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Suddenly Clueless In Fort Worth

Anyone with one eyeball on TV newscasts today knows that the networks thrive on disasters and murders, yanking the udders of tragedy until they've milked out the very last ratings point. The real conundrum comes when the disasters and murders compete. As Hurricane Floyd buried the East Coast in rain, a man named Larry Ashbrook massacred seven people in a Fort Worth Baptist church

Although this horrible spectacle didn't trump hurricane coverage, journalists did reliably arrive in droves to interview victims and relatives. They also announced this would "reignite the gun control debate in America," and in so doing, reignited the gun control debate.

Religious conservatives were waiting for something else. Would the "mainstream" press, which through guilt by association connected them with the death of gay student Matthew Shepard and the deaths of a few abortion doctors, now shine the same slippery spotlight on those who demean religion? After all, if a newspaper ad offering to help gays change their ways is alleged dynamite in the hands of a crackpot, could the man who shot kids who surrounded the school flagpole in prayer just hours before the killing be connected by six degrees of separation to the ACLU?

The answer was no. But from many quarters, the coverage did focus on the anti-Christian hatred of this monster. NBC's Jim Cummins reported "Authorities say the gunman then entered the church sanctuary ranting anti-religious curses and opened fire." Newsweek quoted witnesses who said Ashbrook shouted, "I can't believe you believe this junk!" ABC's Dean Reynolds said the FBI found "writings that condemned religion and law enforcement." ABC religion reporter Peggy Wehmeyer went further, airing a soundbite from religious radio host Marlin Maddoux and reporting that some feel they are increasingly targeted by anti-Christian bigotry.

But some media outlets deserve an F, not for lack of effort, but for lack of intellectual honesty. They announced they couldn't find anti-religious motivation anywhere. On CNN, Anne McDermott avoided the evidence by concluding: "They did not find any recent notes or a computer or any other clues that might be able to point to a motive and neighbors are just as puzzled....one law enforcement official here says we may never know why."

CBS reporter Bob McNamara began his evening news story: "If 47 year-old Larry Ashbrook had a motive to his madness, it apparently died with him." CBS's Richard Schlesinger echoed, "what happened is painfully clear. Why it happened will probably never be known." So were the eyewitnesses to Ashbrook's anti-religious hatred - loony? Were the FBI and police statements unreadable?

As a matter for the historical record, CBS loves to connect the dots between conservatives and hate. In 1996, Bob McNamara went looking for racists like David Duke to connect to Pat Buchanan's presidential quest. In 1995, CBS's Jim Stewart lovingly connected Timothy McVeigh to the NRA. ("Tim McVeigh stopped paying his NRA dues as well. But since then, in a letter to his congressman, he railed against gun control and affixed this sticker to the envelope: 'I am the NRA.'") But find a man screaming anti-religious rants while he shoots up a church, and those guilt-by-association specialists find...nothing.

The worst report came from Time magazine writer David Van Biema. Oh, he recounted that witnesses said Ashbrook called their beliefs a barnyard expletive, but he didn't really believe them. "That's a version being offered by someone who was there, but it's unconfirmed," he stated. "Yet even if it is pious invention, it gives a glimpse of the way some evangelical Christians, children and adults alike, are thinking these days about the string of killings in the U.S. in which they have been victims." A "pious invention"?! Van Biema found no FBI or police evidence of anti-religious feeling: "What no one found was any connection to the Wedgwood church or its congregation." By that ridiculously narrow standard, Ashbrook could have cursed Jesus all he wanted, but that wouldn't constitute anti-religious bigotry since he didn't mention this singular church.

But oh, how the rules change when the situation is reversed! Predictably, Van Biema didn't wait for confirmed evidence when Buffalo abortionist Barrett Slepian was killed last year. "Police were searching for a boxy white car with Ontario license plates. And they are expecting, most likely, to connect it with an antiabortion fanatic."

The left created the phrase "hate crimes," to elevate homosexuals, primarily, as a special category. Rape and murder a woman, it's a crime. Murder a gay man, it's a "hate crime," for he was murdered for his beliefs. So why, despite mounting evidence from Fort Worth, and Paducah and Littleton before that, are Christians not now victims of "hate crimes"? Some media outlets - such as CBS, CNN, and Time - apparently believe, to paraphrase Orwell's "Animal Farm," that some "hate crimes" are more equal than others.