The Mainstream News Media Dance with Wicca

Heather Greene —  February 18, 2013 — 41 Comments

University of MissouriLast fall, the University of Missouri added the eight Wiccan Sabbats to its “Guide to Religion” in an effort to encourage respect for religious diversity within its community. The Guide says:

The holidays and accommodations section of this guide is provided to faculty, staff, and student leaders as an educational resource for the myriad of religious holy days celebrated at Mizzou. Not only does this section offer crucial information about dates and practices, we also hope that the information about recommended academic and food accommodations will be valuable to those planning classroom activities and other academic and co-curricular events.

In the past week, the mainstream news media have picked up the story and “ran with it.”  It’s odd that it took them this long to identify the Guide’s update. It’s even odder that they are treating Mizzou’s diversity efforts as an anomaly. The University of Missouri certainly isn’t the first college or public school system to include Wiccan Sabbats.  But the media work in their own way, which is why they need to be watched.

Most of the articles have been benign news accounts, if not always completely accurate. However, Fox News and Fox & Friends Weekend have created quite a stir with their version and discussion of the story.

When is enough, enough? 

There are two ways to view these videos. First, it’s fascinating to see Wicca, Paganism and parts of its theology entering mainstream discourse. Right across the bottom of the screen, we read: “Wiccans & Pagans.” I see this as cultural progress in the same vein that someone might say “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” It’s part of a sociological and psychological process that I describe by stealing the term “hedonic adaptation.”  At first the change, in this case the acceptance of “Wicca or Paganism,” is disruptive and uncomfortable.  But over time, as the change remains visible within the environment, we become use to it.  Eventually we accept it as normal and move on.

However, on the other hand, the comments are troublesome.  Yes, they are insulting.  It appears that Fox News has moved beyond the “Wiccans are Evil” phase to “Wiccans are clowns.”  The words are mocking and, really, only serve to demonstrate the sophomoric level of this type of journalism.  In her P.C. Report, Tammy Bruce says, “I don’t know any Wiccans. I think on a really bad day I may turn into one.”  That is just one of the many ridiculous, unprofessional, and off-handed remarks.  (I’ll leave it to the readers to watch the videos and hear the rest.)

Tammy Bruce goes on to suggest that Wiccans and Pagans should be outraged by Missouri’s Guide. She claims that we are being used by the establishment as a pawn in their political agenda to downgrade the Christian traditions of this country.  Tucker Carlson actually accuses the University of “hating orthodox Christianity.”

Fox is spinning a positive interfaith story into an example of anti-Christian behavior.  If we offer inclusion to one religious group does it necessarily mean that we are “downgrading” the others? This is what Fox News is implying. It’s the argument we’d expect from evangelical Christian groups. Some might say that we’d expect it from the conservative Fox News Network as well.

However, these opinion are woven together with poor research and being sold as journalism. What bothers me more than their position on the issue is the lack of accurate facts about “Wiccanism” and the University of Missouri’s diversity work. For example, the “Guide to Religion” never says that Wiccans will necessarily be absent on Sabbats.  However, written across the Fox & Friends screen is “No Exams on Wiccan and Pagan Holidays.”

Interestingly enough, during the video, Clayton Morris calls himself a journalist and attempts to bring facts into their discussion.  Later on in the day, he remarked on twitter: “I defended Wiccans on the show this morning as peaceful folks devoted to the Earth.” (@ClaytonMorris) While he did say that, he did nothing to correct the other glaring inaccuracies.

Nancy Grace reporting on Jodi Arias trial

To be fair, Fox News was not the only network highlighting Wicca these past two weeks. CNN’s Headline News Network (HLN) and ABC took “potshots” at Wicca while reporting on the Jodi Arias case.  Ms. Arias is on trial in Phoenix for allegedly killing her boyfriend, Travis Alexander.  At some point in the last month, the accused testified to dabbling or being exposed to Wicca through a past boyfriend.  She has also testified to sampling many different religions settling on Mormonism, which is what she was practicing when the crime was committed.

