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A Misleading Story on The Huffington Post

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Years ago I gave Arianna Huffington her start as a syndicated columnist, and recently, her website got my brother condemned by quoting him out of context. That is an amazing set of facts set side by side.

What shocked me about The Huffington Post and its treatment of my brother, Jerry, was its lack of professional standards. I knew it was an opinionated website, but I did not know that it would deliberately take statements out of context as a way to generate controversy.

Jerry Newcombe is an evangelical Christian minister with Truth in Action Ministries who has written or co-written 23 books, hosts a weekly radio show, writes a weekly column and appears regularly on television as part of Truth in Action (formerly Coral Ridge Ministries). Several weeks ago he wrote a column about hell, saying that, in his opinion, too many people don't fear it.

On the morning of the tragic shooting in Colorado, he retold the same basic column, saying that we had lost fear of hell as a society and that's part of the reason such evil things happen.

In the new column, he wrote, “Tens of millions of young people in this culture seem to have no fear of God. It's becoming too commonplace that some frustrated person will go on a killing spree of random people. If they kill themselves, they think it's all over. But that's like going from the frying pan into the fire. Where is the fear of God in our society? I don't think people would do those sorts of things if they truly understood the reality of Hell.”

After the column was posted, Jerry was then interviewed by a Christian radio network (AFA out of Mississippi) on the morning of the shooting.

Like many evangelicals, Jerry believes that unless you embrace Jesus Christ, you cannot go to heaven. Personally, I don't agree with him because I believe that only God decides on who goes where after we die. But our personal views are irrelevant, except insofar as The Huffington Post used words from Jerry taken out of context from that radio interview, as if he were talking specifically about the victims of the Colorado massacre.

He never made any comment, nor would he, about the state of those who were killed; he even noted this week how some of the victims showed “Christ-like behavior in shielding other victims.”

However, he did say of the alleged shooter: "The next time someone wants to take out their frustrations on others by killing innocent victims, they ought to consider the eternal consequences of their evil actions."

On the Monday after the shootings, The Huffington Post ran this headline: "Jerry Newcombe, Evangelical Leader, Says Only Christian Victims Of Colorado Shooting Going To Heaven."

Talk about twisting what someone said to suit your agenda.

The Huffington Post essentially connected dots that Jerry did not and would not connect.

He said to me in an email: “I never said, never would say, anything about those people who died in the shooting because I knew (and know) nothing about them and their spiritual status. God is the Judge, so for The Huffington Post to say that some of them went to hell is not true. They put words in my mouth — painful words that I would never say.”

But it gets worse. Because Jerry immediately contacted The Huffington Post and complained that he never discussed the victims of the shooting, they refused to take the column down or run a correction. 

Why let the facts get in the way of a good story? More than 7,000 readers made comments, mostly condemning Jerry, kicking The Huffington Posts' straw man over and over.

As Jerry said, "I too would have kicked the person who wrote what they claim I wrote about the victims!"

Many experienced journalists have warned that, with the decline of newspapers, there are fewer safeguards to make sure that the public is presented accurate information.

The Huffington Post, in this instance, violated every principle of basic journalism by claiming that Jerry was talking about the victims of the Colorado shooting, when he was not, and by refusing to correct the error after it was pointed out to them. 

There are many great news and commentary websites that take pride in their accuracy, and incidents like this threaten to damage them all.

At Creators, we work with some of the best writers and artists in the world, syndicating their work to these websites and to every newspaper in the country that runs syndicated content. We don't care if someone is liberal or conservative, just as long as they are talented, interesting and honest. In fact, when we began syndicating Arianna Huffington in the 1990s, she was on the right initially and then moved to the left, which was fine with us.

The first political cartoonist to help found the company in 1987 was the legendary Herblock of The Washington Post. He is credited with coining the term "McCarthyism" more than a half-century ago. During the Army-McCarthy hearings, McCarthy was famously asked, "Have you no shame?"

What an appropriate question for The Huffington Post; where the answer to that question can only be provided by Arianna and her editors who posted that misleading story.

Rick Newcombe is the founder of Creators, a worldwide media company that syndicates hundreds of columnists and cartoonists.

