Unification News for

December 1997


Media Coverage and RFK

by Chris Corcoran-NYC

During Blessing '97, I had the great fortune to work with the Festival media team in Washington, DC, headed by Mike Smith and Howard Self. We had an unprecedented number of media attend the week long event and while there were some biased reports, overall coverage tended to be objective and thorough.

Our team in DC eventually grew to about eight full-time and five part-time people and everyone was kept busy day and night. One or two people on our team worked mostly with the entertainers and the rest of us organized press conferences, issued press releases, set up interview opportunities and answered questions.

I knew we were in store for an unusually energetic campaign when in one afternoon I received calls from the media of Ireland, United Arab Emerates, Japan and England. As the tidal wave of media washed over our office, at times it became laughable; people scrambling from one office to another, clutching handfuls of papers for the overworked fax machine, shouting to one another "Pick up line 8, its CBS Evening News, Hard Copy's on line two, People Magazine on line three, Japanese television on line 6." It was actually like this.

All media personnel who wished to cover the Festival were required to have special credentials which we issued after checking their identification. This enabled us to screen any potential frauds as well as keep a handle on how many and who to expect at the Blessing. All totaled, some 300 credentials were issued, an astonishing figure!

With the help of talented reinforcements such as Jim Flynn, Naomi Payer, Mark Boitano and Eugene Harnett, we were able to keep on top of the avalanche of requests for information and interviews.

Before and on the day of the Blessing, we made available various newly matched and blessed couples for the media to interview. This was very successful and put a human face on the huge numbers that we were reporting. The newly matched couples such as Jennifer Perry and Sebastian Jean, and Barbara King and Andrew Robertson did an excellent job of answering the media's questions. They were a joy to watch; happy, excited and brimming with anticipation that only newly matched couples can exhibit. Their stories received wide and positive coverage.

Having been a journalist myself, I know what it's like to be on the other end of a story. Therefore I always treat the media with the utmost respect and goodwill, even if I doubt their sincerity. Why, you may ask?

First, all journalists should be treated as professionals, even though their behavior may not warrant it. What they are doing is their job and livelihood and most are trying their best to get to the truth as they see it. I always, always treat them with respect and courtesy. Unfortunately, because many of them begin with a false premise (i.e., Father is blessing people in RFK merely to gain legitimacy) then the story that emerges often resembles a house built on a crooked foundation.

Nonetheless, they hold a powerful yet invisible sword in their hands. Cross them unfairly and you may well be on the receiving end of that very sharp-tipped weapon. I know that it's extremely frustrating to speak to a reporter one day and then the next day see one's words twisted and edited to fit that particular reporters premise. It happens sometimes and must be tolerated, to an extent. "The truth will out," is the famous expression and we have to have patience. Just think of the current mindset that the media have as a phase they're going through. They'll outgrow it someday. Truth is truth and we have it on our side.

It doesn't mean that we have no recourse if a biased or inaccurate story appears about our church. If the piece is a bald-faced hit piece, we should not let that particular reporter have any further access to us at all. It's clear some reporters have an evil agenda. End of relationship, trust broken. Also, we can write letters (all members should do this) and speak to the editors, publishers and owners of the particular media outlet and let them know clearly that we have been unfairly portrayed.

The relationship between a journalist and their subject is based on trust. They trust us to speak accurately and with full disclosure. That's our side of the bargain and it's not to be taken lightly. We have an obligation to the truth. They also are obliged to report accurately what was said to them or what they saw. That's their end of the bargain and more often than not it seems they fall short. In reality, even when they do a fair job, it may seem unfair because we have so much we want to convey or we believe they left out important pieces or made small inaccuracies that only we would pick up on.

Internally, I try to see the media professionals as potential spiritual children. We should always exhibit a parental heart to them, even if they're acting arrogantly or deviously. It does not mean that we have to grant them all their wishes, but we have to raise them up to be the reporters of truth that God wants them to be, no matter how tortuous that journey may be.

Eventually, the media will experience a cognitive dissonance, whereby the attitude and standard of the Unificationist's they meet will be out of synch with the story they are writing. They have consciences too.

Today's prevailing style of journalism is extremely adversarial and sensationalistic. In a country desensitized to murder and mayhem, tabloid style reporting sells. While hiding under the cover of free speech, tabloid style reporting is not obligated to the truth. Almost any allegation can be made without regard to consequences. This style has been slowly but definitely creeping into more mainstream journalism and is a reflection of the times we live in. (Witness on TV alone, the proliferation of the talk shows, the magazines shows like Dateline and 20/20 and the celebrity hype shows like Hard Copy and Extra.)