On Feb 5, ABC reported:

Her odyssey through boyfriends and the spiritual world included a five year period from age 18 through age 22 when Arias said she became very interested in fundamentalist Christianity, Wicca, Buddhism, and Hinduism, all of which she explored as she dated men who practiced those beliefs.

Although the word “Wicca” was only a very minor detail in a very lengthy on-going trial, the media clung to the word Wicca.  In a later report, ABC actually published a news video entitled “Jodi Arias Testifies She Tried Wicca, Buddhism With Boyfriends”  However, the video itself had nothing to do with any of her religious exploits.

Jodi Arias

Jodi Arias in court
Courtesy of HLN.com

In another case, CNN’s Headline News (HLN) correspondent Nancy Grace interviewed the victim’s best friend, Zion Lovingier.  In her report entitled “Did Jodi Arias study Witchcraft?” Nancy spends a good deal of time trying to corner Zion into talking about Ms. Arias’ involvement in Wicca.  Just like the Fox reporters, Nancy uses her journalist’s platform to mock Wicca and Witchcraft.  In the interview, she says, “That would stand out in my mind, if someone was into witchcraft.” Then she calls Wicca “creepy.”  Fortunately, Zion doesn’t bite, remarking back, “Jodi’s issues run much deeper than Wicca.”

Watch Full Nancy Grace Interview Video Here

In the past twenty four hours, there has been a backlash and simultaneous outrage from the Wiccan and Pagan community in the way of calls-to-action and petitions. I expect this will continue over the next week. Contrary to Tammy Bruce’s prediction, these frustrations have been directed at the media and not at the University of Missouri or elsewhere.  As Wicca enters a more central place in mainstream discourse, there will be continued and very public rejections or mocking of our theology and practice.  The bulk of these negative reactions are derived from the disruption of the status quo and, of course, misinformation. This is nothing new.

However, while we stew over the mainstream news media’s latest barbs, it is also important to note that a new discussion is now happening. Wicca’s presence in our culture is being recognized more frequently.  The door is open.  It is at this point that Wiccan and Pagan organizations, as well as individuals, doing interfaith work and community outreach become essential.  Petitions are good. But, we must also handle these big media outlets from a positive, non-threatening standpoint with the aim of educating and enlightening. The more that Wicca and Paganism remain in the mainstream media’s eye (or line of fire, if you will), the more accustom our culture in general will become to having a realistic and positive Pagan presence.

(I think I just gave myself work…)

 

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Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer and Pagan spirit living in the Deep South. She has served as Public Information Officer for Covenant of the Goddess and worked extensively with Lady Liberty League. Heather's work has been published in Circle Magazine and elsewhere. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History with a background in the performing and visual arts.
  • http://www.facebook.com/rapture.hoax2011 Roy Linford Adams

    Dare I say, Wicca/Paganism today stands right where christianity claims it stood in it’s beginning. In the fictional early-Roman christian history they claim to be moched and persecuted for being christians and eventually came to not ony be excepted, but eventually was adopted by the government (Actually created by). We have just passed the hill of the modern American “Satanic Panic” and while some Pagans are still persecuted at their jobs and have their children taken away for their faith, most of us are able to live freely and open. We now have a few politicians actually in office. And now we’ve gained national media attention and discussion not of our existance, but the fact that our faith has begun earning the same freedoms that christianity has enjoyed since it was invented 1600 years ago.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      After years of ignoring us, then trying to exclude us, then laughing at us, sometime soon some conservative Christian will claim Wicca is merely a misunderstanding of Christianity — ie, nothing new. (Sequence adapted from Aidan Kelly.)

    • LezlieKinyon

      I can’t think of a worse fate than having our faith be adopted by some governmental agency as “official”. That would be Anyone’s government.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        Word!

