Backlash Against the Charlotte Allen Anti-Atheist Piece in the LA Times: Part 4 May 23, 2009

Backlash Against the Charlotte Allen Anti-Atheist Piece in the LA Times: Part 4

The LA Times published Charlotte Allen’s anti-atheist rant last Sunday.

Yesterday, editorial writer Jon Healey tried to defend the paper’s decision to run the piece.

He failed.

Allen isn’t the first to take the gloves off, or to use hyperbole as a way to get readers to sharpen the edges of an issue. Although we’re not exactly Provacteurs Inc., we regularly run pointed material from the likes of Bill Maher. Nor do theists have a monopoly on our page. In addition to the aforementioned Maher, see, e.g., our Sam Harris op-ed from a couple years ago, which ran on Christmas Eve. How’s that for provocative?

Find us guilty, then, of running material that occasionally pushes your buttons harder than you care to have them pushed…

Wow. That’s almost as ignorant as Allen herself.

What part of Allen’s piece should we consider “hyperbolic”? What is she exaggerating? I think she believes everything she wrote.

Bill Maher is a comedian. He exaggerates for a living and he’s funny because we know exactly when he’s doing it. When he “offends,” I’ve found that his subject is deserving of it. More importantly, Allen never gives off the impression that she is joking about what she writes — she actually believes her own tripe.

Sam Harris’ piece was excellent. But the decision to run it on Christmas Eve didn’t make it any more or less provocative. He’s not writing about why Christmas should be banned or why Jesus never existed or anything like that. He’s writing about the myths and truths of atheism. He’s clarifying the rumors that persist about atheists due to people like Allen. That’s precisely the type of opinion piece that should be running regularly in newspapers.

Atheists enjoy having our buttons pushed. We’re not afraid of that. We get that on a regular basis in this country. The problem is not that atheism (or an atheist) is being criticized. The problem is with the awful, unsupported, unsubstantiated, and just plain bigoted writing. It’s not a credible opinion.

If this was the LA Times‘ way of defending their decision, it’s pathetic.

I stand by what I wrote before. If you replaced the word “atheist” with the word “Jew” in her piece, there would’ve been an uproar on a national level.

The Allen piece should never have been published and the LA Times Op-Ed team should just grow some balls and apologize for their mistake.

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  • Miko

    When he “offends,” I’ve found that his subject is deserving of it

    As opposed to all those Christians who think that Allen’s subject is deserving of it.

  • I’m not one to censor, or to want to ban something. If I were the editor of the LA Times, I would not have run that op-ed though. Because it was a badly written rant, and a poor article.

    Turning things around, now we have to use that article to show that we’re discriminated against, that people hate us for our lack of belief, that they’re bigoted fool. And we’re doing that, and rising above them.

  • Matt

    I think you nailed it spot on Hemant.

  • Here’s what I posted in comment, though I don’t know if they’ll put it up:

    Save face and just apologize for printing Allen’s hateful diatribe. Pretending it was thought-provoking hyperbole and implying we’re to blame for taking offense is only digging yourself in deeper.

  • Luther

    Fair and Balanced.

    I’ll balance your straight Sam Harris piece with a piece of complete bulloney.

    I’ll balance a truthful comedic piece which hits close to home,(that happens to be written by an atheist but has nothing to do with religion), with one that is simply a sad joke at the expense of truth and unfairly attacks atheists.

  • Brian C Posey

    I was just wondering if anybody commenting actually read the Allen piece. While I’m sure she had to institute a draft in order to amass such an army of strawmen, it merits a read. I don’t see any reason why an editorial page wouldn’t publish it. There job is not to display truth but to display public opinion.

    Without attacking atheism on religious grounds, she does demonstrate clearly how some outside of the atheist sphere perceive us.

    Also, while I don’t believe it’s true, I could see how an outsider reading an atheist blog (especially the comments section) could perceive us as whiny, condescending, pseudo-victims. Don’t forget (hopefully not just stereotyping) that in LA (where I assume she lives) atheist antagonism is probably very minute.

