Religious conservative and FOX news contributor Todd Starnes wrote on June 29th that the recently released US House Republican’s Benghazi report noted that members of President Obama’s administration bullied a Christian pastor about a film he promoted that insulted Islam. Starnes claims that breeched the church and state wall. For a ‘reporter’ with a history of ethics problems, Starnes unsurprisingly gets this so-called ‘violation’ wrong.
Starnes writes on his FOX news website column:
There was a troubling item tucked deep inside the House Republican’s Benghazi report on Tuesday. It involves Terry Jones — the Florida preacher who has an affinity for burning the Koran.
According to the report — the White House directed Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to call Preacher Jones.
There were also discussions that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton might “issue another statement to distance the United States from the Pastor Jones video.”
If I didn’t know better, I’d say they were trying to find a fall guy – someone to blame other than the true culprits – Islamic radicals.
Folks, I believe a very dangerous line separating church and state has been breached. The government has no authority to involve itself in the business of a church.
Pastor Terry Jones did have some involvement in the film “Innocence of Muslims” – the YouTube video Starnes mentions in his column.
Florida pastor Terry Jones said he supports and is promoting a film criticizing Islam that has sparked worldwide outrage from Muslims, including violent protests in Libya where a U.S. ambassador was killed in a firebomb attack on the embassy Tuesday.
The Gainesville-area pastor, known for his virulent opposition to Islam, issued a statement on his website defending the film “Innocence of Muslims,” directed by Sam Bacile of California, who describes himself as an Israeli Jew.
General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, asked Jones to withdraw his support of the film during a phone call Wednesday, Reuters reported.
Jones showed the trailer for the film, which disparages the life of the Prophet Mohammed and his followers, on Tuesday during what he called, “International Judge Mohammad Day.”
He said the film’s producer contacted him directly, asking Jones to help distribute it. Various news outlets are reporting that Bacile has gone into hiding
He also showed the film to the members of his church.
It was more than rational to contact Pastor Jones since his last stunt, burning a Quran in 2011, caused riots in Afghanistan and Pakistan and riots over the film trailer had happened only the day before in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. It was rational, at the time, to believe the attack in Benghazi was part of the protest over the film.
It was later found the terrorists in Benghazi used those protests as an excuse and cover for their long planned terrorist attack that led to the deaths of four Americans.
I will also note that the administration officials called the Pastor and asked him to only distance himself from the film. If he was bullied, it was a funny way of doing it because it doesn’t appear Jones was threatened by the US government in anyway. He wasn’t arrested or detained nor were police sent to his church to intimidate him.
Next Starnes claims that Pastor Jones was also bullied in 2010 to stop his plan to burn the Quran. That is also not true. He may have been asked to stop the event but he decided himself to cancel the event.
Then he changed his mind and had the burning in 2011 (which did lead to riots), then he did it again in 2012, and again in 2014.
Asking someone not to do something is not bullying. It looks like Pastor Jones did exactly what he wanted to do even after being asked not to do it.
I don’t see any bullying and I don’t see a violation of the separation of church and state since Jones was not prohibited from doing what he wanted to do.
But then Todd Starnes is not someone who holds any journalistic ethics, like getting the facts right:
Why would Fox News continue letting someone with such a long history of journalistic misconduct and bad behavior operate under its banner and with its backing?
The answer seems to be that while Starnes may not be a household name, his message resonates with one of Fox’s key demographics: older, white Christian conservatives. He describes himself as “a gun toting, chicken eating son of a Baptist,” recently preached a fiery sermon in a prominent conservative church in Georgia, has published three books addressing conservative themes, and even made an appearance on a Christian television channel to insinuate that gay rights would lead to man-dog marriages. Suffice it to say, he knows his audience.
“I feel like a Duck Dynasty guy living in a Miley Cyrus world,” he wrote in God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values. More than a few Southern evangelicals know the feeling.
But the real secret to Starnes’ success may be the way he combines his homespun conservative Christian-speak with a hefty dose of fear, outrage, and conspiracy. His commentary feeds the narrative that conservatives are under attack—from the “war on Christmas” to the “war on Christians”—and should be afraid and angry. And this is apparently an express-lane to influence.
The next time Todd Starnes starts talking about religious freedom or the separation of church and state, we should automatically dismiss anything he claims because more often than not it is false.