Often reporters will speak about the facts of the blessing or the Festival and feel compelled to give the "negative" side as well. They believe this is in the interest of balance and fairness to both sides and it is often true. By giving these two sides of the story, the journalist feels he is fairly representing the broad range of opinion and views on the subject.

However, today's reporters usually take this too far. A good example of this is the amount of coverage received by a handful of protesters outside RFK stadium on the day of the Blessing. I heard that one major television station devoted half of its story to statements from this small, insignificant group. Clearly this group only warranted a brief mention at best. This is an example of lopsided editorial decision making on the part of the media.

It is often the amount of play that one side gets that determines the slant of the story. A perfect example of this would be the three part series that ran in The Washington Post right before the blessing. While there were only minor factual inaccuracies, the reporter gave huge play to church detractors, apostate church members and disgruntled employees and only minor copy was given to happy, content church members.

The entire series was under girded with an explicit bias that our church and affiliated enterprises exist as one huge, conspiratorial empire with the purpose of gaining power and money so that he-we can rule the world. Headlines such as "Stymied in U.S., Moon's Church Sounds a Retreat" and "Moon, Inc.", explicitly put forth an agenda.

What really exposed The Washington Post's agenda, apart from being the first major paper to use the word "Moonie" in an article about the Festival, was the fact that they published photos, with exact street numbers, of several of our members' Washington, DC area homes, including Father's. Also included were the homes of Mr. Joo and Dr. Bo Hi Pak. There was absolutely no reason to publish these photos in such a way, other than to instigate trouble.

When confronted with this egregious assault in a face-to-face meeting between a Post managing editor and Rev. Philip Schanker and myself, the editor said it was an error on the part of a photo caption writer.

It was hard to believe since even in photos of robberies and murder scenes, the street address is written like "the 1100 block of (blank) Ave."

When asked for a written apology for putting people's lives and property at risk, the Post editor gave an abrupt "no".

These kind of stories-I call them hit pieces- are often produced by people who have an incredible command of the language, so that the average reader doesn't pick up the nuances right away. If you pay close attention to the adjectives chosen by the writer and the way things are juxtaposed, then you begin to discern a coloring or shading that is often subtle, but very effective in communicating a certain view.

The entire world of media is very archangelic-words, ideas, sound bites, voice intonations, editing, omitting-and of course impossible to control. Once a person submits to an interview, all outcome is in the hands of the journalist and their editor. Don't be too quick to jump on a reporter. Many a good story has been hacked to pieces by editors who ultimately have the final say on an article.

However, things are changing for the better. I noticed that the Japanese media who covered the Blessing asked questions that tended to use words like 'cult' and 'brainwashed'. By and large, the media in America has stopped using such inflammatory words in describing our community. Now the focus seems to be more on discrepancies in our community between belief and practice.

Of course, Father himself is the most sought after subject for the media. From Diane Sawyer to Larry King, everyone is clamoring to interview Father. So far, Father is refusing interviews with the Western press, based, I assume, on past experiences with shallow and disrespectful journalists. It will take a special reporter, one who clearly understands and appreciates our theology and Father's huge accomplishments, to accurately interview Father. So far, none has emerged.

But let's take a moment here to step back and get some perspective. I thank God for the free press in this country. Amidst all its abuses, it is ultimately in place to serve God's purposes by allowing people access to His truth. This is no small thing and historically it is only a recent freedom. While it's not perfect, it allows us some measure of recourse if we feel wronged and ultimately allows anyone the opportunity to start their own media outlet.

The media is a paper tiger. My experience is that they are basically quite lazy and want to be spoon fed every tit-bit. They seem at times like an enormous and powerful enemy but they tend to blow with whatever direction the wind is headed. I predict that in the not too distant future, the wind will shift and Father, his teaching and our entire community will receive enormously favorable press.

If we have good stories to tell-hometown service projects, awards we or our children might have won, or whatever-we should contact the media and urge them to report on it. By generating positive stories we can pro-actively change the view of our community in this country.

Already there are several sincere and intelligent journalists who want to interview Father and respect him for his tremendous work. Some are willing to educate themselves about our beliefs. Whether or not those interviews take place, the fact remains that there is a growing awareness in the world that Father and we his followers are deserving of fair media coverage.

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