  • Brian Scott

    “PC Police” is right. Seems some people feel they have to stamp out things they deem “too PC”, ironically perpetuating some groups’ shibboleth that doing something that looks PC (no matter how innocuous) is politically incorrect to them. It’s kind of amusing, though also frightening, seeing people channel Orwellian memes in the name of fighting against them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/guillotinejewel Lauren Snow

    Whoo boy. That was painfully insulting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lauren.fotiades Lauren Fotiades

    I’m amazed by the fact that Wiccans should be upset with the University because they’re “pawns” being used to “downgrade” the country’s “Christian traditions”. I know that the privileged are often blind to their privilege, but seriously – didn’t anybody look at that part of the report and think “Hmm, maybe people who have been continuously harrassed and threatened by the dominant American religion wouldn’t really be all that upset at being used to break down that dominance?” That’s assuming one even accepts the premise (of Wiccans/pagans = pawns), but I’m pretty sure they definitely believe that and that it would be pretty hopeless to hope for them to see otherwise without having it pointed out to them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kienac Kiena Crees

    wooooooowwwww i dont…i mean… journalists….no research….bigot…wow…cant…fox news…*sigh* ..really?

  • http://www.facebook.com/pjvj1 Pamela V Jones

    As always the media is so full of privilege that the Jodi Arias story becomes about Wicca while the Timothy McVeigh story was never about Christianity.

  • Ursyl

    Wow!! Changes 20% of the holidays recognized by the university to 20 holidays.

    Dude, I hope you have a professional doing your taxes for you, because your math skills suck. Not even up to 5th grade level math. How do you get through the day without being ripped off?

  • ChristopherBlackwell

    Remember that Fox is there mainly to get people upset, particularly liberals, Democrats and now us Wiccans. So complain n yell and scream and you are basically telling them how good the are doing at getting people upset. I can just see the next show as Fox tries to tell people how the nasty Wiccans are trying to interfere with their second amendment rights simply because they were supporting our country’s Christian Values.

    How about taking a completely different tack of ridiculing them , for the inability of the hosts to do even basic research or even keep their facts straight, Talk abut their total lack of professionalism so that only Fox would even want to hire them. Tell them how we Wiccans were literally laughing and rolling on the ground with how badly they were messing up.

    In other words lets stop reacting as they expect us to and come up with new ways to act and make them look foolish.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      The founding purpose of Fox News is not to get liberals upset but to provide a counterpoint to the mainstream news media, which the Fox founders view as dominated by liberal bias. It is not to elicit upset from us, but to provide a closed universe of information for a conservative audience that will never grasp the First Amendment and thinks the Second Amendment is in the Bible rather than the Bill of Rights. We can’t reach that audience no matter how we respond; they don’t read The Wild Hunt.
      Others watch Fox for the same reason we’re viewing clips from it on TWH: to see what they’ve distorted lately. Rational reviewers expect targets of ridicule to protest, but they are also open to reasoned deconstruction. As long as we provide the latter we can feel free to indulge in the former.
      If you want to provide some counter-ridicule, please do so. But you have to do it, not just describe it.

  • http://twitter.com/EvangelicalFRDC Evangelical FRD Chap

    This is unfortunate. Tucker Carlson’s part in one of the video segments was most distressing. It would seem in times when one cultural segment is feeling various cultural and political pressures then this results in defensive circling of the wagons in attack of another religious minority so as to bolster one’s own sense of attack. These are the kinds of things that I and the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy are working to counter.

    • http://www.miraselena.com/ Heather Greene

      Thank you for stepping up here and making this comment. Fox’s careless journalism hurts everyone.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    Almost any publicity is good publicity. And while it is absolutely necessary to respond to the lies spewed out by FOX, really one could hardly think of a more resounding, validating, endorsement than to be targeted by them.

    (And please, from now on, could all posts containing pictures of Nancy Grace be marked with a “Trigger Warning”??)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1186404199 Crystal Hope Kendrick

      She looks like a pug gone rabid, and I realize a person can’t help what they look like but she also happens to act like a pug gone rabid, so…

  • Sam Wagar

    I’ve been doing my little bit for years, most recently around the denial of chaplaincy in prisons to Wiccans in Canada. We already ae part of the mainstream, you know – another small religion just getting misunderstood by non-members and crapped on by bigots.

