ABC's Nightline devoted almost nine minutes to highlighting the Web site. Reporter John Berman acted as "devil's advocate," tossing up softballs like "why don't you believe in God?," "what's wrong with God?," "is an Internet gimmick really the right way to address issues as weighty as faith?," and "don't you worry about going to hell?"
Berman's cuddly approach made it easy for the faith-loathing creators of Blasphemychallenge.com to spread their God-denying propaganda. The Web site dares people to "put their souls on the line" by videotaping themselves saying the words, "I deny the existence of the Holy Spirit" and then posting the video to YouTube.
The Nightline story revealed that Blasphemychallenge.com is "targeting" teens by advertising on teen-oriented Web sites like Cosmogirl.com, friendster.com and Tigerbeat.com. According to Blasphemy Challenge's creators, "They've already been targeted. Hopefully, they're at a point where, you know, they're not so indoctrinated and set in their ways that they can't overcome this religious superstition that's been put into their brains unfairly."
And it appears the strategy might be paying off. The Jan. 8, 2007 issue of Newsweek reported that "almost 400 mostly young people" had taken the blasphemy challenge. In the Nightline story, Berman noted that "there's more than 800 responses so far." As CMI observed in our critique of Newsweek's story, the whole concept of Blasphemychallenge.com – getting in the face of authority – can be quite appealing to young adults and kids. Rebellion is the name of the game. How much more rebellious can you get than denying God?
But the Nightline story feeds the fires even more than Newsweek. Berman reported that the chief architect of the blasphemy challenge is a "former Catholic and born-again Christian" who "really believed" in Jesus. Another atheist lamented that atheists are a persecuted minority. Berman reinforced the point by describing some of the hate-filled, obscenity-laced e-mails the Web site and its creators have received.
Berman crowed that atheism is growing, and that "two best-selling books on public religion lists are by atheists about atheism." And, oh by the way, "There's an atheist lobby in Washington." The broadcast features comedian Penn Jillette's Holy Spirit-denying video. The atheism drum beat was pounded and pounded.
Nightline allotted the anti-Blasphemy Challenge viewpoint a total of three sound bites: two by a female Episcopalian priest and one by the president of the New York Divinity School, totaling one minute and 15 seconds. That's all. Neither critic questioned the theology behind the atheists' challenge. As CMI noted in its Newsweek critique, the Bible actually places blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in the context of attributing the works of God to Satan.
In all, Nightline's treatment was very similar to Newsweek's: softball questions served up to give atheists a platform to further undermine America's Judeo-Christian foundation.
Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute.