Monday, August 27

:: Amnesty, Aguilera and the Birth of a Hoax

An anti-choice group has duped the press into promoting a hoax
to hurt Amnesty International

This is how a hoax is born. Today’s topic: Christina Aguilera, Amnesty International and the Vatican-sponsored boycott of Amnesty.

[For more about this intensely solipsistic boycott, see Zippy’s post "Oh, I forgot that human rights were only for boys" and "Irish Times Column on Amnesty and Abortion"].

On June 19, 2007, a sad little group called Rock for Life sent out a press release called “Musical heavyweights duped in the name of Darfur; CD raises cash for pro-abortion Amnesty International.”

Washington, D.C. — "The human suffering going on right now in Darfur is horrific," said Erik Whittington, American Life League's youth outreach director and director of Rock for Life. "To add insult to injury, however, using this tragic abuse of human rights to raise money for a pro-abortion organization is hypocritical and beyond belief."

“Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur,” a double-disc CD whose proceeds will support Amnesty International, hit record stores on June 12. Featuring covers of John Lennon tunes, the CD is loaded with music heavyweights including U2, Christina Aguilera, Avril Lavigne, Green Day and many more. As part of the fundraiser, Yoko Ono donated the rights and publishing royalties from Lennon’s songs to Amnesty International as well.

We will be educating not only the youth of America on Amnesty International’s pro-abortion policies,” said Whittington, “but the artists as well. We intend to send information on Amnesty International and its support for abortion to all of the artists participating in this project. Hopefully, they will stop supporting Amnesty International and its advocacy of the greatest human rights abuse of all time – abortion.

The press release appears to serve the dual purpose of threatening Amnesty with repercussions and rewarding them by promoting their fundraising CD. No small feat, that, but despite the creative messaging the story got no traction until Monday, when the Times (UK) ran an article called “Pro-life Rockers Clash with Amnesty.”

The second paragraph of this article is:

The group [Amnesty] has been accused of “duping” the singers Christina Aguilera and Avril Lavigne, who have both made statements against abortion and are among contributors to an Amnesty CD released to raise money for survivors of the atrocities in Darfur.
Hmmm. It would appear that Rock for Life’s effort has paid off – two of the artists on Amnesty’s CD are pro-life and now feel betrayed because they were tricked into raising money for a pro-abort group. Wow - good work, kids!

But wait a sec – what’s this? Rock for Life’s own website lists Aguilera as “pro abortion” with the mysterious notation “March for Women’s Lives.” So who is right – Rock for Life, or Rock for Life?

Here’s what I think: a reporter asked Rock for Life’s Erik Whittington if any of the musicians on the CD actually felt duped, and Whittington threw out two names. Either he didn't bother to check his own website first, or he gambled on the reporters being too lazy to do any fact-checking. If so, that was a good bet because the reporters didn't check the facts. Way down in paragraphs 11 and 12, we read:

The views of singers who have contributed to the album - who also include George Harrison’s son Dhani - on Amnesty’s change of heart are not yet clear.

But Aguilera, 26, is a devout American Catholic. She is reportedly expecting her first child and has taken part in a television show in which she interviewed a teenager who had kept her baby rather than have an abortion.

The “evidence” that Aguilera is offended is based not on any she has said - instead, it is inferred from the information that she is (1) a "devout" Catholic, (2) a mother, and (3) once talked to teenager who had a baby.

Of course, the reporters don't tell us that:

  1. Aguilera’s videos are not the work of a “devout Catholic” [no link; you know what I'm talking about], nor is there any evidence that she has called herself that; and
  2. Aguilera interviewed the baby-bearing teenager, among others, as part of an MTV special on sexual and reproductive health and rights in advance of the 2004 elections (and you know what a bastion of conservative thinking MTV is, especially on the topic of sex).

The Times interweaves its bit of myth-making with the unfounded claim that Amnesty will face serious repercussions because its policy change has offended the Catholic church. It exaggerates the influence of the church’s directives on ordinary Catholics and, by doing so, actively contributes to the pressure campaign to punish Amnesty. And it allows Rock for Life to claim a wildly popular celebrity as an ally without any evidence and against all probability.

And then, the step that is essential to mythmaking takes place: subsequent news stories quote the incorrect original article, and repeat its claims as if they are factual. Hey, if you attribute a claim to its source, you don’t need to do fact-checking, right? No, you’re off the hook because you’re not reporting on facts; you are reporting on what another reporter said!

The following day WorldNetDaily ran with “Pro-life rock stars 'duped' by Amnesty: Anti-torture group's new support for abortion called betrayal of musicians on fundraising CD.”

The article includes a pic of Aguilera and states:

Amnesty International, which formally announced two weeks ago a new worldwide policy backing women's right to abortion in some cases, is being charged with having "duped" pro-life pop stars who contributed their time and talents to a CD released to raise money by the anti-torture group for victims of violence in Darfur.

"The human suffering going on right now in Darfur is horrific," said Erik Whittington, American Life League's youth outreach director and director of Rock for Life, an organization of anti-abortion musicians.

"To add insult to injury, however, using this tragic abuse of human rights to raise money for a pro-abortion organization is hypocritical and beyond belief," he said.

In particular, Whittington accused Amnesty of deceiving singers Christina Aguilera and Avril Lavigne, who have both made statements against abortion, according to the London Sunday Times.”

