How I Was Suckered By A Tabloid (Mea Culpa)

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 8, 2013 — 81 Comments

I like to consider myself a pretty savvy guy when it comes to journalism. I’ve spoken to a range of local and national reporters about Paganism, I’ve been interviewed, and I’ve been used as a resource for reporters looking for sources. I’ve spent years of my life analyzing, and critiquing, journalism that covers our diverse faiths. Despite that savvy, or perhaps because of it, I allowed myself to get suckered by a sensationalist tabloid journalist looking for dirt.

M.L. Nestel

M.L. Nestel

I was contacted by a reporter from the New York Post who wanted to do a story about Republican City Councilman Dan Halloran, currently accused of fraud and bribery, and was looking for information about Halloran’s Theodish faith. I was justifiably skeptical, since I do know that the New York Post is a sensationalist rag, but after speaking to the reporter, a Matt Nestel, I agreed to put him in contact with a couple sources. Why did I do that? On the phone, he said the right things: He said he wasn’t out to do a hit job on our religions, he expressed how he wanted to learn about Theodism and modern Pagan/Heathen religions, he stressed how he had treated other minority religions sensitively, he even offered to let me vet the piece for accuracy before it went to print. So I put him in contact with Cara Schulz, Managing Editor of The Pagan Newswire Collective, who had interviewed Dan Halloran in 2010, and Nick Ritter, my trusted go-to source on Theodism, and someone who actually knew Dan’s religious history.

Needless to say, things didn’t work out so well…

“The city councilman who bungled his way into federal bribery charges is also a total bonehead in his kooky heathen religion — whose members wear medieval garb, make sacrifices to multiple gods and compete in combat games. Dan Halloran (R-Queens) — who was arrested Tuesday as the suspected bag man in state Sen. Malcolm Smith’s alleged plot to buy his way onto the mayoral ticket — has been publicly flogged and lost a spear-throwing contest as part of his Theodish punishments. Halloran converted in the 1980s from Catholicism to the pre-Christian Germanic religion, whose believers drink mead or whiskey from horns and dress like characters in a Renaissance fair.”

When I saw the article my stomach sank. I knew this was a tabloid, and I knew they’d be going after Dan Halloran, nothing could prevent that, but I thought that at the very least our faiths would be treated with some sensitivity since we had cooperated. How foolish I was. I got played. I never saw a draft, naturally, nor did I ever hear back from Mr. Nestel once he got what he wanted. That’s not entirely true, I did get a cryptic one-sentence reply when I expressed my disappointment at the published piece, but that was it. In an editorial published at PNC-Minnesota, Cara Schulz noted how much time was spent trying to provide good information to Mr. Nestel, only to have it thrown aside once a sensationalist scoop was found.

newyorkpost_screenshot

“To his credit, Nestel spent the better part of two days researching Theodism.  That’s a considerable amount of time in the news industry.  He asked intelligent questions, asked for more information on areas he still didn’t understand, and requested multiple sources to interview.  We spent just over 4 hour son the phone with him during the course of two days answering his questions.  We connected him to some really fantastic, knowledgeable people to interview.   Sources to read to learn more about the religion of Theodism.  Then we stepped back and hoped our assistance wasn’t in vain.  We can help, but we can’t write the article for the reporter.” 

Having settled on the “part of a kooky religion that whips people” angle, The New York Post’s piece quickly became fodder for a series of blog posts and like-minded tabloids across the pond.

