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Hate groups. How should NPR handle them?

Some NPR listeners were clearly offended after a 48-second spot by Barbara Hagerty about the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. The group is composed of roughly 70 members and boasts a website with the not-so-charming URL of  Primarily known for their protests of soldiers’ funerals, displaying signs such as “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” the sect has recently garnered more attention by picketing the funeral of the late Elizabeth Edwards, who recently passed away after a long battle with breast cancer. Westboro thinks dead soldiers are God’s vengeance for homosexuality.

NPR’s Ombudsman Alicia Shepard wonders out loud how much coverage NPR should give groups like Westboro in this post.

The broadcast raises issues regarding the obligation of a network like NPR to dedicate time even to a radical group with a small following and extremely offensive views. Does this type of broadcast represent the public interest? The term “public interest” has always been a bit weighted, so it may be best to view this through analogy. The Ku Klux Klan, for example, traditionally has held a number of extremely offensive views, yet, legally, even they have the constitutional right to assemble. Similarly, the Westboro Baptist Church, although its small following holds a number of extremely offensive views, is also, in theory, entitled to enjoy the benefits of a public radio network.

NPR’s original description of the Westboro Baptist Church went like this:

Members of Westboro Baptist Church plan to protest the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards on Saturday. As NPR’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports, the fundamentalist church says she brought on her cancer by doubting God.

The Topeka based church run by Fred Phelps is best known for its view that God hates gay men and lesbians… and frequently pickets military funerals. Now they’re turning their wrath on Elizabeth Edwards, the estranged wife of former Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards. They plan to picket her funeral in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her crime? After her son died in a car accident in 1996, she said that God could not protect her boy… and that she was not asking God to cure her cancer. The Westboro website said because of this, she is, quote, a resident of hell.

It may also be helpful to consider the following coverage of the Westboro Baptist Church by NPR, the only additional coverage by NPR since the original spot. In this article on Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral, the group received a relatively brief mention:

People came out with posters and banners to create a line of love, to block an anti-gay group from Kansas picketing the Edwards memorial service. The Westboro Baptist Church is known for protesting outside military funerals. But there was far more love than hate at this gathering. Cate Edwards wanted her mother to know that.

Should NPR really be expected to uphold such a high level of equality? People should know that idiotic, radical groups like this exist, but the question remains: How much time should they receive? What do you think?


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8 Responses to Hate groups. How should NPR handle them?

  1. Greg December 19, 2010 at 10:08 am #

    I’m enjoying all of the recent controversy regarding NPR. Congress is questioning the continued Public funding of NPR. NPR has received tens-of-millions of Public funds for their IBOC jammers. It’s time to have a full investigation into iBiquity, NPR, the FCC, and the NAB. Hopefully, Keefe Bartels and Galax Wolf would bring all of this to light during their discovery phase of the HD Radio investigation.

  2. John December 19, 2010 at 7:03 pm #


    NPR is one of the few major journalistic sources of trustworthy and unbiased information. It is the only counterpoint to FoxNews in the United States.

    Westboro Baptist Church deserves plenty of attention because everytime they go out to protest they require an army of police to ensure that people don’t come up and start pounding the crap out of them. This is a huge waste of taxpayers money. They should just leave them open to whatever they deserve. I won’t be crying in my beer if someone gets a little overzealous in throwing haymakers at them.

  3. Matthew Lasar December 19, 2010 at 8:07 pm #

    We received the following e-mail in response to this post. – editors

    Dear editor,

    You’ve recently pondered the profound “question” of whether NPR (and other media) should publish the words of the Westboro Baptist Church. WBC has a core message that is irresistible: Your soldiers (children, neighbors) are dying for your sins! You all unite in one false voice, pretending there is no God; in fact your DNA tells you daily God is real, His wrath is revealed from heaven, and you will not get away with your institutionalized disobedience.

    NPR is under fire—and crawling—for a few short segments giving WBC’s view of Elizabeth Edwards’ death. Everyone in the nation—nay, the world—spoke about her death, and all her hard speeches about the breast cancer God gave her. None who spoke at that hour had 20 years on your mean streets or authority to speak from God except WBC. Of course NPR should have reported those words!