    I hate to even say it, but she did have one valid point. The term “Brights” is patronizing. I never did like the label.

  • I think your point about replacing “atheist” with “Jew” is a good one and one that needs to be made again and again.

  • dfledermaus

    The Allen piece should never have been published and the LA Times Op-Ed team should just grow some balls and apologize for their mistake.

    It wasn’t a mistake from a market point of view. For almost no investment, they reaped a lot of publicity and hits for their web page. All it cost them was a little journalistic integrity.

  • H

    I stand by what I wrote before. If you replaced the word “atheist” with the word “Jew” in her piece, there would’ve been an uproar on a national level.

    Or women, blacks, Christians , Muslims….

    Free speech is a very selective idea.

  • Nick

    I think Hemant’s original points about this article still stand. If this had been a similar “hyperbolic” rant on Jews, Christians or Muslims, groups would have been coming out of the woodwork demanding retractions and apologies.

    By the way, “hyperbole” is a cover word for “Yeah, you might think she was over the line, but we’re not going to apologize. So, suck it.”

  • Ben

    Couldn’t agree more! There was a time when LAT actually pulled herself out of the tabloid muck and established a reputation as a respectable (and respected!) news source. As of late, the only reason to buy it is for the crossword puzzle.

  • Ron in Houston

    Ultimately the name of the game is to survive in the newspaper business and this means driving readership.

    I guess in a way we’re a player in the game. It’s a fine line. When are you fighting a legitimate fight and when are you just an unwitting player in their desire to gain readership?

    They’ve certainly gotten a lot out of one column.

  • Aj

    I really question Jon Healey’s idea of thought provoking, and it seems clear that he doesn’t care that there were falsehoods and blatant misquoting. We already knew that atheists are held to a different standard, that you don’t have to step out of the normal realm of opinion, just being an atheist will be seen as “strident” or “dickish”. Even other atheists are caught up in this stupidity, special privilege for religion and religionists. Equating PZ and Harris’s articles to Allen’s is an insult. Religious people say the most hurtful and nasty things about e.g. homosexuals cause disaster, atheists are subhuman, and HIV ravaged places shouldn’t use condoms, but they never get the reaction they deserve, the reaction an atheist would get if saying equal batty shit.

  • Richard Wade

    L.A. is my town and it’s sad to see the Times continue to degenerate. I’m not going to comment over at their site any more, because doing so is beginning to be like feeding a troll. They clearly don’t give a damn about journalistic standards, they just want circulation, and whatever level of sleaze it takes is fine with them. If they print crap that offends you, write a brief, well-crafted objection and then leave it alone. Going back and forth with rationalizing knaves like Jon Healey just feeds the troll.

    The best thing to do is to encourage others to not buy the paper and to not give their website more traffic. Let them go the way of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Rocky Mountain News, the Tucson Citizen, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Tasmanian Wolf, the Passenger Pigeon and the Dodo.

    If you’ll excuse the pun, I hope the paper folds.

  • Rasna

    Atheists have been the subject of bigotry since the first person that used magic and BS to control the minds of others. Atheists have been put down since the dawn of time. Let the Jews cry about their being picked on but their stupidity and ignorance have ruined more atheists than the rest of the world put together. We don’t have a propaganda mill to cry to the world!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Lost Left Coaster

    Yeah, I was a loyal reader earlier in the decade when I used to live in California. But it really feels like it’s gone downhill.

  • Bryan D.

    I also found Jon’s rationalization for running the article to be lame. Allen’s work is far too weak for it to merit being called “hyperbole”, which is better used to describe exaggeration in the service of humor, or to otherwise indirectly drive home an important point.

    There was no such subtlety nor humor to redeem such awful work. The real shame is in this editorial rep’s representing a major newspaper while pretending to advance cultural discourse while running a bigoted rant.

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