Thanks to many of your Rec's, you may have heard about this recent controversy:
In a TIME cover story on service Joe Klein writes about the Oklahoma tornadoes and disaster relief volunteers. He singled out Church groups and Team Rubicon (a veterans' group, and veterans were a focus of his story) for volunteering their help in disaster relief efforts.Not only was this dig unnecessary, and entirely irrelevant to the article including the paragraph in which he inserted it, but it was completely false.
But there was an occupying army of relief workers, led by local first responders, exhausted but still humping it a week after the storm, church groups from all over the country — funny how you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals — and there in the middle of it all, with a purposeful military swagger, were the volunteers from Team Rubicon. They looked tough, megatatted, in camouflage pants, gray T-shirts and white hard hats. They moved with purpose and spirit and were equipped by Home Depot — which has done brilliant work locating and funding the very best veterans service groups — with an impressive array of chain saws, power tools, wheelbarrows, tarps and wood.Why this dig at "secular humanists"? Why did he feel the need to single out one particular group of people for their absence? Furthermore it turns out he was wrong about that.
More than 4,300 people donated more than $120,000 for the family of Rebecca Vitsmun (she promised to donate to charity whatever money she doesn’t need).After this bit of callous non-sequitur instantly became a major story within the Secular community, Joe Klein took another go around at the controversy, only to fall flat on his face and make things worse.
Atheists Giving Aid raised over $18,000 that will be given to local relief groups in Moore, Oklahoma and directly to families that need help.
Members of the FreeOK atheist group helped families who needed wreckage removed from their property...
Local atheist groups such as the Oklahoma Atheists, Atheist Community of Tulsa, the Lawton Area Secular Society, Norman Naturalism Group, and the Oklahoma State Secular Organization have organized volunteers, resources, and blood drives.
Organizers of the FreeOK conference going on this weekend held a literacy drive yesterday to “benefit the schools affected” by the tornadoes.
If you’re looking for “I’m sorry,” you won’t find it. The phrase was not mentioned once in the entirety of the rebuttal. I’m not even sure where to begin on the irrelevance of 80% of his response, but the excerpt contains the bits that attempt to clarify his insult. The long and short of it is that his critics did not pay enough attention to the word “organized” in his original statement. It’s not that humanists are absent in the relief effort, it’s that they aren’t all wearing matching tshirts. For journalists whose entire investigative process is a simple observation of how many groups have uniforms, this is an important element. He doesn’t appear to understand why the humanist community is upset, which leads me to believe that he hasn’t so much as read the letters he’s received, just acknowledged that they’ve been sent. For starters he and TIME consider him to be a professional journalist (though many of us haven’t seen it that way for years), and yet could not be bothered to do any research whatsoever before making or publishing that statement. It was a baseless, disgusting slander against an entire group of Americans as underrepresented as any in pursuit of civil liberties.In my diary on Klein's pathetic rebuttal, I mentioned that TIME should continue to be pressured until they take more appropriate actions for a supposedly reputable news outlet.
It's one thing for Klein and TIME to ignore the controversy they caused by the initial statement. However, because Klein escalated the controversy further by basically doubling down on his initial attack, without any formal acknowledgement of wrongdoing, and without any form of professional reprimand, I don't think Klein or TIME should continue to be allowed to get away with this grossly negligent act of journalism.So what do we get? In the next issue, TIME chooses to acknowledge the controversy.
We should not let up on the pressure being put on TIME to rectify the situation. Until TIME actually does something to reprimand Klein, we need to keep sending them the message that TIME will not come out of this controversy unscathed.
This should sort things out, right?
Well, the thing is, this is what we actually get...
Well, maybe this:
Many readers were upset by Klein's comment about secular humanists, who he said are less likely than members of religious groups to organize for disaster relief.
First of all, he did not say Secular Humanists are less likely than members of religious groups to organize for disaster relief. He said that Secular Humanists groups were not there at all.
Second of all, TIME leaves it up to the reader of this message to figure out what it is that other readers found so upsetting about the comment. Is it because he felt the need to instigate Secular Humanists in an article that had nothing to do with them? Is it because he felt the need to compare the relief efforts of Secular Humanists to the religious? Is it because he wrote something that portrayed Secular Humanists in a negative light?
