HBO documentary: Army of God --- Feedback Box:
Skewing the Truth in all Sincerity: A Case Study
The March, 2001 HBO Documentary, "Soldiers in the Army of God", analyzed by Dave Leach who was there and included in the documentary, with perspectives of several others who were included
In the first place, by normal news standards today, the distortions in this film were not significant. I only discerned about seven worth mentioning, in an hour and 10 minutes of film. And between those distortions was much information which I thought accurate and important. Still, it seems to me that even relatively small distortions are at least worth mentioning, and perhaps even studying. I guess even though they are small, they trouble me. Am I too easily troubled? Maybe. Maybe part of what troubles me is how much I came to feel I could trust the crew to do a more accurate job than that. Maybe I am tormented by not being sure, to this day, whether I am just too naive still, to believe in the crew's integrity; or whether I am just expecting too much accuracy from even well meaning human beings.
In March, 2001, an HBO documentary aired titled "Soldiers in the Army of God". Much of the footage was shot at the home of Regina Dinwiddie in Kansas City, on Memorial Day weekend, 1999. I was there. I myself filmed many of the interviews they filmed, so that I might later be able to compare their editing with the raw, unedited context. I have known most of the subjects of the documentary for years. The documentary included a sentence from an interview with me. In other words, I am in a position to know the facts which they skewed.
On the other hand, I was in a position to get to know the producers. The most open among them in Kansas City was the official producer, Daphne Pinkerson. During the nearly two years between filming and release, I communicated occasionally with her. I came to admire the crew's technical competence, and to respect Daphne's openness with us. I empathized with her sense of hurt when unjustified misunderstanding of her crew developed among our group; other, colder reporters have taken less trouble, than she did, to smooth over the ruffled feathers, especially after her "shoot" was already in the "can" and she needed no further "access" to us to finish her story. I came to like Daphne, and therefore to dislike the present need to criticize her professional ethics.
So I would like to offer this analysis, not as a bitter denunciation of those "mass media" whose agenda is to lie about "us". I want to offer it as one trying to correct a trusted but careless friend.
I suppose this posture may seem as presumptious as that of the bitter denunciator, since it suggests my understanding of journalistic ethics is superior to hers so that I have something to teach her. It is true that I have thought about, and written about, the ethics of journalism way more than most journalists. But it is not necessary to know more than her in order to teach her. Being the object of a nationally distributed distortion, however unintentional its origin, will educate anybody.
Daphne's distortions could have been avoided, but for a fundamental of journalism today which feeds distortions. She could have shown me, and others who were her documentary's subjects, how her final editing decisions were going to look. We could have pointed out the distortions, surely then she would have agreed and corrected at least some of them. But journalists today don't even think it is ethical to show news subjects the finished stories about them, before publication! One arrogant journalist actually explained to me, "We're professionals. We don't need to correct our stories afterwards. We get it right the first time."
In order to help Daphne experience the compassion of confiding in news sources, compared with the coldness of going right to Matthew 18:17 without first going through the process of v. 15-16, I am sending this to Daphne a month before I will make a TV show out of it. (I will put it on the internet now, with this note to readers that her response may follow; but once I make a TV show, it will be difficult to correct errors later.) Even if she doesn't take the opportunity to respond to me with any of her perspectives, or any corrections of details I may have screwed up, I want her to know her perspectives are valued.
I say, below, that the crew knew better in each case where their editing produced a distortion. But I am fully prepared for the possibility that by the time they began editing, they had forgotten. You see, it is the nature of human memory, acted upon by prejudice, to FORGET evidence which favors your enemy. It is not merely the Online/Offline crew, but you and I, and everyone else, who are guilty of this. Part of the reason we forget evidence that favors our enemies, is that we are suspicious of it in the first place. We do not take it seriously. We dismiss it as unproven. It takes special effort, for this reason, to be fair. That is what fairness means, to not favor your personal agenda in your dealings with others who do not share your agenda. It takes special effort to give your enemy the benefit of the doubt, and to not condemn him in your mind before the evidence is beyond reasonable doubt, and after you have honestly remembered and evaluated the evidence in his favor.
I say these things so you can be sympathetic when I tell you that journalists, in general, are human, just like you and I. They are prejudiced. They forget evidence that doesn't comfortably fit their storyline. I don't say this to condemn them any more than you and I, but so that you may better understand, that when you read, watch, or hear a news story, you may not be blind to the need to be as suspicious of them as you are of your own enemies when they talk about you.
