"A book is a mirror. When a monkey looks in, no apostle looks out."
--Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
--Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
To qualify as a Tale of Radio Paranoia, it's not enough to be relevant to radio. Plenty of discussion forums, websites and blogs for that already. No, for us, there needs to be some sort of paranoia involved. It's gotta have juicy rumours. It's gotta be bloody.
That's one reason we didn't bother to follow too closely the misadventures of WYFR's Harold Camping and his failed May 21, 2011, rapture prediction*. Family Radio wasn't the first controversial Christian radio ministry. Camping wasn't the first high profile preacher to inaccurately predict the Rapture. His somnolent speaking style was more likely to induce sleep than inspire zealots. BroCamp often accommodated callers who disputed his assertions, usually doing no worse than to eventually interrupt them with a monotone "Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me..."
He'd hardly qualify as a cult leader. Other than urging Christians to abandon contemporary conventional churches, he didn't engage in any particularly alarming cult leader-ish behaviours. Those who chose to believe his peculiar brand of prophecy weren't systematically isolated from families and support systems, subjected to brainwashing or coercion. In short, they were responsible for their own behaviours, choices and consequences.
Other than Camping's extensive use of radio, especially shortwave radio, almost to the exclusion of any other type of ministry (whilst providing amusing audio tidbits that some pirates have remixed), there was - to paraphrase Gertrude Stein - not much there there.
Not bloody enough.
So imagine our delight to find in July a renewed level of paranoia - near and dear to our dark little hearts - relevant to Family Radio.
On our blog roll and RSS feeds we noted a headline claiming: Harold Camping Linked to Huge 'Massacre' of 100's of Hmong Christians
Now that's the kinda hyperbole we like to see. Good and bloody.
How did the 90 year old, mild mannered and only mildly eccentric preacher come to be described in terms usually reserved for genocidal despots like Pol Pot and Joseph Stalin? Long story short - crap journalism.
As Berol Mirado, my fellow scribbler from uni, would say: F**k facts. He actually said it like that. "Fasteriskasterisk facts." He was annoying.
In mid-July 2011, several websites began blaming Camping's unorthodox (some say heretical) prediction of a May 21, 2011, rapture for the deaths of several Hmong Christians in Vietnam.
The reports claimed Vietnamese troops (others claimed Laotian troops were also involved) assaulted a group of Hmong Christians gathered to await the May 21 rapture. Reports claimed troops beheaded pastors and "'brutally and repeatedly raped' at least two of the younger women before shooting them at point blank range with automatic weapons in the head and torso." Those particularly lurid claims appeared in several reports.
For any savvy media consumer (which means you, dear reader of ToRP) there were numerous warning flags.
For one thing, there were no such reports from any of the news agencies generally regarded as reasonably credible. Nothing from Reuters, AP, UPI, etc.**
Another tip-off, virtually every website repeating this story was either related to a human rights group supporting the Hmong cause, or a religious oriented site with a record of criticism of Camping's teachings. Vested interest - a sure sign of objectivity.
A quick spin around Google, and comparisons of the numerous versions of this report indicate most were simply regurgitating reports that were derived from earlier reports. It appears no independent fact checking was done. In some cases those lurid details about the beheading of pastors and sexual assaults of women were repeated verbatim or paraphrased, but without citing any independent sources.
It's unclear why this report appeared now, in July 2011, two months after the failed May 21 rapture prediction. Other, perhaps, than to commemorate Camping's 90th birthday on July 19.
The source for the reports of troops assaulting Hmong Christians appeared to be derived from April 2011 claims of such assaults. This predated the May 21 rapture date, and those earlier reports did not cite Camping or Family Radio/WYFR. Those April 2011 reports of troops attacking Hmong Christians also lacked references to credible news agencies and, as with the July 2011 stories, appear to be circuitously intra-referential, citing each other's stories without any independent fact checking.
At this point it appears that certain Christian oriented websites, some with a record of activism on behalf of Hmong believers, decided to revive the dormant story, embellish it and blame it on Camping's ministry.