  • “I’ve been following politics for 40 years and seen a lot of characters come and go who believed weird things, or acted in a bizarre manner. But Halloran’s beliefs and actions top the list. Not only is it bizarre, but kind of pathetic as well. He is obviously seeking something that he doesn’t get from mainstream Christianity. And hey! Who wouldn’t want to be a prince with their own cult?”Rick Moran, American Thinker
  • “And that’s what the Post gets down to today with an exclusive report on some of the more unsavory details about his religious beliefs. The most ‘juicy’ detail is that Halloran was once publicly flogged after he committed an undisclosed act against a female “thrall” (a follower). He was stripped to his waist, strapped to a tree and flogged with a belt 11 times. Meh, it’s not like he helped make Steve Guttenberg a star, or was shackled to a ‘stone of triumph.’”Ben Yakas, Gothamist
  • “But now he can be best remembered for something else: Halloran was voluntarily tied to a tree and flogged 11 times with a leather belt by the leaders of his pagan sect as punishment for an “undisclosed act” against a female “thrall” (probationary servant, in non-pagan-Religion-terms).”Peter Moskowitz, Gawker
  • “Formerly a Catholic, the First Atheling of New Normandy converted to Theodism in the 1980s. In those early days, Halloran was punished for committing an undisclosed act with one of his lady “thralls,” a probationary servant. He was stripped to his waist, tied to a tree, and flogged 11 times with a belt, a source told The Post.”Sarah Rae Fruchtnicht, Opposing Views
  • “For Dan Halloran, being arrested was not the most memorable thing about him in the news this week. The Republican councilman in New York City was indicted Tuesday on bribery charges, which was newsworthy enough, until Friday’s New York Post revealed the bizarre rituals he engaged in while practicing the pagan faith of Theodism. According to the report, Halloran was once voluntarily flogged against a tree as punishment for unspecified acts against a female “thrall,” and participated in a spear-throwing duel with a religious rival, all while dressed like a Renaissance Faire employee. He remains innocent until proven guilty on the bribery charges, but the court of public opinion likely won’t be holding back on judging him for that spear-throwing duel.”msnNOW

The only clear-headed take on this was from The League of Ordinary Gentleman, who chided those engaged in merely mocking the Pagan, instead of sticking to the serious charges facing Halloran.

“Whether Halloran is or is not guilty of corruption is one thing. That’s not what these articles are about. What is shameful is the point-and-laugh articles pretty much openly mocking Halloran for embracing a restated version of ancient Germanic polytheism. He worships the old gods. And that’s his right as an American citizen. It’s our obligation as a people to disregard the apparent silliness of his religious beliefs and judge the man on the content of his character. Let us focus on the moral and legal merits of the man’s case. He’s only interesting to anyone outside of New York because of the corruption accusation. Is he guilty or not? If he is guilty, ought what he did be deemed a crime at all? His religion is irrelevant to such inquiries.”

Sadly, voices of reason in this renewed feeding frenzy are few.

All I wanted was for good information to overcome bad information. That a reporter would be brave enough to be accurate and fair, even if they worked for a tabloid. I was wrong, I was too liberal in my trust, and I exposed people I care about to an industry that only cares about grabbing as many page-views as possible. I was foolish, and I am sorry. My hope is that this unfortunate incident can be a learning moment for me, and for the wider community. Consider the source, even if the reporter seems nice, even if they say the right things. If someone writes for the New York Post, or any tabloid, they don’t care about what’s fair, they only care about finding more dirt. Work only with reporters who have proven themselves to be fair, to avoid sensationalism when writing about our faiths. Don’t talk to the news simply because you can, remember that sometimes silence is better.

I was suckered by a tabloid, and I’ll try to not let it happen again. I have failed my community in this moment, even if it was not me who decided to write that piece. Mea culpa.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=609285493 JD Hobbes

    Don’t beat yourself up too badly. You were trying to provide good, valid information, which is something our communities need to be open to providing. You cannot take responsibility for how Nestel decided to twist and misrepresent it (other “kooky religions” have their followers symbolically eating a man’s flesh as a community bonding experience). The more valid information is provided, the quicker the mainstream audience will be at recognizing a hatchet job when they see it.

    • cernowain greenman

      It sucks to be used.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-Workman/1011806271 Tim Workman

    I have no sympathy For Halloran, when the press conference was given after his arrest, and on a white board for all to see, a conversation that was recorded of Halloran says it all, and i quote ” Its all about the money, anything polyical begins and ends with money” regardless of his Heathen faith the man is a CROOKED disgusting man, Him and his co- conspirators got what they deserved

    • The_L1985

      I don’t believe that Heathenism is in any way related to what Halloran did. What burns me up is that this garbage they’re publishing about Halloran’s religion (which, again, has nothing to do with his dirty dealings) is poisoning the well for ALL Pagans and Heathens.