COPYRIGHT 2012 CREATORS.COM



Comments

4 Comments | Post Comment
Sir, as a visitor who appreciates your website and a person who's "had it up to here" with the stuff that comes out of the mouths of those in your brother's profession, l humbly offer my view. Which is whatever he said, the timing was bad, really bad. That they ran with a non story is par for the ratings course today, isn't it? But back to your brother. No one, and I mean no one but the most zealous and extreme wants to hear about eternal consequences to evil or the demise of our society at the time of such tragedy and grief. At what point, when will these religious zealots realize it's not about them and it's not about what they think. It's about the victims and the loss and the shock and grief the families and the rest of us are experiencing. It's a time for comforting, not a time for damning. And to say some showed "Christ like behavior" pretty much diminishes the heroics of some of these kids under the most extreme, unimaginable conditions. I'm not saying he's wrong, I'm saying there's a time to give credit to 'man' and a time to give credit to "Christ". It's impossible to praise Christ in the man if the man doesn't act. It's time to praise the actions of the kids, later you can credit their actions to your Christ.
Your brother's timing sucked no matter what he said. There's a time for his type of message. IMO right after a tragedy is not the time. He's made this tragedy all about him, not only in what he did or didn't say, but also in your response to it and that ain't Christ-like. It ain't about him, it ain't about you. This too shall pass and everyone will move on. Then he may find a receptive ear for his message of eternal damnation.
Comment: #1
Posted by: morgan
Fri Jul 27, 2012 9:02 PM
I would agree with you if I had not heard Jerry make the same comments regularly for the past 40 years. Like most evangelical Christians, he believes strongly in his view of right and wrong, and he tells anyone who will listen what his interpretation of the Bible is.

As for his timing, he wrote a column about hell a few days BEFORE the Colorado shooting, and he updated it after the event. You make a good point that the timing was questionable, but if you knew Jerry, you would know that he is filled with love and compassion and NEVER ONCE talked specifically about the victims of the shooting.

That was why I found it so incredible that the Huffington Post made it up with their headline quoting him as saying non-Christian victims would not go to heaven.

I'm sure they could have found similar quotes from Billy Graham about Christianity and heaven and hell. But you can't just write a headline saying someone said something that they did not say.

Their rationale is that he implied it, and they drew a logical conclusion. Nonetheless, he did not say that, so they had no business saying he did.

Imagine if Arianna had written a column condemning Wall Street bankers, saying something like, "no punishment is too harsh for these guys." Then we had 9/11, when thousands of Wall Street bankers fell to their deaths when the towers collapsed, and a website wrote, "Huffington says Wall Street Bankers Got What They Deserved."

That would be grotesquely unfair, just as the Huffington Post story was because they put words in my brother's mouth.

I agree with you that this tragedy is not about Jerry or me. But the Huffington Post needed to be called out for writing something that simply was not true -- because Jerry Newcombe never once said what they claimed he said.

That said, I truly appreciate your thoughtfulness and comments, and I have a feeling you and I are in agreement more than you know.



Comment: #2
Posted by: Rick Newcombe
Sat Jul 28, 2012 1:03 PM
A couple of disclaimers first:

1) I generally do not like ANY formal, organized religion and anyone who claims to "know" things that are, in fact, unknowable. All religions on the face of this earth were created by humans, and as humans are imperfect, I do not believe there's a single religion out there that is the "one true religion." As a result, I would tend to be biased AGAINST your brother.

2) I am a journalist by trade and have been for 20 years.

With those two facts out there, let me just say that if your account of what happened is true, then the Huffington Post has shown an extreme lack of journalistic integrity. I clearly do not agree with much of what your brother believes in, but I believe he has the right to get his message out, and that he has a right to be fairly represented by the media.

Having said all of that, if your brother believes that only those who embrace Christ as the Savior will get into heaven, then it stands to reason that he does, in fact, believe that any non-believers who died that day will not go to heaven. The fact that he would never "connect those dots" means he would never say that out loud because he knows better than to point that out at a time of tragedy.

