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The Media’s Role in the Stoning of Manny Pacquiao

Posted on 05/21/2012

by Charles Jay

When people read Granville Ampong’s story in the National Conservative Examiner, many were shocked. There were members of the media who took the ball and ran with it – about as far as they could.

Photo: Chris Farina/ Top Rank

The L.A. Weekly figured it crossed the goal line with the title: “Manny Pacquiao Says Gay Men Should Be ‘Put to Death.” The Village Voice, certainly not a bastion of conservative views either, which had quickly run a blog post with the title “The Bible Via-Manny Pacquiao: Gays Shouldn’t Get Married, They Should Be “Put To Death,” published another story called “Ten Gays Who Could Kick the Crap Out of Manny Pacquiao.”

The onslaught was now full-throttle.

Tom Weir of USA Today had already written that Pacquiao “invoked Old Testament and recited Leviticus.” And there is no evidence that he contacted anyone for confirmation, certainly not Fred Sternberg, a Pacquiao publicist, who says he was somewhat surprised by the Weir story. There were many others who either misinterpreted, jumped the gun, or weren’t necessarily concerned with accuracy.

ESPN2 engaged in a rather horrific incident. A network that often prides itself on being “first” with something, whether or not that is really the case (just follow Phil Mushnick’s New York Post column, where he’s documented that for years) runs a show called “First Take,” with panelists Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless. During Wednesday’s program, the two discussed the “profound impact” the alleged comments by Pacquiao would have on his career.

“I’m quite sure that he doesn’t distinguish between dollars from homosexuals and dollars from heterosexuals,” said Smith. “So for him to say something so irresponsible, so beyond the pale, there’s simply no excuse for it whatsoever.” Smith also wanted to make it perfectly clear that he was heterosexual.

Bayless thought that this could actually boost the gate of a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, and suggested that Pacquiao could be a “heroic villain” like Mike Tyson, who had once expressed a desire to “eat an opponent’s children.”

On Thursday there was a different tone, as the two admitted that they jumped the gun. But they were in no mood to take any responsibility for it.

“I do feel terrible that we were prisoners of the shoddy journalism that we were handed on the fly up against the end of our show,” said Bayless. “We reacted accordingly to that.”

Because they were not making any apologies to the audience, one could assume that they were laying the blame at the feet of Ampong.

“A lot of people are interested in being first rather than being correct,” said Smith. “They’re interested in being sensational rather than substantive. And then they accuse people like myself and my man Skip over here of doing what THEY actually do.”

Well, you actually did it, or at least the people running your show did.

What’s ridiculous is that it was in fact the ESPN2 show and its producers who were guilty of trying to be out of the box quickly; they did a “rip and read” that was intended to sneak something into the show before it slipped away, but they didn’t do their homework.

The irony in Smith’s statement is that even though there was haste to get something out there, they fell behind the curve, not just with the story itself but with the update. If they would have taken any care at all they would have seen that Ampong made a clarification of his story at 2 AM on Wednesday, where he wrote:

“….nowhere in my supposition and integration of my interview with Pacquiao did I mention that Pacquiao recited this Leviticus 20:13 nor did I imply that Pacquiao had quoted such. I have simply reminded in my column how God made it clear in the Old Testament time that such practice of same-sex marriage is detestable and strictly forbidden, in as much as God wants to encourage his people practices that lead to health and happiness and fullness of life.”

It appears that ESPN2’s original “First Take” segment came hours after that, as it is dated May 16 and we know that the program airs from 10 AM to Noon ET. If anyone is guilty of “shoddy journalism,” they are.

And now writers are pointing fingers at each other or running for cover. Many of them had something in common; they were anxious enough to write something negative about a prominent person who was against gay marriage that they weren’t all that willing to be discriminating about the source material. It could be that they wanted the story to be more severe than it really was.

USA Today actually erased some of its story, as far as we can tell.

David Badash of not only blamed Ampong, but also blamed him for blaming others:

“Ampong, in addition to being a terrible writer, now is blaming other journalists for his poor journalism skills, which frankly is embarrassing and offensive.”

Is it believable that media people from outlets like the Village Voice and L.A. Weekly interpreted the story very selectively? It might be.

Even in his quasi-retraction, the Village Voice’s James King, while recognizing that Pacquiao is owed an apology, still pins the blame on Ampong:

The “journalist” who published an article that attributed a quote from the Bible calling for the death of homosexuals to Pacquiao has since backed off his claim that Pacquiao’s the one who referenced the passage.

King asserts that Ampong actually “modified” the story to mask that he had indeed originally charged Pacquiao with the quote, but honestly, we haven’t seen any evidence of that. And nowhere did Ampong clearly state that “Pacquiao referenced the package.”

Dennis Romero of L.A. Weekly, a sister publication of the Village Voice, basically went the same route as King, blaming Ampong too:

“Pacquiao’s original interviewer, Granville Ampong, IS NOW SAYING that he himself quoted Leviticus 20:13 in his article — so the words “put to death” never came out of Pacquiao’s mouth.” (we supplied the CAPS)

Well, Ampong wasn’t JUST NOW saying it; it was that he just wasn’t saying what he meant to say all that well.

There is a bit of research that could have been done by cutting and pasting the quote in question into Google – “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” What comes up? That’s right – Leviticus 20:13.

In case you were interested in a direct quote from Pacquiao, here it is, from an Associated Press story:

“I’m not against the gay people,” Pacquiao said. “I’m not condemning them. …I have a cousin (who is) gay. I have relatives (who are) gay. I have a lot of friends (who are) gay, so I’m not condemning gays. What I said is I’m not in favor of same-sex marriage. That’s the one thing I said to the guy.

“I told (the reporter) I’m against same-sex marriage,” Pacquiao added. “He said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘It’s the law of God.’ That’s all I said.”

A story on The Atlantic’s website was headlined, “Bad Writing Turned Pacquiao into Gay Rights Enemy No. 1.” There’s some truth to that, but bad reading doesn’t help either, and neither does bad research.

Still, the question has to be asked as to whether it was just a matter of certain people reading what they wanted to read. Concerning those who jumped the gun, were they just looking for an excuse? Are they simply anti-religion? Overzealous gay marriage advocates? It would be hard to believe they were anti-Pacquiao, because I don’t think I have seen a lot of that circulating around prior to all this. However, there are people who see figures on a pedestal of sorts and have the tendency to want to take them down. Not that this is altogether unhealthy, especially if the image is seen as being somewhat manufactured.

But you have to deal from a foundation of accuracy when you’re doing it. It’s one thing to commit an oversight; we are human and we all do that from time to time. But to base an entire story around it is an offense, unless you really don’t care what the truth is. There is a certain legitimacy to the criticism of Granville Ampong’s story and the way it was crafted; that much is without question. It could have been constructed much differently, and he could have taken steps to ensure that there was no uncertainty about what was meant. He has taken a lot of abuse in the comments when you look at just about every story written about this.

But for those who are actually covering the story, and then communicating that to others, through whatever means – in other words, the people who are saying “trust us, we’re legitimate” – isn’t there a higher level of responsibility to meet? If there is something that isn’t clear, is it not intellectually dishonest to interpret it in such a way as to fit an agenda? That’s the question that must be asked, and it’s why it isn’t at all unreasonable for the aforementioned members of the media to be taken to task.

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