    Radio Survivor moans with angst—“should NPR be expected to hold such a high level of equality?” What?! That’s your job in the media—balance; all views; report—don’t make up—the news. WBC is news—and you know it!

    If we had a penny for every faithless media mutt who’s sworn off ever saying a word about WBC—thousands of words later explaining why that oath failed. (We know why; it’s called G-R-E-E-D! WBC sells!) Or a dime for every columnist (they think they’re theologians in these editorial boardrooms) who beg the people to ignore us—while they grind out hundreds of words about us, repeating our message over and over again. Amazing stuff!

    You see, friends, WBC is a great publishing company—The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it, Ps. 68:11—and these words will go forth. You are God’s servants in this matter; you have no choice. You come to curse us; God only lets you bless us. (See Number 23, where King Balak paid false prophet Balaam big bucks to curse God’s people; all he could get out of his mouth was blessing. Sweet!)

    You have a motto about WBC: Defame—and we will report it, Jer. 20:10.

    God has a motto about WBC: Declare ye among the nations, and publish, and set up a standard; publish, and conceal not, Jer. 50:2.

    God wins!

    The only job of every media outlet in the world today—and the only reason the WorldWideWeb exists—is to publish the words of the WBC.

    So stop all that carrying on about whether you should publish our words. You know you can’t ignore us and survive. It’s that simple.

    Meanwhile the great sin that has gripped this nation could not have happened without the media’s being criminally complicit in the matter. You should have taken a lesson from the Nuremberg trials, where Hitler’s propagandists were found guilty! We will chronicle your mischief in a X-mas present to this nation, when WBC releases on 12/25/10 a beautiful new Website: Stay tuned. You will love it! I know we do! J


    Margie Phelps

    Westboro Baptist Church

    Topeka, KS

    Twitter: @MargieJPhelps

  4. Cam December 19, 2010 at 8:58 pm #

    The westboro babtist is not a “church”, it is a hate group. They are in it for the money and the press. Most of this “church” are attorneys. If IBM showed up at your door, would they get away with this? No! Any one can say they are a “church”, that is not going to make you a Church! We in this country let a lot pass for “church”. This is not about freedom, it is about being human. They are a danger to our freedom. A country can only be pushed so far.

  5. Mike December 20, 2010 at 7:35 am #

    The level of hate growing in this country is alarming and these incidents must be reported despite how offensive and meaningless they seem. As a society we need to remain aware of where our culture goes astray and how we, as a people, are adapting to our social circumstances. Hopefully, these reports shock us all into being more aware of our neighbors’ need for love, acceptance, kindness, and forgiveness.

  6. b5blue December 26, 2010 at 7:28 am #

    Another way to minimize the hate is to have the ‘professional’ media expose Mr. Phelps as a life-long Democrat. Really. If Mr. Phelps had been a Republican, this would have been trumpeted from the liberal media ivory towers far and wide. The Pubs would have repudiated Mr. Phelps long ago.

    No, since he’s a Democrat, the media is incredibly mum about his cozy relationship with Al Gore and the Democrats. Tons of pictures and evidence.

  7. Mary Waterton December 31, 2010 at 9:45 pm #

    “Hate” and “bigotry” are in the eye of the beholder. Was it “hate” and “bigotry” when Vivian Schiller (CEO of NPR) fired Juan Williams. You betcha! Liberal bigots in the news media are among the worst because they have a holier-than-thou attitude with respect to bigotry, can’t see their own prejudices, ooze hypocrisy from every pore, and have zero tolerance for viewpoints that aren’t politically correct. Nina Totenberg … she can’t go a week without making a slur against evangelical Christians. I thought NPR was PUBLIC radio. Public means everybody. But there is not so much as one conservative journalistic on their staff. Bigotry and discrimination.

  8. sherryP January 11, 2011 at 7:37 am #

    Why doesn’t someone figure out that this is not a religious organization. It is a massive con. They are not about protesting so much as about provoking response. What better place to provoke an “assault” than at a funeral for a crowd of Marines? Eventually they get someone so mad that someone attacks (read shove, punch spit etc.) then they are the victims. “My attorney will be in touch.” Yippee! They make a bunch of money from the ensuing lawsuit. To treat them as legitimate Christians or legitimate religious organization is what is nuts. Not them. They are canny and really craft con artists.

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