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Opinion Column
For the week of September 6 through 12, 2000

FBI ‘photographers’ at Aryan Nations trial don’t help journalists’ image

Commentary by PAT MURPHY


It’s an illustration of what’s known as a left-handed compliment.

FBI agents hoping to get pictures of Aryan Nations members applied for and were given press credentials from the Kootenai County sheriff’s office. So, posing as members of the media, the agents showed up at the Coeur d’Alene trial of Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler, who’s accused of being responsible for the assault by two security guards on a woman and her son.

By using media credentials, and posing as journalists, the FBI agents, in effect, conceded that the media might have more credibility and acceptability than the FBI.

To his credit, Kootenai Sheriff Rocky Watson revoked the media passes when journalists protested.

The American media has enough problems trying to overcome public suspicion about journalists without the FBI or any other law enforcement agency posing as newspaper photographers.

One of the immediate dangers of this dodge is the public then might well wonder whether the next photographer or reporter who shows up on their doorstep is from the media or from the FBI or some other law enforcement agency using deceit to obtain information.

Surely, with all its sophisticated investigative technology the FBI doesn’t need to costume its agents in counterfeit journalist roles to get information that is surely as easily available without the deception.

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Well-meaning as they might be, the tireless champions of promoting public religious prayer wherever they can—school classrooms and football games are the most popular targeted venues right now—really raise questions about their sincerity and their motives.

Why do they believe they need organized public demonstrations of prayer, rather than simply going off in a corner and beseeching God?

From a surprising source comes some harsh criticism of the public prayer movement—from no less than Cal Thomas, perhaps the best known syndicated newspaper columnist on matters of spiritual faith, religion and public morality.

Taking a crack at the current movement that demands prayers before high school football games, Thomas wrote:

"Apparently some people have such an inferiority complex about their faith that they need to see it trumpeted before the world. It is an in-your-face faith rather than an in-your-heart variety.

"It was Jesus, after all, who frequently separated himself from the crowds in order to pray in private."

Thomas tells the story of then-White House press secretary Bill Moyers who was called on by President Lyndon Johnson to say grace at a meal for visitors.

When Moyers’ prayer was inaudible, President Johnson said: "Louder, Bill, we can’t hear you."

To which, Moyers said to Johnson: "I’m not talking to you, Mr. President."


Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.

 

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