As you can see, the first paragraph uses the passive voice to make it sound as if the singers themselves are angry with Amnesty, and doesn't clarify the matter until paragraph four. And Aguilera's appearance on the MTV special in which she talked to a former teen mother has morphed into "made statements against abortion."

And Rock for Life doesn't need to another thing, because the celebrity factor of the story sells itself. The word is out: organizations that support the right to choose will face serious consequences.

By now the WorldNetDaily story has been picked up by a slew of online publications, and I doubt any of them will do their own fact checking. The claims will be repeated until they become “true” and voila! instant celebrity support for the Amnesty boycott. In fact, I just received my first email from an Aguilera fan (yes, I know an Aguilera fan) who was disappointed that she has taken such a reactionary stand on Amnesty, and I've seen a few blog entries / comments deriding her as a hypocrite for calling herself "devout" when she so manifestly (again, the videos) is not.

I really hope Aguilera is offended by this misuse of her name and makes a statement of support for Amnesty. And I hope she commits to doing a special fundraiser for them, because it would be great if Rock for Life's adventures in mythmaking resulted in more, not less funding for Amnesty - not to mention sending the message to these liars that yes, the truth actually matters.


I was just catching up with The Daily Howler and saw this paragraph, which I think bears repeating given that I ascribe bias to the reporters from the Times and WorldNetDaily.

We’re all accustomed to analyzing the press corps’ work in terms of bias. That’s an important type of discussion, but it sometimes obscures the astounding incompetence of this least-capable cohort. And let’s be clear: The mainstream press can survive such blunders because they alone, among American professions, control what is written about themselves. In other professions, clownish incompetence gets discussed in the press. But when the press corps bumbles in its time-honored ways, nary a word is spoken.


Epilogue II

I just contacted the good people at the official Christina Aguilera website - - and asked whether Aguilera has said anything about abortion, Amnesty, etc. So far the replies I have gotten indicate that she hasn't said anything about being anti-abortion, about being displeased with Amnesty, or even about being a devout Catholic. Some of the fans say she even went through a phase where she took to calling herself "Xtina" to emphasize, oh, well, you get the picture. And yes, I had to join the fan club to get access to their fan forums. This is what my life has become.

Epilogue III

Several hours later, a growing number of conservative, pro-life and even completely neutral sites have picked up the Times story and running it as if Aguilera and Lavigne were the ones who said they feel duped by Amnesty. They are also repeating the bit about Aguilera having made anti-abortion statements. And no one is doing their own fact-checking. Of course. These are links to some of the stories.


Kirsten said...

Clearly we are reading the same blogs, ciccina! But I think you give Eric Whatsisface too much credit when you suggest that he was clutching at a name and provided one. The yahoos over there have never been held back by The Truth before.

Nina Miller said...

Sadly, I started the pursuit of truth on behalf of Ms. Aguilera before I read any blogs... the
Times Online article was in our clips this morning, and I smelt a rat. I just couldn't imagine that a woman who had made such - I'll say it - obscene videos would also call herself a "devout catholic." I was trying to fact-check before I wrote something about how horribly hypocritical she was being... and then I stumbled on the shocking truth. Of course, by the time I was done, the story was already moving. I'd have had it sooner if it weren't for this whole work thing.

I guess its because that nitwit is the "youth" director that I assume he himself is quite young; also, given that their official materials don't saying about Aguilera other than listing her among the artists on the CD made me think he panicked/screwed up. Because if he had thought about it at all, surely he would have removed the reference to Aguilera as pro-abortion from THEIR OWN WEBSITE. I mean, for pity's sake, THEIR OWN WEBSITE.

Rock for Life's pro-life / pro-abortion lists of musicians is really sad. The "pro-abortion" side has all the famous people, and the cool people, and the pro-life side has a bunch of Christian rock acts that nobody outside of the bible belt has heard of. Its not really the side by side comparison I would want to make, if I were them. But then, they're idiots.

Kirsten said...

OMG, you have to check out their photo album of some press conference! First of all, Eric Whittington is not that much younger than we are. Second of all, check out the scary second speaker!!

Nina Miller said...

OMG. He looks like a complete tool.

There are even more stories out there this morning reiterating the "Aguilera blasts Amnesty" bullshit. And every single one reinforces to that shmuck that his little gambit was a success - you can say whatever BS you want to reporters, and if it fits with their preconceptions, you're golden.

Can you imagine - seriously - if our jobs were that easy? To think of all the time we spend describing statistics, finding the correct wording to explain legal decisions and parsing messages (like changing "safe, legal and rare" to "safe, legal and rarely needed") to be sure we get everything exactly, precisely right... meanwhile some people get to just make shit up.

The truth is, sadly, that holding yourself to high standards puts you at a disadvantage when it comes to advocacy and public relations. Not that we shouldn't do it anyway, but still. You get farther, faster with a slick lie than you do with a mountain of facts - and no, there are no repercussions in the end.

Anonymous said...

You get farther, faster with a slick lie than you do with a mountain of facts

You mean like the lie that an unborn baby isn't human? Or the lie that it's only the woman's body that matters, and not the body of the child within? Or the lie about there being no consequences to abortion and that abortion ends the trauma?

Tell me which one you think was the slickest one that got Roe v. Wade into the law books.

Nina Miller said...

Girls! Its our very first anti!

[wipes tear of joy from eye]

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