Tuesday, June 27, 2006
by Wayne Besen
The recent scene portrayed by Concerned Women For America in a web article
was chilling. The group wrote, "A mob of schoolchildren seized and beat the 7-year old son of pro-family activist David Parker behind his school, Estabrook Eleme
ntary, in Lexington, Massachusetts, on the second anniversary of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts."
Concerned Women went on to say that the victim, first grader Jacob Parker, "apparently is feeling the heat for his father's opposition to forced homosexual education."
"When you tell children over and over that opposing homosexuality amounts to hatred, you're setting some kids up for this sort of abuse," said Robert Knight, Director of Concerned Women for America's Culture & Family Institute. "The school posted numerous slanted articles in the school library about Mr. Parker's dispute with authorities, and some parents went out of their way to stir up hatred toward Parker and his family.
"There is only one small problem with this horror story: It is a fabrication
so fictitious it could have been written by Stephen King. Virtually nothing is true and the distortions are a deliberate attempt to smear a school district, intimidate administrators and influence a curriculum that has the temerity to suggest that gay families exist and should be treated with respect.
The trouble started
in early 2005 when David Parker, a parent tied to the right wing political group Mass Resistance
, was upset with the school's pro-gay curriculum. He sent a series of unpleasant e-mails to Estabrook's principal, Joni Jay, saying that he did not want his son exposed to "beliefs contrary to the Word of God in our Christian faith."
On April 27, 2005, Parker met with Jay and presented the principal with a series of demands, refusing to leave campus until they were met. After three hours of protesting, Parker was finally arrested. As part of a headline-grabbing publicity stunt, Parker refused to post bail and spent the night in jail. More recently, Parker sued the school district in Federal court over the issue of teaching tolerance in schools.
While he likes to portray himself in the press as simply a father, he is really an extremist
who cares more about politics
than parenting. A newly minted martyr, Parker joined Mass Resistance leader Brian Camenker for six appearances in Maine in an effort to undo an anti-discrimination law in the Lobster State.
With a defeat in Maine and growing acceptance of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, Parker apparently grew desperate for notoriety, which leads us to the first grade "mob" scene. I interviewed Paul Ash, Superintendent of Schools, about the incident, reviewed his official report and found that the facts presented are not consistent with the way the incident has been reported by the right wing "media."
Indeed, to ensure he could not be accused of a conflict of interest for investigating one of his own schools, Ash formally asked the Lexington Police Department, the Middlesex District Attorney and the Department of Social Services to intervene. All three agencies swiftly concluded that the sensationalistic accusations were without merit.
For example, the "mob" of children turned out to be only one child, a friend of Jacob's. Not long after the fight, Jacob went over the friend's house for a play date. The motive for the fisticuffs had nothing to do with David Parker's anti-gay activism, but was a "disagreement over who would sit where in the cafeteria."This is hardly the violent liberal conspiracy darkly and breathlessly portrayed by the extreme right.
Still, the facts did not get in the way of the right wing launching a vicious smear campaign
full of inconsistencies and innuendo. The garbage spewed by Concerned Women for America and Mass Resistance
was also eagerly reported by Rev. Lou Sheldon
of the Traditional Values Coalition. This created a feeding frenzied echo chamber
, where zealots across the globe were duped into believing that school officials had conspired with progressive parents to have a mob of children punish a conservative father by pummeling his son.Similar to the right's intimidation campaign against Michael Schiavo, the yelling yahoos were provided with Ash's personal information
"I have received hundreds of e-mails, many of them threatening," Ash told me in our interview. "I even got an angry call from Japan at 4AM. It is one thing to attack my opinion, but this is a blatant attempt to terrorize."I asked the Superintendent if there was any validity to the right wing's claims. "Zero, this is complete bull
," Ash explained. "What these groups have done is taken a playground fight and used it for political goals."
Instead of focusing on the three R's, the school district now has to waste its time defending itself against the right wing's three D's: Deceit, Dishonesty and Deception.
