Pagans on ABC’s Nightline

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  July 19, 2011 — 31 Comments

Last night the ABC news program Nightline ran a “Sign of the Times” segment featuring Sgt Simon Wood of the Hampshire Constabulary in the United Kingdom. Wood is a member of the Pagan Police Association, an organization that formed in 2009 and was officially recognized as a Diversity Staff Support Association in 2010.

The report mentions the tabloid-headline generating Metropolitan Police diversity handbook, which discusses the fact that some Pagans practice skyclad, and may be bound and blindfolded during rituals, and (inaccurately) references the UK Charity Commission’s approval of The Druid Network‘s application for religious charity status as Paganism “being given the status of a religion” (Pagan faiths in Britain were already recognized as legitimate religions long before that).

While it’s nice to see a mainstream news outlet pay some attention to gains made by modern Pagans, the segment was something of a flashback for me. The announcer invoking “goats blood” at the introduction, the overly theatrical narrator, and the flashing jump-cuts that emphasize the strangeness of Pagan ritual all brought to mind the more sensationalist days when network news channels would go out to find a Witch for Halloween and bring the smoke-machines along for added effect. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not horrible, but it also could have been much better. There was very much a tone that set modern Pagans up as a strange fringe phenomenon. Then again, Nightline isn’t exactly the pinnacle of serious news reporting any longer, as they are devoting their Summer coverage to psychics, exorcism, and out-of-body experiences. So I suppose a report on Druids, with mention of naked initiation rituals, hit the sweet spot for them.

Maybe I’m expecting too much, but a nice sit-down interview in the studio, one that confronts various issues but avoids trying to be cute or salacious, would be a nice change of pace.

ADDENDUM: Sgt. Simon Wood weighs in with his take on the program.

“Considering that they spent quite a lot of time with me throughout the day and filmed the whole ceremony they could have made a longer film. But then how many regular watchers for their program [would] watch an hour on witchcraft? At least it is of a positive nature rather than the usual pap we normally get. I agreed to do it simply to try and get more positive things out there about Pagans in general.”

I’d like to thank Sgt. Wood for sharing his perspective, and for his service.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001321892479 Kate Dennis

    It makes me wonder where all the serious journalists have gone. Then again, as much as I hate to admit it, summertime reporting has always seemed fluffy and aimed more at the tabloid-minded.

    • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

      I’m betting CSPAN, NPR, PBS, RT-USA and new media (if we could somehow find them).

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    That announcer’s voice was… too funny for words.

    But come on! Let the man speak! I thought he was going to say something interesting…

  • Masery

    You can send a polite comment concerning coverage to Nightline here http://abcnews.go.com/Site/page?id=3271346&cat=Nightline

  • kenneth

    A serious issues based discussion by today’s TV journalists? Your only chance for that is Charlie Rose or maybe Frontline.

    • RivaWitch

      I think you are right. Our only hope for serious journalism is PBS. I found myself watching pbs news hour rather then the “Nightly News” programs.

  • http://vermillionrush.wordpress.com Vermillion

    The narrator is sort of a cross between something straight out of Monty Python and those DEEPDARKSCARY folks they hire around Halloween.

    Re: expecting a nice sit-down in the studio. I’d love that too. But it’s not gonna happen I don’t think for years and years to come.

    • http://heathenhall.blogspot.com Joseph

      Heh… I kinda thought it was just how that guy sounded. “Quick, who do we have on staff with a British accent!”

  • Simon

    Considering that they spent quite a lot of time with me throughout the day and filmed the whole ceremony they could have made a longer film. But then how many regular watchers for thier program what an hour on witchcraft? At least it is of a positive nature rather than the usual pap we normally get. I agreed to do it simply to try and get more positive things out there about Pagans in general.

  • GreenFlame H.

    No, you are not expecting too much. I’m so damn sick of the “over-theatrical” news casters, the casting of the story in the most dramatic terms, all of that. It might have been okay the freaking **1980s** and perhaps even into the **1990sm**, but this is 2011 already. Get with the program, journalists. Earth-based religions are serious and practiced by serious people.

    The deeper problem is that we have been acculturated over the past 1,000 years to hate and distrust our own indigenous spiritual promptings, first by dominant monotheism, then by scientific materialism.

  • Rosiel

    The serious journalists have all been laid off and readers have mved to the Internet, where everyone expects to get their news for free (with no advertising), so no one can get paid to work as a PROFESSIONAL in the (former) business of journalism. Sorry guys. We’re part of the problem (unless you’ve) donated to a favorite news outlet recently.)

    • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

      Or come to just accept visiting a site with some ads is not a bad idea to ensure those that do a good job of religious journalism don’t get lured away to spend their time elsewhere.

      Not that I know a religious news site that has recently undergone this transformation or anything *looks around whistling*.

    • kenneth

      Very true. I spent 15 years as a serious journalist, and a pretty well respected one. I am now reading this from a biology lab where I work. Not one in 10 of my former colleagues is still in journalism.

    • http://vermillionrush.wordpress.com Vermillion

      For those who prefer their news via CNN or Fox or MSNBC exactly how would they donate to them?

  • http://www.facebook.com/KveldulfThorsFreyrssonStormcloudWormwood Gary P Golden Jr

    of course it’s going to be all flash and nothing serious. A few months ago we were pointed towards a show Discovery Health was doing about “unusual births” or some shit and they were looking for “pagans” so the wife and I called in and they conducted a phone interview…

    apparently we were too boring for them because we never heard back from them and you could just tell from the questions what their angle was. I cannot wait to see the show when it comes out to see who they actually got.