  • Dr Dave Evans

    as a Brit who has watched some of your TV over the years I am still amazed when (in any context, especially war or political reporting) Fox News is expected by anyone to contain *any actual journalism whatsoever * …. write to the advertisers and complain, that is maybe one way to make an impact… a very large US pagan community saying as one that they will not buy product X because it is advertised on Fox, and that the refusal to buy is due to their reporting content, just might get a reaction from the advertisers (or at least make for a story on one of the other channels) and thus reduce the Fox income. Just a thought…. (also the threat does not have to be true- learning a trick or two from Fox there – the threat might be enough :)

    • ldykismet

      It is a nice idea however unfortunately similar actions have been attempted in the past. For the most part it is only a small percentage, mainly republican voters who seem to watch them. Though as my British significant other pointed out he found the Tammy comment about we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the freedoms anywhere else in the world hilarious. Been living in the UK for a while now and quite a few Wiccans and Pagans over here enjoying their lives freely.

      • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

        Isn’t Wicca practically mainstream in the UK? The Daily Fail might occasionally treat it like a freakshow, but they do that to everyone.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          I wouldn’t say so, no. It is more that religion is not a major part of daily life for the majority.

  • cernowain greenman

    I really hope Jon Stewart gets a hold of this and turns this story on FOX news’ heads. That would be most awesome!

    • cernowain greenman

      Unfortunately, Jon failed to cover this :(

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I notice a few things here.

    Firstly, whether anyone else likes it or not, Wicca is being portrayed in the mainstream media as distinct to Paganism. A lot of people do thing by referring to “Wicca and Paganism”. A statement that begs the question of ‘what is the difference?’

    Secondly, a quote from the second video from Tammy Bruce:

    “…they outnumber most of the other so c-, you know, religions, actual religions.” (1m46s)

    Anyone else see a tacit rejection of Wicca and Paganism as actual religions?

    • ldykismet

      Kind of similar to her comment at the end of her clip about being thankful we can have freedoms in the US cause we wouldn’t have them elsewhere. Not exactly sure what planet she is living on.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I did notice that bit, as well. I thought it was really quite an amusing display of international ignorance.

    • LezlieKinyon

      The “outnumber” – part is just plain bizarre…

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I’d go with ‘disparaging’ rather than ‘bizarre’.

  • Kilmrnock

    Ayup , gotta love our friends at Fox News . But i like the previous idea posited here , rather than getting all bent out of shape lets make fun of these idiots . I think we as a group would look alot better taking the high road deaing with these fools . Lets point out their , mistakes , misconceptions and inaccuracies , show the rest of the media and world what a laughable bunch these people realy are . I know and understand how this kinda crap reporting tends to piss us off , bigtime . But making them look bad would serve our purposes better . Whereas us getting upset and fussing makes us look bad and plays into thier deception, that we are a bunch of loonies, kooks. What does everyone think?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=651573838 Jeff Sockwell

    Fox News is where IQ points go to die.

  • http://www.facebook.com/heathersunnymartin Heather Sunny Martin-Wright

    In defense of Nancy Grace, she is very legal minded (as all of us within the legal community know) but we also know Ms. Grace is very Christian centered as this is how she was raised, in Georgia. This whole Arias case has many twists but I believe as you do that picking up on the Wicca is what fuels mainstream media. We in the Wiccan community need to show mainstream society how much we are a kind, loving people of faith.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sage.blackthorn Sage Blackthorn

    If you’ve given yourself more work, then it is work that must be shared by the entire Pagan community. And it is work that must be done by living our beliefs, educating people about what those beliefs are, and showing, by example what constitutes being truly Pagan.

  • Kenneth

    Fox is not a news organization in any sense of the word. It is a culture war sounding board and blog of neo-conservatism. It is as pointless to engage with them as with Westboro Baptist.