      • Bookhousegal

        I think the fact that he’s been in trouble *with* /ostracized by Theodish and Heathen groups ought to have told both the press something, and anyone who voted for him, never mind him ‘representing’ Pagan or any religion. (Especially since he hardly represented well by letting on he’s really a Christian anyway.)

        Even if I agreed with his Tea Party politics, I wouldn’t have supported the man in particular, never mind to represent any Pagan tradition. The real fault lies with Dan Halloran. But it’s always been pretty obvious what type of man he is.

        • The_L1985

          That doesn’t change the fact that people are going to see Theodins as “those people who whip each other” because of articles like this. I hardly think that Halloran is the only one hurt by such a trashy article, and when you consider that most people don’t know jack about Paganism, and that newspapers still have a reputation of being trustworthy (ha, ha), and you’ve got a recipe for strong anti-Paganism to continue in this country.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            In a post ’50 Shades’ world, the whipping thing might actually attract people…

          • The_L1985

            You’ve never been to the South, have you? Setting foot in a Catholic church is non-mainstream enough to make you a scapegoat there.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I’ve never been to the USA. I will leave the crossing of the Atlantic to pilgrims, I think.

  • Mike

    Jason, it happens. Clearly the journalist was good at what he does…. snaring people into believing he is a good guy, then abusing that. It is the journalists honor that is questionable. You did all you could to avoid sensationalism and encountered a journalist who was more ethically bankrupt than the average tabloid journalist.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1650681499 Diotima Mantineia

    Something like this is always a tough call, Jason, and it’s not like the Post is the Weekly World News. This native New Yorker remembers when the Post was actually a newspaper — and it still is the paper of record for many New Yorkers.

    It seems to me you had two choices — give him access to accurate information, and hope for the best, or let him see what he could dig up on his own — and hope for the best. Either way, you aren’t going to change his attitude, or the tone of the piece, just the information he had to work with.

    If it makes you feel any better, I probably would have done the same thing, despite a level of suspicion towards journalists that is probably at least equal to yours. (I still get that sinking feeling in my stomach when I think of…oh, never mind. :-) ) The Post is still a fairly major paper, despite its tabloid slant these days, and it would be nice if they had done the right thing. They didn’t. That’s not your fault, and I still think that careful cooperation with jouralists is usually the best approach.

  • http://www.facebook.com/caoimhin Caoimhin Ó Coileáin

    I have to say I don’t think you “let down the community.” Its even questionable in my mind if you made a mistake. Remember not only you but Cara Schulz vetted the individual. Surely if two professionals who entered into the situation with open minded scepticism then you did what you reasonably could to ensure a balanced position. I truly believe one only has responsibility for oneself and one’s actions. You acted in a responsible manner and were duped in a way you could not have expected. As a minority that has been often persecuted and still is I feel we need to remain open otherwise we run the risk of alienating the mainstream. Only through education can we hope to enlighten the majority. There will always be a minority that cling to ignorance regardless and their merchants that peddle their muck to such crowd. By all means learn to be more… thorough (maybe) in your tracking down of one’s credentials but please continue in your past thread of open-minded care.

    I for one, as a member of the community, support you and trust in your abilities and sensibilities to represent us within and without our community.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      I concur.

    • Northern_Light_27

      But neither Jason nor Cara Schulz have, as far as any information I’ve been able to find, any training or experience, outside of this project, as professional journalists. That isn’t said to disparage Jason, but I think the internet makes it easy to forget that there’s a difference between a blogger, however much experienced, and a trained journalist.

      • Cara Schulz

        I have a degree in journalism and I was a reporter for EBS during the first Gulf War and the 6pm News Producer for an ABC affiliate. We were suspicious, but with the time he was willing to spend, the thorough questions he asked, it looked promising that it would be a mildly acceptable piece. If all he wanted to do was write the piece that was actually published, he could have spent 2 hours on research and writing – not 2 days.