And if you check the dozens of related stories on both the original April 2011 version of this report and the revised July 2011 version, which blames Camping's rapture prediction for these alleged attacks, you'll note that several cite the Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) as a source. The CPPA is a human rights activist organization which supports, among others, the Hmong mountain peoples (occasionally referred to as "Montagnard" but not the same as the Degar peoples usually associated with the term "Montagnard" that's relevant to the French involvement in Vietnam).
A few relevant links, more or less in order, from the April 2011 glut of stories that didn't reference Camping, to the July 2011 revival of the same stories with embellished details and finger-pointing at Camping:
Laos, Vietnam troops kill Hmong Christians
* From correspondents in Washington
* From: AFP
* April 16, 2011 6:24AM
The Daily Telegraph, Australia
(Note: The Daily Telegraph, Australia, is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. Take from that what you will. This story, apparently the first of its kind in 2011, cited only the CPPA as a source. --GF)
* * *
Laos, Vietnam troops kill four Hmong Christians: NGO
* Published: 16/04/2011 at 02:31 AM
* * *
Vietnam Forces Kill 72 Hmong, Hundreds Arrested and Flee
Online PR News – 17-May-2011 –Hanoi, Vietnam, Bangkok, Thailand, and Washington, D.C., May 17, 2011
(Note: This story also cites only the CPPA report by Philip Smith, as do the reports linked from that page. --GF)
* * *
Vietnam Hmong crowd 'await Jesus' return'
* From correspondents in Hanoi
* From: AFP
* May 21, 2011 7:03AM
(Note: This follow-up to the April 16 story in The Daily Telegraph, Australia, does not mention any atrocities and there does not appear to be any further developments. --GF)
"Starting in late April about 10,000 northern Hmong gathered in Dien Bien's Muong Nhe district, but some came from as far away as the Central Highlands, the resident added.* * *
"They were lured by US radio broadcasts which said Jesus would return on May 21.
"The army and police later told the crowd to disperse, which most did, but more than 100 alleged "leaders" were arrested and about 500 or 600 men fled to the forest, he said.
"Hmong believe some of the troops came from the capital Hanoi, but residents did not fight them and there are no confirmed reports of casualties, he added."
'Rapture' real aftermath: Beheadings, shootings, mass graves
'Families don't know if missing loved ones are dead, arrested or hiding in jungle'
Posted: July 13, 2011
8:43 pm Eastern
By Bob Unruh
© 2011 WND
World Net Daily
* * *
The Christian Post > Fri, Jul. 15 2011 11:52 AM EDT
Harold Camping Linked to Huge 'Massacre' of 100's of Hmong Christians
By Nicola Menzie | Christian Post Contributor
* * *
NEWS ALERT: Vietnam “Massacre” Of Hmong Christians; Pastors “Beheaded”
Tuesday, July 19, 2011 (10:31 pm)
By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
* * *
An interesting story must lurk, buried in this confabulation. Not only is there precious little reporting from a credible news agency like Reuters or AP to support the April 2011 reports, but it's unclear why this earlier story has been revived in July to retroactively fault Camping and Family Radio.
I don't wish to appear callous toward the plight of the Hmong people, who have suffered well documented human rights abuses for decades. Nor do I wish to mock the handful of disappointed followers of Camping's ministry who resorted to desperate measures when the Rapture did not occur.
But I don't see how regurgitating the same old complaints about Camping's ministry serves the interest of the Hmong people. And this July 2011 glut of "me too" reporting smacks of organized propaganda and exploitation of the miseries of the Hmong. If the Christian oriented websites hoped to capitalize on Camping's disgrace, they only made themselves look like petty, foolish rumour-mongers. In other words, pretty much like Tales of Radio Paranoia.
*Don't relax yet, you naughty persons. Family Radio sez May 21, 2011 did happen. Just not the way you thought it would happen.
**As of July 26, 2011. If any reader finds reports from credible news services corroborating these lurid accounts please let us know and we'll update the blog.
And on a somewhat related note: From DIYmedia, Unholy Alliance - "Clear Channel is the nation's largest commercial radio broadcaster. Educational Media Foundation is one of the nation's largest religious radio broadcasters. Both companies have an affinity for FM translators - and now, they're working together for mutual enrichment at the expense of others on the dial."