This analysis has been about a story of which I was part, but its lessons are for all of us. It is a case study in the techniques of deceit, fueled by imperfect memory restrained by prejudice. Just don't believe everything you see in the news. Take time to check with the subjects of news stories once in a while, and learn the rest of the story.
The HBO documentary was produced by Levin Productions, 601 W 26th St, 17th floor, New York NY 10001 212/352-3007. Copyright 2000.
"Soldiers in the Army of God"
For those who did not see the film, my discussion of its distortions will provide you a sense of its general direction, so that you will still be able to make sense of this discussion. If you want to see the documentary, the above address may give you information when it will air again, if ever.
Notice that I never allege an outright lie. The distortions in this documentary are sublimely subtle. They are subtle enough that thoughtfulness is required to even discern them.
Distortion #1: The documentary showed a party scene at Regina Dinwiddie's house. Everyone was having fun. No lie here, right? But surreal music was added to the background. Twilight Zone-type music. Music suggesting something foreboding, something dark, something evil below the surface. I'm a musician; I notice such things, and I know movie producers understand them.
What made this scene a lie was the scene before it: of abortion sympathizers in church, grieving for one of their slain abortionists.
The clear message was a feeling of creepiness that these anti-abortionists could have such a good time despite the murder (of abortionists) in their hearts -- such lack of sympathy for these grieving murderers!
My own feeling, watching the church service, is that they had so little sympathy for babies, no feeling, so cold, so focused on self justification, as to be able to sing a song extolling the memory of an abortionist, and call their assembly a "church"! But viewers received no help from the documentary editing towards this perception. Speakers were shown eulogizing the lost, and close-ups of survivors were shown holding back tears.
Distortion #2: They showed my minimizing of the bomb recipes in the AOG manual, and then had a title saying "publisher, AOG manual". Their title introduced me as its original publisher, though I made clear to them that I merely reprinted it. I also made clear my reason for reprinting, which they kept to themselves. So the impression was that I, Dave Leach, took its two bomb recipes, (they didn't mention both recipes have been made publicly available by the millions, for decades, through a U.S. Army manual sold in Army surplus stores), and made them available, for the first time, to impressionable prolifers: very likely these same prolifers who have been in prison for actually using such bombs.
(I complained about this distortion to Johnny Brockhoeft, who was also in the documentary. He has done time for destroying two abortion temples by pouring gasoline through windows and throwing in a match, but he has loosely been called a "bomber". I told him that even though I never met Johnny until he was in prison, and didn't reprint the AOG manual until after that, that the documentary gives the impression that it was my information that showed him, and all the other "bombers", how to destroy all those temples! Johnny was only amused. He only said "We appreciate it.")
Distortion #3: They showed Mike Bray in his clerics, but never in church, or quoting Scripture. They did show Jonathan O'Toole headed for church, but not inside church. But they showed abortionists in church. Abortionists are thus portrayed as having a deeper spiritual foundation than prolifers!
Distortion #4: During rolling credits at the end, they had a quick shot of Henry Felisone pulling a shotgun out of a small barrel. Now a gun lover might discern that it was a toy, from its small size, if he could tell from the 2 second clip. But most viewers would assume that at this AOG enclave, he was simply passing out real guns to shoot during their party. Or afterwards.
That distortion didn't trouble Johnny Brockhoeft, however. He said "Let them think that!" Let them think we are all armed to the teeth! Maybe that will scare more doctors out of the abortion business!
There was another event which I will lump under this same distortion: the scene of Jonathan O'Toole and his dad out squirrel hunting. Both carrying rifles. The part that is really unnerving about that scene is how much coaxing the crew went to, to get the two to carry those guns for the cameras. According to Jonathan at the time, they were supposedly giving Jonathan a ride to where others of us were expecting him, but they got "lost" and wound up at the farm where they did quite a bit of coaxing to get those shots.
By no means did the shots themselves look menacing; the two were just casually walking in the woods, looking up in trees. But in the midst of a discussion of prolifers shooting abortionists, obviously this is an audience-conditioner. I questioned Daphne about that right after the shoot, and that is about the only time when her response to me was abrupt. Either she didn't think the shot would harm my cause, or she didn't care and didn't think I was in any position to complain. Well, I have the same concern, seeing it, that I did when I only heard about it.
Distortion #5: Regina Dinwiddie introduced two guests to the camera while making up glorious titles which they, in her imagination of the moment, held in the AOG. At the time it was funny, because of course there are no officers, or titles, or even a membership list, in the AOG. But there was nothing in the documentary editing that let viewers understand it was a joke. Viewers no doubt assumed "Wow! There really IS an Army of God! It even has an organization, including ranks and titles! How then did Janet Reno's grand juries fail to find and prosecute them?"