        • http://www.facebook.com/caoimhin Caoimhin Ó Coileáin

          That was the crux of my argument if two trained professionals who acted with open minded suspicion couldn’t root him out what other way was there to?

  • Cat C-B

    Mea culpa? I don’t know, Jason. I’m not sure you, or anyone on earth can control spin once it gets spinning. Would the story have been better without your assistance? I doubt it.

    And while I doubt that many will read beyond the sensationalistic first five paragraphs, once you get that far, the story becomes far saner and more objective. The statements from Nick Ritter, from the Troth, and from William McNamara are all sane, lucid, and–to the extent that discussing Halloran’s religion is relevant to a news story at all–reasonable.

    I can’t help but believe the first five paragraphs were going to go in whatever else happened. (I also wonder how much of the lead in and headline were Nestel’s choice, and how much were an imposition by his editor. Impossible to know, I suppose, though neither Nestel nor the Post come out of this looking very good.)

    • http://www.facebook.com/caoimhin Caoimhin Ó Coileáin

      Although if the journalist wished for a slightly different take I presume he could have shared this opinion via email when contacted.
      Just a thought

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

      I have an optimistic theory that editors are the ones responsible for the hatchet jobs. They’re the ones responsible for page views, right? I was interviewed once several years ago about a subject dear to me. The journalist sent me a copy before it was published. What she wrote was wonderful but she asked for a short follow up that I felt was just customary and inconsequential. The piece ended up being two paragraphs about one item that was mentioned in the follow up with such a sensationalist bent, it was ridiculous. I have often felt such shame and mortification over that article, but it was really out of my control at that point.

      • don108

        Crystal, I’m sorry but this was probably planned all along by the writer. The goal of the journalist was to get people who support their predetermined and often highly cynical viewpoints.

        • Cat C-B

          Actually, my own experience is in like with Crystal’s. Though we cannot know, it is often surprising the changes that are made to a journalist’s original article by an editor with an agenda.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Anna.Greenflame Anna Greenflame

    If anything, the comments show how anti-religion so many sources are. They’d have mocked him if he’d been a Primitive Baptist washing someone’s feet, too. In this world, all but the vaguest of religious acts are treated with ridicule. Don’t beat yourself up. You’re one of the good guys.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KCPerilloux Kim Cairelle Perilloux

    I don’t think you failed our community at all. You made a sincere and concerted attempt to provide solid informational resources to a jerk who was hell-bent on promoting his own sleazy journalistic agenda, and truths be damned. I applaud your effort to contribute accuracy to the story.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=573907649 Mari-Anne Mahlau

    You should write an Op Ed piece and submit it to the Post and any other Nationally known newspaper that you can think of to try to get this reporter called out for his unethical and unprofessional behavior to get a story. I’m so sorry this happened to you. You were legitimately mislead. It happens sometimes to the most savvy of people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Carron/100001353268347 David Carron

    One should not apologize for when you use reasonable judgment and people in believe who say the right things. If it’s any consolation, I suspect that with enough digging he would have gotten to the same place.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1542692508 Peter Dybing

    Jason I see no failure here, only a statement about having learned something! Blessings upon all you do!

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

    Hipster journalist not as hip as he thinks.

    • Kenneth

      An image like that doesn’t say “hipster” to me as much as “Central Park jogging path serial killer who collects the left feet of his young female victims.” !

      • The_L1985

        Watch out, he might come walking down the street at night with Skittles and iced tea, which as we all know are threats to us Real Americans. ;)

    • Guest

      Don’t come to most of the East Coast, where everybody wears hoodies for much of the year, often under their regular jackets. They’re warm.

  • Michael Lloyd

    The Pagan community has faced this issue for over 60 years now, and the bottom line is that you just can’t control what the press prints. Where possible, cultivate connections with trustworthy writers. But when a news outlet has proven to be as noisome as the Post has, then people need to just stop talking to them.

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

    he looks like your stereotypical hipster douche, no real surprise.