Monday, June 26, 2006
by Wayne Besen
I have yet to visit Focus on the Family's massive "campus" in Colorado Springs - a place so large it has its own zip code. But each year, thousands of fundamentalists traipse through this tourist trap to bow to King James. The people I know who have visited say that pictures of the group's leader, James Dobson, hang ubiquitously while tour guides reverently refer to him as "Dr. Dobson."
"I felt like I was in North Korea and Dobson was playing the part of Kim Jong Il," a friend recently told me. "Call it what you will, but this was a form of idolatry."
While I'm sure the toady tour is mesmerizing, what I really want to do is slip past security and into the bowels of the building where a trap door must exist that leads to "The Fib Factory."
In this liar's lair, I picture a team of butch women and effete men - ex-gays in their Homosexuality and Gender Department - hooked up to polygraph machines. These "experts" are asked by Dobson to say whatever comes to mind about homosexuality. Whenever a red light flickers, signifying a bald faced lie, Dobson turns to his personal assistant and says -- "Write that down -- we have a new talking point."
This scenario is fiction, but so is this group's alarming propaganda. Dobson's maddening mendacity is only surpassed by his capacity for audacity. The hocus pocus from Focus is spreading like a plague of locusts, while their fallacies are finding their way into municipalities.
This week, my organization, Truth
Wins Out, caught the right wing's 800 pound gorilla in two white lies as large as New Hampshire's White Mountains.
The group grossly distorted a study by a Canadian researcher that showed teenage lesbians had a higher rate of suicide attempts. Unconscionably, Melissa Fryrear, a spokesperson for Focus on the Family, blamed
gay activists for causing the deaths, saying that teaching self-acceptance caused the young women to be suicidal.
"Regrettably, they think they have to embrace homosexuality because pro-gay advocates told them that they were born gay," said Fryrear.
This interpretation of the data "baffled" Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc, the Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, who conducted the study.
"Nothing in the brief results we presented or in our overall study could lead to such conclusions," she said after I contacted her and showed her how Focus on the Family portrayed her study results. "Population surveys cannot determine cause and effect, they can only suggest possible links. Even so, other researchers have not found these sorts of links, and neither have we."
Press, a wire service, interviewed Sawwyc and she expressed further alarm on how her scholarly work had suddenly ended up as culture war fodder for the Focus foxhole.
"The research has been hijacked for somebody's political purposes or ideological purposes and that's worrisome."
Realizing that she was caught in a calumny, Fryrear invoked the work of Dr. Robert Spitzer, a Columbia University researcher who had published a 2001 study on sexual orientation. The Focus spokeswoman said in the article that Spitzer's research linked contemplating suicide to unwanted attractions to the same sex.
I contacted Spitzer the next day and it turns out that his work had also been
distorted. He sent me a statement outlining his dismay over the way Focus on the Family misrepresented his study.
"Unfortunately, Focus on the Family has once again reported findings of my study out of context to support their fight against gay rights," said
Spitzer. "Although a third of the subjects in my study reported having had serious thoughts of suicide related to their homosexuality, not one of them blamed the gay rights movement's advocating a 'born-gay' theory of homosexuality as the cause of their suicidal thinking."
Fryrear essentially tried to dig herself out of a hole caused by distorting the work of one researcher by twisting the work of another. Isn't there something in the Bible about not bearing false witness? Just another day at the Fib
Factory, I guess.
Focus on the Family has always been truth challenged and taken special delight in mocking science. Remember, this group also started The Family Research Council, a Washington lobby that ironically does virtually no original research.
In Focus on the Family's mammoth "campus" there are hundreds of employees. But is there a single person there who knows a centrifuge from a centerfold or a test tube from a boob tube? All they understand is the science of spin, which can lead to embarrassing sin, as James Dobson learned this week.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
by Wayne Besen
Remember the anticipatory exuberance that gripped the world as Y2K approached? There was a feeling, among the non-apocalyptic crowd, that humanity was crossing an important threshold. It was the dawn of the computer age and modern man was going to evolve and advance civilization.
