Unification News for February 1997
Response to Mr. Koch's article on Steve Hassan
TO: Matthew V. Storin Editor, Boston Globe
FROM: Peter D. Ross
DATE: February 4, 1997
Before reviewing Mr. Koch's article on Steve Hassan, I would like to re-iterate that I am concerned that the Boston Globe elected to publish this article. When our cultural institutions perpetuate a culture of contempt and disdain for minorities, it gives license to those who are even less-discerning to engage in all manner of abuse. It is therefore with great seriousness that the Unification community apprehends the consequences of the editorial decision by your staff to publish this promotion of Steve Hassan. As I learned more from Mr. Koch about the nature of this article prior to publication, I grew increasingly apprehensive. While I expressed these same concerns to both Mr. Koch and Ms. Wilkinson, I was somewhat re-assured by both their assurances as to the Globe's professional standards of fairness and objectivity. Mr. Koch at one point took umbrage at even the suggestion that he would fall anyway short of his own reputable standards! Moreover, I was assured by the fact that a paper of the Globe's pre-eminence would maintain a level of integrity and professionalism in its reportage. After reading the article, I have been greatly disappointed and I must confess to a certain feeling of betrayal on all counts.
My particular complaints about this article are as follows:
The term "Moonies."
Prior to publication, I informed both Mr. Koch and Ms. Wilkinson that the term "Moonies" is a pejorative and offensive reference to members of the Unification Church. In support of this fact I provided Mr. Koch with materials outlining the origins of this epithet. Moreover, I included a collection of letters from mainstream media and publishing organizations, and from New York-based human rights organizations, affirming both the pejorative nature and inherent abuse caused by use of this term. Prior to publication, I spoke with Mr. Koch about this matter and he informed me that it was an issue to be determined by his editors.
In my earlier conversations today, both you and Ms. Wilkinson confirmed that this was a matter duly considered and discussed at the Globe. Yet, in today's article not only was Mr. Hassan permitted to use this term without disclaimer, but the Globe used it while paraphrasing Mr. Hassan and directly in the head-line and elsewhere throughout the article. It is therefore conclusive that despite having been placed on notice, your editors decided that it was appropriate to freely perpetuate the use of this term in the Boston Globe.
No objective criticism.
The article cites a representative of the Church of Scientology and myself as being critical of Mr. Hassan. The nature of such comments are only to be expected. However, of other third parties cited in the article, all spoke favorably of Mr. Hassan's enterprise. Prior to publication, I had referred both Mr. Koch and Ms. Wilkinson to third parties who were very critical of Mr. Hassan's activities. But Mr. Koch apparently elected not to try and reach them for comment that might have un-balanced his obviously one-sided account. Mr. Koch gave substantial opportunity for a former-member of Victory
Chapel to comment on how Mr. Hassan had apparently helped her. Prior to publication, when Mr. Koch confirmed with me that he had spoken to people who appreciated how Mr. Hassan had helped them, I invited him to feature the comments of others who had a less favorable experience of Mr. Hassan's practices. But Mr. Koch never pursued this.
Caims at face value.
Throughout the article Mr. Hassan - identified as "an ardent enemy of group's like Moon's" and hostile to duly incorporated religious institutions as being "destructive cults" - made false and preposterous claims. Despite his inherent bias and prejudice, Mr. Hassan's false claims were presented free of scrutiny as to their credibility, veracity, or indeed their relationship with reality. Few of his statements were treated to even a modicum of qualification. For example, I provided Mr. Koch with an account of Mr. Hassan's brief association with the Unification Church which disputes Mr. Hassan's own false claims. But no reference was made to this account. Mr. Hassan made false statements as to how he came in contact with the Church and how he was subjected to "mind -control techniques." These claims are also disputed by the Church but never referenced by Mr. Koch.
The Globe stated that while Mr. Hassan was in the Church he "was prepared to commit murder, 'absolutely.'" It also stated that Hassan "willingly broke laws to raise funds." Just two paragraphs later: "Hassan says that the Moonies made him what he is today and has been for 20 years." Hassan is described as having being "a compliantly ambitious Moonie." Further on, Hassan is quoted as saying, "For years I didn't have an office because I didn't want it to get bombed." On the heels of these false and inflammatory statements, Hassan is quoted, thusly: "Some of the big groups are multi-billion dollar international conglomerates. It's a given if they wanted me dead, it would be a snap of the fingers." Another reference cites Hassan as having considered murdering his father!
These inflammatory descriptions of violence, murder, and mayhem in this context inevitably engender fear and hostility towards the Unification Church. Such spurious innuendoes endanger the safety of a benign and peaceful religious community with no history of violence. The salacious use of these images is a manifestation of the most tawdry form of tabloid yellow journalism and has no place on the pages of the Globe.
In support of Mr. Hassan's claims and practices, Mr. Koch presents organizations and individuals who as a matter of public record are prejudiced towards the Unification Church. These include Marcia Rudin of ICEP and Paul Martin of AFF. Both of these organizations are affiliated with the now-defunct Cult Awareness Network. Yet, Mr. Koch made no effort to solicit and include the perspectives of less tainted sources or more objective and informed authorities.
In addition to these 5 observations, Mr. Storin, I am attaching for your review all the memos I had sent to Mr. Koch and Ms. Wilkinson. I trust that the additional materials I mailed to Mr. Koch, which he has confirmed receiving, will also be made available to you.
