May 10th, 2007

Truth be told, I’m not a fan of Al Sharpton, and never really was since I fist heard of him in relation to the Tawana Brawley case. Some liberals and some libertarians seem to like him, say that he’s good at bringing up topics that should be brought up, and/or see him as a constructive spoiler in political campaigns and debates. I don’t see that myself. I don’t dislike the guy that much, but I’m certainly no follower, and have little reason to defend the guy.

And if I thought that Sharpton really had said something to the effect that Romney or Mormons in general did not “really believe in God,” I would be alongside the people condemning him for the remark. I certainly do not feel that Christians are always respectful of people with differing beliefs, and would have little trouble believing that one mainstream Christian said that about a Mormon. In fact, I think Romney’s biggest obstacle in this election will be the fact that the majority of Republican voters tend to be strongly non-Mormon Christians.

If Sharpton had a history of bigoted statements, towards Mormons or any other religious group, I would also be suspicious of what he said recently.

The thing is, I don’t think the claim holds up that Sharpton was talking about Mormons.

Sharpton said: “…and as for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyways, so don’t worry about that; that’s a temporary situation.”

Out of context, it certainly sounds like Sharpton was saying that Romney and/or Mormons don’t believe in God. However, context is everything. Sharpton was debating an atheist, and it is absolutely believable that Sharpton was telling Hitchens–the atheist–that people who really believe in God as opposed to atheists would defeat Romney. Not people who believe in God as opposed to Mormons.

Now, especially out of context, the statement could be taken either way; the thing is, in the context of a debate with an atheist, it makes far more sense that Sharpton was talking about atheists being the ones who don’t really believe in God–else one would have to believe that Sharpton has suddenly turned into a massive anti-Mormon bigot with no history to suggest that.

The thing is, most stories I am seeing so far in the media don’t even mention that he was debating an atheist. Take this one, an ABC affiliate. Yes, it’s in Mormon country, but even then, to exclude the entire context of debate with an atheist is equivalent to outright lying. And of course, conservative blogs, Fox News, and the Romney campaign have started running with the story and are busily establishing their version of events. Lou Dobbs had Hitchens on, but again, showed only the clipped statement–even muted the audio of the previous statement in showing the clip–and then had his debate opponent comment on it, which he did as a means of expressing disdain for religious groups.

Like Gore’s statement about “taking the initiative in creating the Internet,” or Bill Clinton’s “I didn’t inhale” statement, there are two ways to read it–the way that makes perfect sense in context, and the way that makes the speaker sound like an utter buffoon. This is the same situation: taking the statement in the context of a debate with an atheist, Sharpton was almost certainly not dissing Mormons. But if you want to make it sound sensational, it is very easy to spin the statement the other way.

But I have noticed another problem: nobody is providing the context of the whole dialog between Sharpton and Hitchens. I have looked solidly on Google, both in news and on web sites, and not a single one of them show (a) the statement that Sharpton was responding to–incredibly vital in order to understand the nature of his reply–nor did they (b) even include all of Sharpton’s statement. They cut in with Sharpton saying “…and as the one Mormon…” and many of the quotes dishonestly cut out the “and,” leave no ellipses to show that it was a continuation of a prior utterance, improperly capitalize the start of the second clause of his statement, and do not show what came before.

This is incredibly dishonest, and inexcusable that news outlets–supposedly objective–should cut it like that. For all I know, the words before that statement were exculpatory, or even more damning. But leaving them out–and in many cases, acting like they didn’t exist–makes it impossible to understand fully. It certainly makes it seem even more like Sharpton was indeed saying something else, but that including the prior utterance would lessen the sensational impact of the story. All that I can say is that within the context of debating an atheist, what has been quoted so far makes perfect sense–albeit awkward wording–in the way Sharpton is still insisting that he meant it.

Like I said, I have no great love for Sharpton, and if the full story indeed shows he was making a bigoted statement against Mormons, I’ll be right up there condemning him. But with the facts that are out now, that does not seem to be the case, and with the full context still being held back, that’s the only honest way of reading it.

I am also somewhat disappointed that, at least so far, the major liberal blogs are completely ignoring the matter. Perhaps they are waiting for a full transcript, perhaps they just don’t want to touch it. But it seems to me that what has been shown so far is enough to make the point I myself have made.

If anyone can point me to a transcript of the debate with the full Sharpton quote and the statements preceding it, I would appreciate the heads-up.

Categories: Media & Reviews, Political Ranting Tags: by
  1. Tim Kane
    May 11th, 2007 at 11:47 | #1

    I would have to say, that on a whole, I don’t like Mormons and mormonism particularly. I am barely theistic and even more barely Christian and even more barely and estranged Catholic (meaning I am really just a cultural catholic which is only properly understood in the context of St. Louis where I come from). However, the real issue is about religion being limited to its proper role. Not only the separation of church and state, but respecting the private nature of religion, belief, spirituality and give each and every person the wiggle room to be able to adhere to the dictates of their own conscience.

    Because of that, I loath the idea of a Republican Mormon because the nature of Mormons in general and the fact that Republicans don’t respect the containment of religion to the private individual sphere. In fact they are using religion as means to project power and break down our constitutional safe guards.

    (I conciede that God exists, because he created, because something is better than nothing I assume God to be basically good, but creation has much suffering and injustice so I think it is barely good, and so, for God to be good, and yet allow suffering in his creation, in order for him to remain good, he has to put him through that suffering, and in that sense I can accept Christianity, but I think God came here, not so much to redeem us for something we did, but as a function of what he did, that is, create creation (good) with suffering (bad) – so I can accept christianity more or less on that basis).

    Anyway, I have a growing apathy for organized religion – especially in Christianity because I think Christ was against it (he said don’t call people by titles such as teacher or father etc…) and he was against politics and religion being mixed. I think this is because it was politics in a religious hierarchical institution that him crucified.

    I got in trouble here in Yeong Cheon – a city of perhaps 50,000, where there are no more than six native English speakers because I bumped into the local Mormon missionaries. The Mormons want to grow the number of people in their church. Yeong Cheon is low hanging fruit for these people. Because Koreans want and need to learn English badly, and so the Mormons are dangling English as a way to lure Koreans into their proximity so that they can proselytize their religion. And that pisses me off. And I know they are young kids doing what they are told, but I told them that I didn’t like what they are doing, that I thought it was wrong, that it made me angry and that Iwasn’t comfortable being seen talking to them. So much for the fellow ship from a fellow yank in a strange place, huh.

  2. Luis
    May 11th, 2007 at 14:04 | #2

    Almost a day since the event, and STILL no one has a transcript of the event, not even a partial one of the segment where Sharpton made the comment. The best I got was some guy over at my Kos diary who claimed he saw a full transcript but couldn’t deliver, and a point to an audio recording of the debate. However, the Real Player file didn’t work, at least not on my computer (I could access it, but there was no sound), and even if it did work, there was no indication of where in the 2-hour debate the short comment was located. It’s not like I have that much time on my hands…

  3. Plantsman1
    May 14th, 2007 at 06:05 | #3

    It’s absolutely amazing that a verbatim transcript of what both Sharpton AND Hitchens said can’t be found, isn’t it? It seems that a whole lot of people have it in for Sharpton. Even people (like those over at Kos) who think of themselves as “intellectually honest”. Eye opening, isn’t it?

  4. JohnInFlorida
    May 16th, 2007 at 06:47 | #4

    “If Sharpton had a history of bigoted statements …..”
    Are you kidding? Have you been living under a rock?

  5. Luis
    May 16th, 2007 at 11:33 | #5

    John: Okay–provide examples, please.

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