    • The_L1985

      What do his looks have to do with anything?

      • Gary P Golden Jr

        apparently they affect his ability to write a story…

        • Guest

          that’d be a pretty strong sweatshirt.

      • Folcwald

        It’s not so much his looks (which, of course, are beyond his control) as his style, which is entirely in his control and indicates the image he wishes to show the world, which is that of a hipster douche.

        • The_L1985

          So? How does that affect his writing ability, or his decisions regarding journalistic sensationalism?

          Am I a bad person for wearing hoodies? I honestly just thought they were an inexpensive, comfortable piece of casual clothing to wear when it’s a bit chilly out. Clearly they are a Bad Person Indicator.

          • Guest

            Apparently somebody might consider me a douche if I wear my hoodies. So what – they don’t have to look at my fine, warm hoodies.

          • Folcwald

            Yes, that’s right. If you wear a hoodie, it means you will write sensationalistic junk pseudo-journalism for crappy tabloids. Don’t you see the direct connection.
            Lighten up.

          • Guest

            Saying something is “hipster douche” is so hipster. Lighten up.

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

            If I apologize it will be ironically

    • Guest

      The “stereotypical” hoodie, when everybody wears hoodies and it doesn’t mean a thing other than an easy way to keep warm

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

        yea, where did I bust on his hoodie? I wear them sometimes, look at his overall appearance, stereotypical hipster douche who probably has a can of PBR stuffed in the crotch of his sisters jeans he is wearing to make his junk look bigger.

  • Franklin Evans

    Merde se passe, Jason. We can only do what we know needs to be done. The rest is out of our hands… though having rubber gloves handy for the mess that follows is never a bad idea. ;)

  • Ellen Catalina

    The copy on that piece would have read the same regardless of whether you spoke with the reporter. Everyone knows the post is a hyperbolic rag. Most people buy it for it’s (rather surprisingly good) sports section, not for ‘news’.

  • http://stripey-badger.blogspot.com/ Rowan

    Ultimately, all we can do is speak our truths and then call out those who twist those truths for personal gain, as you’ve done here. It’s far better that you put this person, reprehensible and unethical as he might have been, in contact with people who you trust to represent our community well. I know that having yourself, and those you respect, exposed to this sort of behaviour is uncomfortable at best.

    But I think we’re better off if we treat as sincere any request for information, if we answer the questions that come to us as honestly and completely as possible, if we operate in *good faith* whenever we are asked about ourselves. What was the alternative here? To tell him, “No, we won’t talk to you because you work for a sensationalist rag with a history of disrespecting us?” Then he just finds someone less reputable, less scrupulous, to dish up gossip, speculation, personal agendas.

    I understand your impulse to apologise; I’d feel embarrassed in your position too. I’ve been in your position (though not with such prominence), and it was mortifying. In a community that places such emphasis on trust and relationships, for someone to use your trust to exploit your relationships can make you feel like a naive and thoughtless dupe. This is one of those situations where even doing what was probably the best thing is no defense against things turning out badly. As long as *you* acted with integrity and honesty, then you’re not responsible for the poor conduct of someone who lies to serve a sensationalist agenda.

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

    This Matt Nestel fellow sounds like the very worst case scenario journalism-wise. Jason has done us all a favor by exposing this guy for what he is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/unclethor Thor Sheil

    Plain and simple: they got you. It doesn’t make you a bad guy or a dupe. Sometimes they get you. It does not happen often, but there is always that one time. These folks are professionals and they spend all day thinking of ways to get fodder for their stories. Sometimes they get lucky. At least we all know that if the New York Post comes calling in the future, hang up.

    • GearoidMacConfhiaclaigh

      Better yet, give them the number of some willing participants that can proceed to give them lots of ridiculous, yet irresistible, junk they can publish.

      When they do so, laugh, tell the truth, and suggest they get some fact checkers.

  • Hauk

    No worries man- it can happen to the best of us. Lie smiths can twist even the most noble of words to their whim when they have a story to sell.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    This just shows why it is so important for the Pagan communities to have their own press.