For a brief moment, there was great hope that people in our rapidly shrinking world would join together for the common good. Technology was all-powerful, the United States seemed like a lovable superpower and a rapidly democratizing world would bring a century of peace and prosperity.
The optimism of the time was predicated on the assumption that we had actually learned from the horrors of the previous millennium, particularly the bloody meat grinder known as the 20th Century. The past hundred years had brought us two World Wars, Imperial Japan, the holocaust, Stalin, segregation, McCarthyism, Vietnam, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein. (This is the short list)
This great evil was countered by the remarkable courage of the past century's heroes. We had extraordinary spiritual teachers, such as Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr., to show us a better way. They imparted the wisdom of peace, the power of knowledge and strength through compassion.
Unfortunately, we are now six years into the new millennium and it looks eerily similar to the worst aspects of the 20th Century. In many parts of the world, horror has replaced hope, poverty has eclipsed plenty and pessimism has erased optimism. In large part, Iraq has become Vietnam and Bush has morphed into Nixon. Darfur is the new Rwanda and Congo is, well, the same miserable Congo it has always been.
In the Middle East, Israel and the Palestinians are still in a tug-of-war over an overheated sand trap. Women are treated worse than pets in the rest of the region - they can't drive or vote in Saudi Arabia and the Taliban is keeping women from attending school in Afghanistan.
After freedom was briefly put on the pupu platter, former KGB official, Vladimir Putin, returned with the main dish of gulag goulash. He has slowly rolled back democracy and strangled freedom out of the people and the fledgling press. It is heartbreaking that the fall of the iron curtain has been replaced by Putin's iron fist.
In such a tyrannical climate, it is no surprise that Gay Pride in Moscow was cancelled. However, it was still shocking to watch police turn a blind eye while a few brave gay activists were harassed by nationalistic skinheads. Excuse me, but wasn't it Nazis, not gay advocates that killed (with the help of Stalin) up to 20 million Russians during World War II?
Likewise, Poland is now run by a right-wing government that uses nationalism to oppress minorities. The New York Times
reported that parliamentarian Wojciech Wierzejski said that Gay Pride participants should be "bashed with a baton." Hasn't Poland been on the other side of the authoritarian baton long enough to know better?
What is most disheartening is that the 20th Century taught us the recipe for demagogic intolerance. Yet, we, as a collective people, passively watch the concoction bake and then get fat off the corrosive cake.
The ingredients are always the same: Ruthlessly ambitious politicians, a cup of nationalism, a heap of wrap-yourself-in-the-flag religious certitude, a pinch of intolerant bigotry, a spoonful of militaristic chest-thumping and a sprinkle of historic revisionism.
Sadly, even Japanese politicians are taking their nation down this perilous path by purging teachers who will not whitewash history. Under the banner of "conservative values" (sound familiar) history books are being rewritten to put Japan in a more favorable light. These pages of propaganda disingenuously recast World War II by using the more positive term the "Greater East Asian War."
But all the revisionism cannot change the fact that Tokyo's aggressive nationalism led to the despicable rape of Nanjing and the launching of a war that ended in atomic destruction. It is simply incomprehensible why anyone in Japan would flirt with transforming this prosperous and peaceful nation into a warrior state. Perhaps we are a weak species that just can't seem to kick the deadly, but seductively intoxicating, pipe dream of absolute power. We can't resist fervently waving the flag, even, in the end, if it means this banner will be draped over our coffins.
Meanwhile, in the United States we are in war and debt, yet we have spent the last two weeks debating distractions. While families are having trouble affording gas, the Senate has wasted precious time grandstanding on the "flag desecration amendment" and trying to write gay families out of the Constitution.
Why did we even bother with extravagant millennium celebrations, when the new world we were supposed to be molding is turning out to be a bloody rerun of yesteryear?