Don\'t judge us by our extremists

The viewpoint is sometimes expressed, usually by non-Americans, that the USA has been taken over by religious fanatics. Through their mouthpiece, George W. Bush, these crazies control the country.

Well, it ain't true, and here is a fun bit of evidence. This video clip is from Fox News on 6/10, and it features a screaming match between a news anchor and an extremist Christian nutcase, with the former saying reasonable things about how the latter is a whacked-out freakazoid, and the latter saying how the anchor, the children, the military, and the country are all going to Hell for supporting gays. (Speaking of which, if gays are all going to hell - who's going to do the interior decorating in Heaven?)

And we're not talking about the New York Times here, or some other bastion of the liberal media. This is FOX News, America's right-wing channel, host to Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, a station founded (according to The New Yorker) because Rupert Murdoch was frustrated by the left-wing bias of cable news. Yet even on this right-wing channel, we have anti-gay religious extremists berated for being the nutjobs they are.

This just doesn't square with the viewpoint that the religious right are takng over the country. Sure, it's only one data point - but I believe the mainstream of America is much more like the anchorwoman than the wacko. There may be a lot of things I don't like about America, but (thankfully) things are a helluva lot better than they'd be if those picketing extremists were representative.

Share this

Wow. You've got a higher

Wow. You've got a higher tolerance for venom than I do. I only made it half-way through the video.

The Fox reporter decided that she was going to provoke her guest from the beginning and quickly turned things into a shouting match. I choose not to associate with people that act like that.

From the half I did see, it looked like the guest was involved in a group that protests at Veteran's Funerals. That is probably a good indication she was looking for a shouting match herself.

Your post is part of a thought flow I've been following the last few days that's gone from some old Catallarchy posts on voice vs. choice, through a Science Friday podcast on "Science and Politics" ( and an Economist article on choosing world priorities at The common theme is this, "The political means of solution, namely focusing money through taxation and focusing attention through mass media events, is inherently worse than allowing multiple agents to try a plethora of independent solutions."

Nothing new with this idea--I just seem to be running across it all the time these days. But then, I don't spend much time watching TV news.

While you're general point

While you're general point is valid, I must offer a small word of dissent.

Phelps and family make nice poster children, but anybody who thinks they represent the religious right is way off base. No church would have them, so they formed their own, and it's pretty much just their family and a few other spiteful hangers on. It's not clear that they are actually Christian or religious in any meaningful sense of the word beyond accepting their self-identification.

Notice that the anchor in question is arguing from the bible and from religious tradition. I suppose that's a reasonable tactic when the nutjob in question is actually a serious believer (if you can keep from getting into a screaming match -- I was rather appalled by the anchor's screed) but it serves to frame the whole debate in christian terms, not something secularists should be happy with. I'm pretty sure the anchor in question would stump hard for the amendment to define marriage as one man, one woman. Phelps and co. really stepped up their visibility when they started protesting at military funerals. When they protested at random gay people's funerals or general events, they never evoked this kind of ire from right wingers. IMO, this was a tactical error on their part, alienating even the contingency most likely to give them a hearing.

Anyway, the point here is that there are also real nutjobs who are only slightly less nutty and yet have a real following, the ear of many in goverment, and would be treated quite cordinally on Fox. Pat Robertson would be a good example.

The viewpoint is sometimes

The viewpoint is sometimes expressed, usually by non-Americans, that the USA has been taken over by religious fanatics.

Indeed it is. And also by many Americans - which is related. Foreigners will tend to listen to whatever American is telling them what they want to hear, and if a foreigner is a conspiracy-minded anti-American, then there are many Americans happy to supply him with exactly what he wants to hear.

Gaaa. Someone explain the

Gaaa. Someone explain the economic basis for putting such, whatever that was, on the air? Surely people do not tune in for that, and surely they turn the channel when it comes on :dizzy:

It looked like the

It looked like the interviewer's motivation was to get sensationalist soundbytes, and she had 90 seconds to do it. This may be a rational decision, or it could be some sort of herd mentality habit, but she probably believes her remuneration and career advancement depends on generating sensationalist soundbytes. Whoever pays her probably believes that this strategy translates into viewership and market share, which translates to ad revenue and cable subscription fees.

Because her interview is channeled through an old media model where only a handful of broadcasters can afford to deliver their product over limited airwaves, it is basically a fixed pie situation where whoever shouts the loudest wins at the expense of competing broadcasters. Again, even if this isn't the way the market is at the moment, it is how Fox chooses to compete in the market based on their decision makers' education and experience.

If we rely on a few decision makers for our information, it is easy to be limited by their intentional biases or unintentional blindspots. A broad spectrum of information sources with appropriate adaptive filtering can yield a higher quality of information.