  • http://twitter.com/KrisMrsBBradley MrsB

    You didn’t fail your community, Jason. Nestel failed the journalism community.

  • don108

    My heart goes out to you, Cara, and Nick. You wanted to provide good information while the author for the NY Post (owned by Rupert Murdoch who had his people in England illegally wiretap phones) was simply looking for anything to support his predetermined view.

    Perhaps I’m just jaded, but I learned my lesson years ago. I was interviewed for a local TV news station. They had me on camera for 25 minutes, asking all sorts of questions. At the end, as what I assumed was a “throw-away” question, the interviewer asked, “Are Wicca ever used for sexual abuse?”

    Picking my words carefully, I responded, “Well, it does happen, but as soon as members of the community find out about it the person is reported to authorities and is ostracized from the community.” Pretty good, huh?

    I figured I might get 30 seconds of what I said on the TV, and as the time for the report came closer, I started hoping for a minute or even two. Instead, they had a fundamentalist Christian denouncing Wicca and of the 25 minutes they questioned me the only thing that made it was my response to that “throw-away” question that had been cut before and after so it appeared that all I was saying was that when it comes to sexual abuse in Wicca, “It does happen.”

    To any person who wants to represent Wicca, Paganism, Magick to the mainstream, corporate dominated media, I absolutely urge you to learn how to control conversations and speak in news bites. If you don’t, you will be misrepresented.

    One well-known BNP (Big Name Pagan) was invited to be on a radio talk show to talk about Paganism and, he was told in advance, there would be a Christian to present the other side. I was familiar with the beliefs and tactics of the Christian (under the Shakespearean advice of keep you friends close and your enemies closer) and I strongly advised him against it. He chose to go on and the show devolved into an attack on the BNP’s lifestyle and not a fair or balanced presentation on Paganism.

    I would strongly urge anyone planning on publicly representing Paganism, Wicca, Magick, etc., to learn the tricks and secrets of understanding what the media wants to do to us and how we can get the upper hand.

    • Nick Ritter

      Thanks for that, and I agree with your final statement. I think it is very important to learn how to frame conversations.

  • Charles Cosimano

    I’m sorry, but it does sound goofy and there is no reason a mainstream journalist should treat it as anything but that. You have a local politician, and we all know the kind of people they are ha ha, who is not only a bungler in his office, a pretty incompetent crook it seems, but also belongs to religion that has as its practices tying people to trees and flogging them for trying to diddle the servants and throwing spears at each other. And you think any outsiders are going to look at this and not laugh, not laugh very hard? Welcome to the real world.

    There is no way this could come off as anything but ridiculous and it does not matter if anyone is offended, that is the way it is going to be. Just be thankful that Mike Royko is dead because I can imagine what he would have done with this stuff.

    • Nick Ritter

      It is no more ridiculous than the doings of any other religion when taken out of context and intentionally made to sound ridiculous:

      Virgins giving birth? There are a lot of good jokes that could be made about that.

      Symbolic ritual cannibalism? How shockingly disgusting!

      Genital mutilation of male infants? How horrible!

      Any religion – no, scratch that – any *culture* has parts that look ridiculous and/or ghastly to outsiders. So I don’t particularly care whether we look “goofy” to you or to anyone else; because frankly, a lot of folks look pretty goofy to us, too. I’m sure you seem pretty goofy to someone yourself, Charles.

      For my part, I’m *not* offended. I’m disappointed.

    • LaurelhurstLiberal

      Most Heathens don’t engage in those particular practices, but every religion has things that sound and look weird to others. People made fun of Bobby Jindal’s adventures in exorcism, too.

      Also, I feel compelled to point out that Mike Royko, of blessed memory, was a Chicago guy, and was the greatest ever observer of Chicago and Cook County politics, although he might have had some fun with Dan Halloran because why not.

  • Elizabeth J Salix

    You have not failed the Folk. These reporters have failed to act like adults.

  • http://www.facebook.com/GreenSpiralDragon Jamie Clemons

    Who pays any attention to a tabloid rag like that anyway.

