I try never to utter the words “Westboro Baptist Church,” lest I give that group more of the media oxygen it craves.
Today, I’ll make an exception, though (sorry folks), because I’d really like to point out that many times, Fred Phelps and the other moral mongrels of the WBC don’t actually show up to picket when they say they will. My guess is they have neither the budget, nor the time, nor the courage.
But that doesn’t always matter a great deal to the media (social and otherwise). Any mention of Westboro is sure to inflame passions, and thus draw extra eyeballs, Facebook shares, and mouse clicks.
What’s regrettable is that these days, whether or not Phelps and his posse make an appearance, they reap tons of publicity and build their public awareness. Westboro is locked in a highly symbiotic, co-dependent relationship with the very media who proclaim to be against the group. All the Phelps camp has to do is issue a press release announcing that they’ll protest at another funeral, and the fever pitch of the gullible and the indignant, whipped up by a bevy of concerned articles and angry Tweets, starts building.
Take the vigil for a young murder victim in Springfield, Missouri.
The Westboro Baptist Church announced plans to picket a vigil for Hailey Owens, a 10-year-old girl who was kidnapped and murdered last week, but when the time came, mourners who showed up to remember Hailey say, the church chickened out.
Phelps must be chuffed by how easily he can play massive numbers of people for dolts. He had the last laugh when he and his band of bigots announced the other week that they would picket the University of Missouri to protest openly gay college football player Michael Sam. Lots of counter-protesters showed up and, of course, the WBC was missing in action. Again.
This is all bad enough, but there are instances where the co-dependency between Westboro and the media goes from unfortunate to grotesque.
Some “journalists” want so badly to construct a preconceived narrative about the forces of decency that defeat Westboro’s evil, that they’ll completely make stuff up. That appears to be the case with this account from ViralNova, a website that, in its relentless pursuit of clickbait dressed up in specious headlines, makes Upworthy seem like a paragon of restraint.
This is how the ViralNova crew heads the story:
Just so there’s no misunderstanding about what’s being implied here, look at the URL title. It reads “Westboro Church pickets girl’s funeral.”
First of all, it wasn’t a funeral, but a vigil. The funeral isn’t until tomorrow. But that’s not even what bugs me.
This is: The article claims that
… When it came down to it, the people with messages of love greatly outnumbered those evil people trying to picket her wake.
Which sounds the way it was no doubt intended — as a really heartwarming story. Except that it never happened. No fundie picketers showed up at the vigil for Hailey, because Westboro has learned that — thanks in part to truthy sites like ViralNova — WBC members don’t have to travel anywhere in order to still reap a ton of PR benefits.
This ViralNova line is especially rich:
What happened to Hailey is a tragedy and no one should use such a crime for their own protests.
Yeah. Nor for their own crass, mendacious clickbait, for that matter.