At least, that's my take while I'm waiting for my ravioli to heat up in the microwave.

It's a little bit off topic,

It's a little bit off topic, but no discussion of Fred Phelps is complete without noting that he's a Democrat.

LoneSnark, I don't know

LoneSnark, I don't know about you, but the only reason I ever watch American news is to see crazy people. They're entertaining, and American News Networks, FOX in particular, aren't good for much else

Damn FX, is that true about

Damn FX, is that true about Phelps? Maybe more like a Dixiecrat.

When one debates whether the US is especially religous, it's important to ask "Compared to what?". By the standards of the Muslim Brotherhood or the Lord's Resistance Army we are quite decadent and hedonistic. But by the standards of Western Europe we (ha, "we", the trappings of collectivist thinking) are surely quite religious.

There was a survey taken in Foreign Policy magazine a while back asking citizens of various countries in the middle east and Europe about how religious they feel the US is. France, Germany, etc. said "quite religous", whereas Lebanon, etc. said "not very religious". It'd be interesting to know what the Chinese and Indians think.

Don't forget that parts of

Don't forget that parts of Europe are quite religious about their socialism. Many have a faith based belief in political and economic philosophies which are tantamount to religion.

The claims of Christian

The claims of Christian conservatism "taking over" in America are way overdone. China isn't even a Christian country, yet they banned the Da Vinci Code. In America, not only was it a huge best-seller, but such a ban would never even be considered. And I suspect that a ban on anti-Muslim or anti-Christian speech would occur in France long before in America.

Don't forget about those

Don't forget about those post-modern-hippie-Christian-Sylvia Browne types who probably support the Da Vinci Code. Are they to be coded as "religious"? Yes. Christian? Probably.

I think the fear of Christian Conservatism taking over stems from the fact that the evangelical movement and the "values" conservatives in general are more enamored of big government than ever before. They've been awakened from their old school, skeptical slumber...

Another way to read this

Another way to read this interview is as a conservative attempt to quash the quasi-Christian ideological fringe when they preach political heterodoxy in Christian language. The Christian right would likely have no problem with such an ideological purge.

The Christian right in America is hard to unify because the churches are broken into dozens of denominations. (I believe Mark Twain once wrote that this was a good thing because it prevented religious power-brokering.) In recent years, a few influential groups have drawn financial contributions and support from across these churches by emphasizing and lobbying on certain issues that the different conservative church members strongly support. One could lump all these groups together under the rough rubric of the "Christian right".

But what of groups who are similarly theologically conservative but who don't get with the right-wing political program? Where do they belong?

Phelps and company, who do not join in the religious right's political causes -- e.g. Phelps condemns Bush very, very strongly and thinks the Iraq war is a catastrophe in which God is judging America due to its immorality -- are independent fanatics. The religious right probably sees them as a threat, because due to their Bible quoting and fire-and-brimstone style they might confuse non-religious conservative people into thinking of them as loose affiliates of the "religious right". This in combination with Phelps's repugnant message could cause the non-religious to condemn and turn on the religious right. It's easy to see how these two quite different groups of fanatics could be mistakenly lumped together: indeed you seem to have done so.

It makes perfect sense, then, for the religious right and for other right-wingers to condemn Phelps loudly and publically, to distance themselves from their repugnant antics and non-right wing interpretations of scripture.

Constant: "In my experience


"In my experience the left has been able to interpret any eventuality as further evidence that the right or the capitalists or whatever bugaboos are firmly in control of the reins of power."

For what it's worth, I'm a vigorous anti-communist / anti-left libertarian extremist but I still don't find this evidence in any way convincing in terms of what Mr. Friedman wanted to show. You're probably right that "the left" (or, for that matter, libertarians) could seize upon it to build a case that the religious right has a lot of power. My argument illustrates the way to make the case.

On second thought, after considering your point, I'd say the problem with this example is that it's a crummy test with little to no power to distinguish between different explanations, and so I think it simply fails to prove much of anything.

In my experience the left

In my experience the left has been able to interpret any eventuality as further evidence that the right or the capitalists or whatever bugaboos are firmly in control of the reins of power.

Given the level of creativity of the left in coming up with explanations that reconfirm their conspiratorial notions, it would not be very difficult to come up with some explanation of this particular exchange. For example, they could point out that that Christian nutcase is against the war, and this is an attempt to quash voices agains the war. But if the Fox interviewer had taken the opposite tack and was nice to the Christian nutcase, they could point out that that Christian nutcase is against gays and they were playing nice because they're also against gays. So no matter what Fox did, the left would find a way to use it to reconfirm their ideas.