Friday, January 05, 2007

ABC misleads viewers

American ABC’s “World News Tonight” broadcast of January 4 (today in Australia and New Zealand on Sky News) carried a story on “Patriot Guard Riders,” motorcycle riders who accompany funerals of US military personnel killed in Iraq. Many of the riders are themselves military veterans.

In introducing the segment, anchor Charles Gibson said the escorts began in response to “protestors” disrupting these funerals. An average viewer, unaware of the history, might think Gibson was talking about anti-war protestors. In fact, he was talking about a bizarre religious zealot whose family “church” picketed solders’ funerals to say the soldiers were dying as God’s punishment for the US “tolerating” homosexuality.

One commentator on the viewer forum at ABC News observed:

Understandably, ABC did not want to make the focus of the story about the negative, but instead about the positive aspect of what these bikers are doing. However, by not clarifying these details this story maligns war protestors who have always been supportive of the troops and the families.

A member of the Patriot Guard Riders also said: “I don't believe that any anti-war protestors have ever shown up or shown disrespect at a funeral—to my knowledge.”

ABC News should have been clearer—yes, because anti-war protestors were smeared by omission. Mainly, ABC had an obligation to show that soldiers’ families were victims in one man’s vicious hate campaign against gay people. Americans ought to be told the truth about the level of hate in America and not have it glossed over so ABC could have a feel-good story.

Truth isn’t always pretty, but it is always necessary.

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