My purpose in writing to you is to memorialize my contention that this article represents an unwarranted attack on the Unification Church. In light of all the surrounding circumstances and disturbing facts related to this article I can only deduce that Mr. Koch had every
intention from the outset of presenting a promotional piece on behalf of Mr. Hassan, albeit at the expense of the Unification community. Indeed, Mr. Koch informed me that he had first become interested in this story upon recently receiving a copy of Mr. Hassan's 20-year-old book, presumably from the latter's publicist. I believe Mr. Koch never had any intention to contact the Unification Church in the process of completing his work-product. This is supported by Mr. Koch's published characterization of my efforts to reach him as an "unsolicited telephone call." However, of greater importance to me beyond Mr. Koch's discredited journalism is the fact that your editors authorized this piece for publication. From what I know, I can only conclude that this was a serious professional lapse on their behalf. But error or not, the consequences to the Unification Church and the Unification community are very real.
In an effort to mitigate the harm caused by the Globe's decision to publish this article I have two requests:
1. That the Globe publish an unequivocal editorial apology for its decision to use the term "Moonies." In this regard, there is ample reference material in the information I previously mailed to John Koch.
2. That you provide the Church with an appropriate forum in the Globe to respond to the specifics of this particular report. This could be done by means of an op-ed piece confined to a review of Mr. Hassan's false and disputed statements and claims.
While I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you this morning, I hope you will avail of this memo and conduct a serious review of this article. Mindful of how the Globe has perpetuated the worst, false, and stereotypical images of the Unification community, I appeal to you to display moral and professional courage and right an egregious wrong.
The response to this was short and only dealt with two points" use of the term "moonie" and quality of research. This was Peter Ross's response to their defense.
While I was pleased to learn that you had discussed my criticisms of the Boston Globe's recent promotion of Steve Hassan with "relevant editors", I am displeased by the defensive posture you have chosen to adopt. In response to the conclusions you have reached, I respectfully submit these responses to two of your written statements:
Use of the term "Moonies"
No, Mr. Storin, you do not understand my concern about the term "Moonies." You have not understood it in the past, you did not understand it when I made available to you pertinent materials, and you still do not get it.
Nevertheless in an apparent effort to live with whatever fleeting qualms of conscience you might now have for the repugnance of your editor's decision to exploit this term, you stated: "it has been commonly used in U.S. publications for a number of years." For my part, I continue to teach my four children that two or more wrongs will never make a right. If your editorial staff had read the materials I had submitted they could have informed you that a bigoted and hostile press first coined the term "Moonie" and then subsequently sanctioned its promiscuous use. Our sincere efforts to stanch the harm caused to our lives and the lives of our families have in recent years prevailed. Had you taken the time to read the materials I had
submitted to your staff, you would have noted that the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, ABC News, Nightline, Reuters, Oxford University Press, as well the New York City Commission on Human Rights and the New York Civil Rights Coalition have recognized our plight and have taken a moral and professional position to do their part and stamp out the licentious use of this epithet. Moreover, I have an entire file drawer of letters from many other sources affirming the same. Where does this place the Boston Globe? You and your staff are out of step with media and civil rights organizations like these. You and your staff have chosen to keep the Boston Globe in the dark ages of bigotry. Moreover, it is chilling for me to read in your letter the implication that you arrogantly retain the prerogative to use this term whenever you or your editors deem fit in future reports.
I will note for the record that in my recent phone conversation with Ms. Wilkinson she at least made genuine effort to appreciate the pain caused to our community by the intentional and conscious decision on the part of the Globe to use this term for its own purposes. But please, Mr. Storin, do not write to me with patronizing or condescending sentiments claiming that you understand my plight and the anguish and pain of my community. You do not.
"We feel the piece was carefully reported."
I do not harbor any personal offense at the fact that you could only make such a statement having summarily dismissed my five essential criticisms of John Koch's journalism in this particular article. But the fact remains, this was not an example of true or good journalism. It will garner no commendations nor win professional accolades. Rather, it will be remembered as an infamy. I am confident that in the days to come when less-blinkered reviewers consider all the circumstances and the contents of this pretense, they will not reach the same decision as your own. It is indeed tragic that a journalist and editor of your stature has to vainly hide behind trite and banal references to responsible standards of journalism while defending this article. Was it really worthy of so great a professional compromise? Again, there is an icy silence in your letter, for there is not an iota of regret or professional accountability expressed.
In conclusion, Mr. Storin, both the fact that the Globe published such an article and that you yourself have gone on record in the manner of your letter, are proof positive of a real and deeper issue. It is my contention that there is a malignant prejudice that corrupts the reportage of the Boston Globe when it comes to the Founder of our Church, our Church as an institution, and ourselves as a people. The Globe perpetuates and propagates a culture of contempt towards us. And why? What have we done to you, the Globe, or even to society that deserves such disdain and mockery? Is it because we are religious or of a religion different from your own? Is it because our Church was founded in Asia? Whatever answer you may find after examining your soul, my own experience of racism and bigotry is that there is never really a rational explanation for either. Rather, as Melville wrote, "Ignorance is the parent of fear." In this matter, you were presented with an opportunity to responsibly liberate us and yourself from the ill-effects of such a culture. You missed this opportunity. I pray you will not squander the next one.
In the meantime, I will pass on your letter to Church officials and to our community.
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