    The problem with other news groups, by and large, is that too many journalist today simply do not have a curiosity about and willingness to learn from the world beyond their own personal realities. Before they have contacted a single source, they have decided what “the real story” is and make sure they find pegs to fit that pre-conceived hole, or else shave them down until they do. When I was in the profession, I found the best journalists were those who were there because they wanted to learn everything about everything. We tried to soak up the culture like a sponge, and most of us had one or more weird interests which we became semi-expert in. If we hadn’t heard about something, we’d at least read the Wikipedia about it before calling someone.

    Lots of the broadcast folks now seem to start from that pre-conception, plug in one or two quotes to support it, and move on. Two or three years ago, I was contacted by a CNN reporter doing a piece on people who had formally quit the Catholic Church (you could actually do that for four years or so). When I told her I was Wiccan, I had to explain that from the atomic level up. She had never heard of it! Her reason was that she had been in Europe for “several years.” (As if Wicca were some obscure new teen thing which just started trending on Twitter the week before!). There was no intent to do a hatchet job, and as far as I know I was just used on background, but the point is you never know what you’re starting with in terms of knowledge or willingness to learn when you deal with the media as a pagan.

  • http://www.facebook.com/LyndaLBD Lynda L B Duke

    Perhaps we need to enlighten Nancy Grace on how Wiccans are not creepy. All manner of people are attracted various religions and use them as platforms for their imental disorders. Wicca is included in this manner. But Wicca is beautiful…not evil.

    • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

      Wicca is evil and creepy if the particular Wiccan in question is evil and creepy. Wicca is beautiful when its practitioners are beautiful. Which is basically what you said.

      But I doubt Nancy Grace is capable of enlightenment.

  • Chey

    I tend to agree… no real point in getting up in arms, no matter how bad it pissed me off..but let’s just show them their mistakes..by posting on their pages, emailing Fox, using all methods available..

  • Genexs

    Faux News is slipping! Either that, or the curve of my horns are starting to interfere with my hearing. They forgot to mention the orgies, the blood rites, the human sacrifice, the desecration of the cross, and the baby fat flying potions…but why go on? With such poor journalism, why should we even bother cleaning the mud out from between the toes of our cloven hooves for an interview?

  • http://www.facebook.com/nicole.hernandez.3557 Nicole Hernandez

    I love how they say she “tried” Wicca and Buddhism with different boyfriends. Like they’re sexy, illicit substances or something. Maybe that’s how they really see things.

  • S Kaiser

    Wow those comments from the second video are offensive. Pagans/Wiccans do not need to be recognized because we are anti establishment? Every day is a holiday because we worship nature? What silly comments that do nothing but spread more misunderstanding while saying we are being used to further agendas. A parting comment about how we should be angered for being used and you don’t want to see us angered is again a childish and a comment to sensationalize their “story”. For a long time most journalists make fun of HLN and Fox due to their lack of ethics and drive to provide more entertainment based television vs actual news in a fair and impartial light all the while claiming to be news stations. I am hesitant to even watch the first video listed at this point.

    In my little rant it I see that I am feeding into the issue by not even commenting on how I think it is fantastic that the college is working towards respect and tolerance for all. I hope the college continues to keep up such interfaith dialogue and work. Way to go University of Missouri! Go figure an educational institution actually trying to educate…

  • LezlieKinyon

    What does this mean? I think, personally, that you are correct in your statement that, “The more that Wicca and Paganism remain in the mainstream media’s eye (or line of fire, if you will), …” Eventually, the media will find us too innocuous (read: boring) to comment upon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hyacinthlandry Hyacinth Landry

    Honestly, if I threw a fit everytime the professional assholes at Fox News said something stupid, I would have no life at all. Being transgendered, liberal and Pagan, I have plenty of opportunity to be offended by them. Fox News is simply entertainment for miserable, small minded people. It’s like getting my panties in a bunch over something Rush Limbaugh said… sheesh