview. Rand Paul never agreed to appear in this documentary, and never knew he had any role in it until the film was made.

With that in mind, including Paul in the title as if he had something to do with it seems deliberately misleading. Although it is technically true that Paul appeared in the documentary, he did not knowingly appear in it, which is too relevant of a clarification to omit. A fairer title would be "Religious Fanatics Compile Youtube Videos into Anti-Gay Documentary." As it stands, making "appear" the active verb in the title gives the impression that the person who is appearing played some active role in creating the film, not that they were passively made to appear by others. In the wake of everything else going on that week, you'd be hard pressed to convince me this misunderstanding was accidental.

In fairness to the Huffington Post, they did not receive Senator Paul's denial of involvement until after the initial story was published. Once they did, they merely failed to tweak the title (or first few paragraphs) to reflect this, which I suppose is less bad than publishing it that way after they already knew he was uninvolved. Furthermore, the quotes from Paul they included towards the end of the article gave a fair and balanced presentation of Paul's rather noncommittal stance on the issue, which was nice to see from a traditionally liberal outlet. Had it ended there, I would not have included this in my media bias catalogue.

But it didn't end there. Fast forward to this week, when Rand Paul is in the midst of yet more dumb criticism for misunderstood comments on gay rights, and the Huffington Post deems it an excellent time to bring up this non-story again. They used an almost identical title for it as well, except that this time they omitted mention of Mike Huckabee - it was just "Rand Paul Appears in New Anti-Gay Documentary." The only thing that had changed since the last rendition of the story was that the Huffington Post had since received a DVD copy of the film, watched the whole thing, and found exactly one, 5 second clip of the same unrelated Rand Paul interview spliced in. The clip quotes Paul as saying the following in respect to ministers who object to gay marriage:

"Or are they [the federal government] going to ultimately say to a minister who has a tax deduction, 'Oh, that's not really your money and you're getting a tax deduction and we're going to make you do this?'" Paul asks.

That's it? That's what they found? Disapproving curiosity about the prospect of using tax policy as a lever to pressure ministers into presiding over gay marriages? You've made this whole big stink about it, and twice broadcast titles which associate Rand Paul with homophobic nutjobs, and this is your proof? This is your story?

Placed back to back, Rand Paul's only two quotes in this film take about 10-15 seconds to read. Neither of them say anything on the subject of homosexuality. I daresay neither of them say anything that's all that controversial. And most importantly, neither of them were knowingly contributed to these filmmakers to assist them in making their documentary! If anything, the fact that they scoured the whole thing for mention of him and came up with only that should have vindicated Paul, by proving that he had nothing to do with the animating theme of the film.

Associating Rand Paul with the message of this zealots on the basis of those quotes is equivalent to associating Hillary Clinton with whatever documentary I might make using clips of her speeches I find on the internet. It is, to put it plainly, a poorly conceived smear job. The Huffington Post found it important enough to publish twice, in the midst of two critical 
PR cycles media feeding frenzies about something Rand Paul had said on the subject. This is not an accident, and its timing is not a coincidence.

No comments:

Post a Comment