TIME should have mentioned what it was that made the comment truly upsetting: He was completely wrong. He was wrong about groups of secular humanists not being there to help with disaster relief. He was wrong and you, TIME, don't even mention that his comment is wrong.
Blogger Richard Wade called the comment "completely unnecessary," while reader Lois Lemoine asked if Klein really believes "there are no secular humanists among those veterans or the first responders to tragic events."That's not all Richard Wade wrote about the comment, actually.
There was some discussion at the first of the comments about whether or not Klein had himself lent a hand in the Oklahoma tornado disaster zone, but as I said, that doesn’t matter. Regardless of whether he was out anywhere helping, and regardless of why he was, his out-of-the-blue disparagement of Secular Humanists was completely unnecessary for the point of his article, and even unnecessary for that part of his article, and it was factually false. It was just a stupid, bigoted dig when he saw he’d given himself an opportunity.I shared a similar thought as Lois in the last diary. The thing is, it's hardly the most pertinent of criticisms, valid though it may be. There were far more problems with Klein's statement, which TIME must have had other people pointing out to them, and they just decided to focus on two of the relatively mundane issues, and not the larger issue of being wrong, and there being ample proof that it was wrong.
In a post on the Swampland blog, Klein acknowledged the criticism and said he plans to write more about the decline of secular service organizations.Yeah, he acknowledged the criticism. He did not acknowledge if the criticism was valid. He did not acknowledge that the criticism is based on a statement that is so glaringly wrong.
Hemant Mehta makes an analogy to illustrate how irrelevant the Swampland post was.
Also, saying that Klein “acknowledged the criticism” is really a cop-out way of saying “Klein ignored the very reason people were angry with him.” That’s like saying “Paula Deen acknowledged the criticism against her” without ever mentioning why people were criticizing her in the first place. It completely misses the point.Finally, as if we wanted to be reminded, TIME reasserts that Klein plans to write a book about "the decline of secular service organizations."
Here's the problem with that. The people you just pissed off with your terrible statement and the terrible reasoning you and your magazine offered for that statement aren't going to buy a book where you probably do more terrible writing and reasoning. There probably will be a market though, as in, the people for whom you originally wrote the statement about not seeing Secular Humanists passing out food. The people who already have negative opinions of Secular Humanists and are looking for more substantial validation of their unfair characterizations of Secular Humanists, like a whole book. But if you're trying to send any sort of message that you didn't intend to offend the group of people who you offended, writing a book about the thing that offended those people, isn't going to get those people back on your side.
I am aware, from reading the comments for the diaries on parts 1 and 2, that many of you were not swayed to change your opinions of TIME or Klein by this controversy. Not because the controversy didn't fully resonate with you, but because your opinions of TIME/Klein were already so low to begin with. And if that was a more popular sentiment, perhaps this protracted failure of journalistic integrity wouldn't be so controversial.
But for a lot of people, magazines like TIME still hold a lot of relevancy to the opinions they form. In most peoples' minds, TIME is in a different category than TMZ; perhaps it should be in the same category and controversies such as this would be prime evidence to support that change.
But for the most part, it's not. TIME is supposed to be a reputable journal, and because of that, the things they write matter.
Joe Klein is not Dinesh D’Souza. He’s a professional journalist, so it seems reasonable to expect him—or barring that, his editors—to check his facts before he tosses off a claim like this. It’s not that he didn’t specifically name these efforts. It’s worse—he went out of his way to say that our organizations were not there.For many of us who only deal with these issues within the blogosphere, controversies such as this may seem academic at times. But imagine being one of the Secular Humanists, or Atheists or Agnostics or Freethinkers out there in Oklahoma, as one of the relief workers, or even as one of the disaster victims. Hearing someone like Joe Klein for TIME, or perhaps anyone, deny their existence, no, their basic humanity, must be potentially very disappointing and offensive.
Humanists and atheists aren’t developing our charitable efforts for recognition or applause. Empathy and compassion are a natural fit for a naturalistic worldview, and it’s incredibly rewarding to put that into action. But it would be nice if we could do this work without the constant, buzzing insistence from people like Klein that we aren’t actually doing it.
If you have not done so already, submit a letter to TIME letting them know what you think of their statements.
Cancel your subscription by calling 1-866-550-6934 and let them know why you did it on Twitter.
Lastly, If you'd prefer to prove them wrong more substantially, consider donating to one of the Secular groups Hemant mentions.