I have never met your brother and haven't read any of his work, so I don't claim to know "what he really believes" or not. I can only say that if one believes in the black-and-white "Embrace Christ or burn in hell" edict (or even the slightly-less-fiery "Embrace Christ or you don't get into heaven" -- which, I suppose, at least affords the option of something OTHER than burning in hell?), then it's hard to imagine that person NOT believing that those who had not embraced Christ prior to dying are not going to heaven.

This is similar to some religion's beliefs that a baby who dies before being baptized will not go to Heaven. I believe those religions offer that "other option" to Hell called Limbo, which, I suppose, can be called a step up from Purgatory. If a baby who, through no fault of his own, dies without having had a chance to be baptized can't go to Heaven, it's hard to imagine that an adult who certainly did have any number of chances to embrace Christ but never did, gets to go to Heaven because he died in national tragedy -- if you buy into that belief system, as it would appear your brother does.

I want to be clear -- I really do think what the Huffington Post did was wrong. Basically, they took the opportunity to use your brother's beliefs against him, even when he made a point of using tact and not saying what he does or doesn't believe is going to happen to the souls of those victims. He was trying to make a point about the perpetrator, not the victims. He was trying to make a point that if more people feared God, we would see fewer of these crimes. I don't disagree with him on that. And, smart man that he is, he knows better than to add any sort of footnote about the victims' souls -- and compassionate man that he is, he would never add to the pain of the victims' families to bring that portion of his beliefs into play -- and shame on the Huffington Post for doing so.

But let's be honest. Your brother has, apparently, made it plain what his beliefs are. Unless he has changed his tune, he believes that everyone who dies without first embracing Christ does not go to Heaven. He believes that is true every time, every day, regardless of how or why they died, regardless of whether they were basically good people (or even really wonderful people, who simply didn't embrace Christ). If he doesn't believe that anymore, then he should come out and say that. If, in fact, what he really believes is that God can and does sometimes choose to save someone who has not embraced Christ, whether it's because that person acted in a "Christ-like manner" at the moment of their death, or whether it's for some other unknowable reason, then that would be a major departure from what he has, according to you, preached for quite some time.

The Huffington Post did your brother wrong, and I don't expect to hear the Post admit that (much less apologize for it) any time soon. My guess -- the Huffington Post will apologize for it just as soon as your brother says embracing Christ isn't the only way to get to Heaven. I'm thinking I know when that happens -- just as soon as Hell freezes over.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Lisa
Mon Jul 30, 2012 8:11 AM
Re: Rick, I should probably leave well enough alone, but some things I left unsaid which I should have included in my first comment to your column. My intent is to assure you I'm not without sympathy for you and your brother.
For what it's worth, Judas sold out his earthly relationship with Jesus for a few coins. Arianna sold out your relationship for a few coins. You and your brother, victims of today's profit over truth morality, have been blindsided by one of your own. There is a lot of misplaced anger today and whether real or contrived, it seeks a place to vent and flourish. It found a home in the Huffington Post which was teeming with the lies about Jerry.
Whether I agree or disagree with your brother, I find it incredibly sad that a man's life's work and honorable reputation was smeared in an instant by the dishonorable quest for readership and advertising dollars.
The sense of betrayal you must be feeling leaves me breathless. It manifests within me as a blind sided punch to the gut. I don't pretend to know how you feel, but I'd damn sure feel a sense of betrayal.
You said, "Years ago I gave Arianna Huffington her start as a syndicated columnist, and recently, her website got my brother condemned by quoting him out of context. That is an amazing set of facts set side by side."
That is an amazing set of facts. Another fact is that both you and your brother have devoted your careers and lives toward the betterment of others and that benefits us all. You may be experiencing a sense of loss or betrayal from the Arianna Huffington you knew and helped, but she no longer exists, or never was.
During the Army-McCarthy hearings, McCarthy was famously asked, "Have you no shame?"
That question, if it needs to be asked, has already been answered. You know that.
You can be assured and reassured that "McCarthyism" became "McCarthywasm".
Comment: #4
Posted by: morgan
Mon Jul 30, 2012 10:00 AM
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