Johnny Brockhoeft again said "let them think that! That's good! There'll be abortionists quitting all over America!"
Distortion #6: Title: "we have had exclusive access to the AOG." Hey, do you think the AOG is just us? When we call ourselves that, we don't mean we are the only soldiers God has! We mean we, too, are soldiers for God, just like the rest of you Christians! Notwithstanding Rudolph's well publicized note insinuating the contrary.
The Online/Offline crew had access to about a dozen prolifers who have already been the subject of front page news stories. I don't know in what sense the crew had more access to us than other reporters, and of course we are only a handful of the actual millions-strong Army Of God. Other than that, I suppose the title is accurate.
Distortion #7: Out of all our spoofs of the Jerry Springer Show, nearly half a dozen that night, they took a short slice of one wherein a girl was shown saying "Hell" as a cuss word. She was shown smiling as she said it. Now granted, even Rush Limbaugh uses that word all the time; and if we protest too loudly about this one word, the world accuses us of being prudes.
But the fact is we don't use language even that course. Ever. Not any of the group assembled there in Kansas City; not any of us who have suffered notoriety for our stands.
The TV crew knew very well the girl who said that was not one of us; she was a friend of a daughter of one of us. She came to pick up the daughter to go somewhere. The crew had been with us about two solid days, and knew very well this girl had not been there until less than an hour before, and left within the hour; she was just "passing through" our Memorial Day event, just "in and out". We invited her to join us for the parody, so she stayed long enough for that. The rules were to behave and talk like they do on Jerry Springer, so she did, including the foul language. Other bits we did were more representative of our group, but they chose the one with the curse word.
I don't mean to pick on the girl, either. She seemed a very decent girl, by today's standards, and for all we know she is unused to cursing, too, except that she was playing a TV role known for profanity.
Perspectives of other documentary subjects
I may have been the only subject of the documentary who was troubled by its distortions. They have all had such atrocious news coverage in the past, that the HBO coverage was a breath of fresh air for them for its relative fairness.
But it's more than that. In this battle for the lives of babies, a personal attack is of little consequence for these who have laid down their freedom to be tortured on their way to jail. Mere words are nothing, by comparison! What does matter, in their view, is the effect of the article on abortion. And from that perspective, despite however many distortions it contained, its overall effect was to reduce abortion, in their estimation. What it does to them matters not at all.
One contributing factor to their apathy about the distortions about them is their inability to correct distortions once made. They have no access to the media; they can't even buy ads to give their side because newspapers and TV stations refuse to sell ad space to them. Regina Dinwiddie was an exception for years, since she had a weekly radio program on a Christian station. But poor health has taken even that opportunity from her.
I, on the other hand, have the Prayer and Action News, and a Cable Access cable TV program. I am known among journalists for taking great trouble to painstakingly correct media distortions about me. Although my circulation is miniscule and viewership probably the same, journalists have treated the prospect of my correcting them as if I had national distribution. A network news team was all set to come out and interview little ol' me for I remember not what, until I told them I would film the interview with my own camera so that I might be able to provide the deleted context, should the need arise. Their story reached 100 million homes, and my response would be lucky to reach a thousand, yet that was enough for them to pull back and cancel the interview?! Apparently truth doesn't have to be popular to be effective!~
So because my friends have no similar means of correcting distortions about them, it has been a waste of their time to even analyze them. But for me, disposing of distortions about me seem to me crucial to saving babies, since distortions about me are abortionist's tools for justifying their own murders.
Kitty Coon, Regina's mother, for example, was delighted with the documentary. While I was counting distortions, she was busy counting how many times they actually showed photos of slain babies. "But they showed aborted babies 11 times! We could never get that on TV any other way!
"So what if they think we're crazy? That's all the better!"
Johnny Brockhoeft agreed: "No, we could never PAY them to show it."
Johnny said he used to use a "crazy" persona to great advantage. When prolifers were harassed by pro-death protesters, he would pull out his ski mask and just point at them, and they would just leave. Even the police!
Joanne Brockhoeft liked how they put Leah (their daughter) in with pictures of dead babies, at the Washington prolife march.
Neal Horsley was "delighted to see exposure of the dead babies. It was a significant breakthrough. It was worth the negative flack I got.
"They didn't allow me to really express my point of view. They created an overall impression that isn't accurate, as applied to me, but I didn't mind. I get flack all the time.