  • http://www.magickal-media.com Alice C. “A.C.” Fisher Aldag

    They apparently believe that the “woo woo” stuff sells advertising.

  • lynn

    I’m optimistic. Our numbers are only growing, and with that will come a more varied and realistic representation.

    • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

      Growing numbers are irrelevant if no one knows we exist in large numbers.

      • Kitsune

        Which can be a good thing, if we know what we are doing.

        • http://heathenhall.blogspot.com Joseph

          Anton LaVey used to regularly refuse to give out membership numbers for the Church of Satan. If memory serves, he is attributed with having said something along the lines of “If the number was too high, we’d be seen as a threat. If the number was too low, we’d be seen as irrelevant.”

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    An interesting piece. It avoided outright sensationalism without becoming actually serious. It avoided overt insult without becoming actually respectful. I suspect a fringe Christian body with unusual rituals would have been treated much the same way.

  • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

    It seems whenever I hear a news organization on the national level being called to publish a clarification or retraction, it’s ABC News that’s the target – and often rightfully so. This trend has gone back even to before they were bought out by Disney in the 90s. This, along with commercials for Disney shows and products thinly disguised as news almost makes me want to put them in the same basket as Fox News.

    The only thing that makes me still tolerate ABC News is they have one of the under 2 dozen investigative reporters working at the national level in the entire country – and he gets good stuff done.

  • Druidwood

    At least it was postive. I’ve seen many of these things go the oppersite way. This showed at least one Pagan in a postive light for the most part. Him being a policeman & was once in the miltarty so I’m stroked about that.

    • Simon

      thanks for the comments. I spent most of the day and evening with them and was interviewed twice on camera. Once at work and you see part of the interview at the Naked Man which actually took 40 mins. With a 3 min slot I dont think it came across too bad. Could have been better with more time but at least we got some positive coverage. There are more pagans in the Police and military than we know about so we are getting around.

  • Kilmrnock

    my only point was it was way to short , was a bit theatrical , but it least was positive . non of the typical scare tactic nonsense . btw anyone watch the the clips from our buddy Rev. Hagee , this stuff is comical , scary tho as well. this clown is serious . kilm

  • http://heathenhall.blogspot.com Joseph

    I rather liked the piece. It did tend to come from a “they’re weird, but they’re harmless” angle, but I think that’s a huge improvement over some of the other coverage that Paganism has gotten in the media over the years. It certainly wasn’t a negative portrayal. Another small step on the road to mainstream acceptance.

  • Anonymous

    I think this was a great piece on Paganism. We all should be so lucky to get such positive coverage.

    Not one mention of Satan was included. I’ll take goat’s blood as the worst thing Pagan invokes over Satan any day.

    The focus of the piece was an ex military, police officer, not some weird nut case ne’er-do-well who lives in their parent’s basement. You can’t do more mainstream than a cop.

    The explanation of what Paganism encompasses was reasonably accurate.

    Maybe we should outsource all our news coverage to the Brits.

  • Simon

    It’s great to see that the article is getting good feedback. It’s always a gamble when you deal with the media. The ritual itself was an awakening ritual held on the new moon called the Awakening Moon, just after Imbolc. The idea being to awaken all the elements within you and share that with the land. This wasn’t explained in the article.
    If anyone is interested in what we do please look up our blogsite by searching for “Clan of the Pheryllt”. The site has some great information and pictures and if you are in our area when we hold an Open Ritual feel free to come along and say hello.

    Simon

  • http://throughthehiddendoor.wordpress.com/ Eric

    I hated the announcer’s voice. And they got their facts wrong about what paganism is. It is not a universal RELIGION, it is an umbrella term encompassing many faiths. Do research before you try to make fun of something. Disregarding that I thought that Simon gave interesting insight into why people are turning to pagan paths. They want something different and heartfelt. Not that Christianity can not be heartfelt, but sitting in the pews and droning away some hymns is not, personally, my idea of a good time. Bring out the drums! and “give me noise”!

    • http://PaganCenteredPodcast.com Dave of Pagan Centered Podcast

      Actually there are many who embrace Wiccan practices and Wiccan ideals that do not call themselves Wiccan but claim to practice the “religion” of Paganism. On messageboards and in person, it’s not difficult to find someone claiming to be practicing “the Pagan religion” so, even though this is ABC News, let’s not confuse what could potentially be skin-deep research with a complete disregard for reality.

  • Guest

    I agree, overall it was far better coverage than we’re used to.

    But was it necessary for the narrator to sound sarcastic rather than serious?

    Some of the time, the piece seemed to be trying to say that Pagans are just regular folk, but pointing out that we are not that different from ‘normal folk’ kind of misses the point, doesn’t it? Are the clothes we wear in ritual (when we’re not going ‘nekkid’) any more costumish than the vestments of other mainstream religions? Are our ritual words any more ‘oldy-worldy’ than “Our Father Who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name”?

    It would be interesting to see a piece that commented on a Pagan group that held a healing ritual for a member (or non-member for that matter), or talked to Pagans about what they do get back from their religion and why they chose it. That would have been journalism. (Maybe they did talk about these things, but that part ended up on the cutting room floor.)