Methodist Acting

When gay families from San Francisco and elsewhere lined up outside the White House lawn last week to participate in the president's annual Easter egg hunt, hundreds of newspapers picked up the story. To ensure balance and objectivity, 100 of these stories quoted Mark Tooley, self-described “executive director of the United Methodist program at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.” Tooley denounced the gay gatecrashers for bringing politics into a nonpartisan event.

“Balance” — that news business tic of presenting opposing views on an issue even when little legitimate opposing view exists — in theory broadens a given newspaper's readership by taking every view into account. But this habit sometimes creates mystifying versions of the news, as every public event and issue is recast as an argument.

In Tooley's case, this syndrome reached an extreme.

That's because Tooley is an extraordinarily conflicted spokesman for the cause of denouncing gatecrashers, or of protesting the introduction of politics into religion.

Tooley is a former CIA analyst hired by neo-conservative millionaires to set up a front group aimed at injecting right-wing politics into the United Methodist Church. Tooley's organization has no formal connections to the United Methodist Church. Instead, Tooley's work involves using politically-motivated, nonreligious foundation money to smear church leaders he views as liberal through mailings, articles in IRD-aligned publications, press releases, and stories in secular newspapers and magazines. He also writes articles and sends out press releases on topical issues, in order to make himself seem like a church-affiliated pundit. His words protesting the gay families at Easter were part of this second shtick.

When the daily newspaper business used Tooley to set up bogus conflict stories without explaining who he actually is, they reduced journalism to the level of lame PR.

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