    • Pagankat

      525,004 people a day as of 2010, if Wikipedia is to be any guide. Plus anyone who types in “Theodism” in Google for the next ten years. Make no mistake– giving this sort of ammunition to those who would mock and suppress Heathens and Pagans is very harmful.

      • Guest

        Suggestions of improprieties means that despite his being a minority religion, he sounds just like every other politician

      • Nick Ritter

        Not to mention the other tabloid rags that are picking up this story.

  • GearoidMacConfhiaclaigh

    I’m not sure a mea culpa is really necessary.

    I doubt we’d be winning the war for the hearts and minds of tabloid readers anyway. Sure, we might pull a few more uhm…eccentric…pagans out of their readership, but being treated poorly in some gossip rag isn’t a massive blow to our legitimacy.

    I’d say seize the opportunity in fact. Write up a nice op-ed for the New York Times on paganism in broader culture, or on how the news seems to be mocking us or making a probably corrupt politician’s real sin be religion. Who knows, they might even print it.

    Someone should write one at least. I don’t consider myself worthy to speak for a large audience on the issue plus I’m tired of the very polite “we received your piece and will get back to you” email where they never get back to me (I worked hard on some of those!).

  • Makarios

    Mencken, who would have known whereof he spoke, once said, “The daily blatt and the gangster’s gat are sisters under the skin.” Or so I once read, somewhere. I haven’t been able to track down a source for that quotation, so I may be wrong. Still apt, however, IMO.

  • Anne Newkirk Niven

    Welcome to the club, Jason. Sorry it happened to you, it happens to us all. Remind me to tell you the full story of how I got on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown show one summer only to find out that they had sent a camera crew to Point Arena of all places to interview me for almost an hour so that they could have a 30-second story about a “Witch” so that they could use the W word to lead in to their next story, a little tidbit about Hilary Clinton’s autobiography — an author who, Mr. Olberman jibed, was a woman who “rhymed with witch.” I kid you not.

    • Guest

      Your person was insulted in the same segment/story as Hillary Clinton.That’s like a backward compliment.

      • Anne Newkirk Niven

        Wow. Hadn’t thought of it that way. I just felt bad being used to insult Hilary, but I guess it cuts that way, too.

  • MissLynx

    One thing to consider is that sometimes it’s actually not the writer but the editor(s) at fault. If a writer submits an article that his or her editor finds insufficiently sensationalist, or otherwise not what they think will sell papers/magazines, the editor may well rewrite it, or at least edit it heavily, cutting anything they find dull and emphasizing the parts they think will appeal to readers.

    This happened to one HPS I know a long time ago, back when positive portrayals of Wicca in the media were still pretty scarce. She was interviewed by a reporter from a mainstream news magazine who seemed much more sincere than most, who asked intelligent questions, seemed genuinely interested, etc. Then right about when the issue was slated to be released, she got a call from the reporter, who sounded like she was in tears on the phone, saying “I just wanted to let you know that the article they’re running is NOT what I wrote – and I’m not working there any more!” With considerable apprehension, my friend went to the store and picked up a copy of the magazine – and read a lurid account about how she’d supposedly been initiated by her grandmother into an ancient family tradition and all sorts of other stuff she hadn’t actually said.

    In that incident, the reporter was upset enough by it to quit her job over it (or possibly complain loudly enough to get fired, I’m not sure which it was), but someone writing for a tabloid might be used to having their stuff slashed all to hell, and have just grimaced and gone on with their day. So it’s possible the guy you dealt with actually was sincere, but that his editors weren’t interested in that…

  • Guest

    You behaved in a decent way, you were real. You can’t control the stupid things other people will do. The Post is a tabloid (they were the tacky guys who posted pics of someone about to be struck by a train) and they were hoping you’d bring them their own homegrown version of Weekly World News’ Bat-Boy. Walking away disappointed, they had to come up with something.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mary.switras Mary Switras

    Jason, hon, it’s not you that failed. It was that nasty little muckraker that failed – failed his profession, failed his sources, failed the reading public. Who will trust him now? No one. I am preparing to graduate with a degree in journalism, and I am glad I have 50 years of knowledge, experience, and best of all common sense, to work with. Too many young, aspiring journalists see TMZ, Drudge, Limbaugh, Beck, and a plethora of others as role models. These “journalists” kick down the walls between news, mockery, entertainment and opinion. These “journalists” are what they emulate. It is sad, and we, as the public, need to demand more from the news industry. We need to tell the corporations that own and run these news sources that we will not put up with this. We need to demand ethical reporting.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Who will trust him now? The people whose views he is reinforcing, most likely.

      The majority of people don’t care that he was belittling a minority faith, they just like that he was confirming their suspicions.

  • lilith.black.dragon

    It could happen to the best of us. I for one cannot blame you. I’ll be more than happy to blame the jackass from the Post.

  • James Michael Reid

    Just wash your hands of this mess and move on. Learn from what happened and and next time you’ll be better prepared. Most folks know the “The New York Post” for what it is…a daily rag. And if you are going to plead “mea culpa” then let me be the one who replies, “absolvo te”.

  • Franklin Evans

    Cara and Jason will have their own and likely clearer view of this, but in my limited experience Jason was faced with a Catch-22: decline the reporter’s requests and let him find his own ammunition for ridicule and mockery, or respond as he did and be the source of that ammunition. The constructive outcome, being possible, is often our motivation for making such a choice when faced with a Catch-22… and we should not, in my never humble cynicism, let the expected results get us or keep us down. In short: Illegitimus non carborundum. :D

  • kittylu

    Its such religious discrimination. Mainstream publications didn’t mention his heathenism until he did something bad. In crime articles, minority religions are always emphasized, but religion is left out when a person is Christian, even when its relevant to the crime.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      People do not often like empathising with wrong-doers, so they look for differences with which to reinforce an ‘us vs. them’ mentality.

      You can find this easily enough with many crimes, such as gun crimes: “Well, he was an oddball/loner/black/goth/etc…”

      People don’t want their criminals humanised, it could lead them to thinking…

  • http://www.facebook.com/tereasa.kenny Tereasa Kenny

    Unfortunately, the majority of major press will always take the sensationalist angle over serious, especially with the ‘new’ or ‘uncommon’ faiths. For every serious roundtable about corruption in the Catholic Church, theres a fluff-piece at halloween, a scare piece when ‘weird crimes’ crop up and like this latest; a aint-they-a-kook piece on public and not so public figures. Is it any wonder why most pagan, uncommon, or alternative followers avoid talking to the press. Even cargo-cults follow their own inner logic.

  • http://twitter.com/wodening Swain Wodening

    Well a side effect of all this is the Wednesbury Shire of White Marsh Theod is getting a very large number of hits on our page about Theodism, So folks are eventually getting the right information so perhaps it will not come off so bad. I would rather not have this sort of bad press, but at least people are going looking for more information and getting good information.

  • Lupa GreenWolf

    You and Cara both did as well as you could under the circumstances. With as much filtering as you have to do of the good and the drek, all things considered you’re above reproach in your integrity.

  • Pitch313

    A few thoughts:

    1.) Media will do what it wills. Editors and media policies control content and spin. Folks who provide information don’t.

    2.) You did what you thought helpful and balanced at the moment. After that, forces beyond your influence shaped the stories. That’s not you making Paganism and Heathenism look bad. Or even helping the media to do so. No apologies necessary.

    3.) Halloran plays politics in a big league–New York City. It’s the politics that call the shots here, not his Heathenism. Halloran got caught in a political corruption investigation. Among other things, that means that anything about him that media can use to tar and feather him (paying back old scores, maybe?) comes into use.

    I mean, if he was a Barbie doll collector or a gardener or fan of Broadway shows, media would use that to demean his character somehow. He just happens to be a Heathen.

  • http://ofthespiae.hellenistai.com/ Ruadhán J McElroy

    On the good side, by saying something here, you’ve probably ensured that any pagan reading this probably won’t want to deal with this guy or his paper.