"The bottom line is the babies were seen. It will be harder for a doctor to become an abortionist after watching this. I knew going in that they had some armed revolutionary image, like the Esquire writer did (who just before the Memorial Day event had done a front page "job" on Neal Horsley and Jonathan O'Toole); the HBO film crew came in just after them.
"I made a deal with them that they would show closeups of the dead babies, and the photos would stay on the screen long enough for people to get a clear impression of them. I didn't make the deal in writing; but I thought the film crew had a vested interest in an honorable relationship.
"I introduced them to Lokey because he is an interesting example of people led to a militant mode, and abortionists need to know he's out there. (In order to frighten them into quitting.) Had the HBO crew not picked up on the strange things about Lokey they did, he has a lot of other 'interesting directions'. I'm sure they had lots of other footage they discarded because it would be unbelievable; the American public is not ready for raw lokey!
"I think he has matured now, through that.
"But what do you think we can expect? A film that makes people say 'Oh, I want to be like them?' No, but maybe we can get doctors to think twice about going into abortion. We accomplished about all we could do without going immediately into jail. We have to take what the enemy gives.
"I've had better chance to speak through this than I have in 2 years."
Horsley had a savvy take on the timing of the film's release:
"They've had this in the can for a year."
(Indeed, the copyright date on the tape is for 2000, the year before its release.)
"I think they were waiting for another abortionist to get shot. Their second best timing opportunity was James Kopp's apprehension, and the 9th circuit decision [which exonerated me and the others sued because of my Nuremburg Files web site].
"Think about it. They say they've been on top of Kopp for 2-1/2 months. That indicates they were choosing the best time to apprehend him. What better time than when the 9th circuit ruled in our favor, in order to dillute the impact of that ruling? And then to throw the release of this film in at the same time?
"It's my theory, but you have to admit a lot happened that week. And the 9th circuit decision was certainly diluted in the news."
Indeed, how many Americans know about it to this day? All last year the media ground up the Oregon case, and sued nearly a dozen prolifers largely because of Neal's website, even though none of them had control over the website and Neal was never a defendant in the case! (Not that Americans were told THAT.) So all last year, Americans learned how criminal it is to build a website that gives the addresses of abortionists; and in March of this year, the 9th circuit appeals court calls the lower trial court's findings absurd, but American doesn't learn that because the news is covered up by James Kopp's arrest (there is much reason to question how he could ever have killed Slepian) and the release of "Soldiers in the Army of God."
Not at all an irresponsible theory, in today's pro-death political climate.
Army of God': HBO Braves the Abortion War
Summary of article by Megan Rosenfeld, Washington Post Staff Writer, Saturday, March 31, 2001; sent by Mike Bray
ED.: Here is one reporter's view of the Army of God. Just one clue to the reporter's ignorance of her subject is her assumption that the Army of God is well funded, so that she is disappointed that the movie did not disclose the source of their funds.
Reporters who cover the abortion wars quickly learn one thing -- people on both sides, even those who curse the press in unprintable language, are more than happy to talk to you. In my experience the antiabortion zealots -- who didn't mind being called zealots -- were particularly voluble, enjoying any opportunity to filibuster a listener into exhaustion.
The creators of a new HBO documentary have taken excellent advantage of this tendency and produced a deeply frightening portrait of the most extreme wing of the antiabortion movement, "Soldiers in the Army of God," which airs tomorrow night at 10.
The people who call themselves the Army of God say that homicide is justifiable if the victim is a doctor who performs abortions, a clinic owner or operator, or even a mere escort for patients. But these are not just wacky eccentrics flying under First Amendment radar; these guys are genuinely dangerous. Since 1973, the year the Supreme Court established a constitutional right to abortion, seven clinic workers have been killed, 150 clinics have been bombed or torched, and a total of 2,400 acts of violence committed against those who seek to receive or perform this legal medical procedure. The "soldiers" say nothing less than a civil war will be required to settle the matter and routinely compare abortion to the Holocaust.
"Stop it with a bullet, if that's what it takes," says Bob Lokey of Opp, Ala. "Right now."
The four main profiles in this documentary, which is based on an Esquire article by Daniel Voll and produced by Daphne Pinkerson and Marc Levin, are of men. Three of them have prison records -- one is Paul Hill, on death row in Florida for the murder of two men at a Pensacola abortion clinic. Other than Hill, the men are not married, nor do they have children; at least none is referred to in the program.
Lokey, proprietor of the Save the Babies Web site, relates proudly how he circumcised himself with a razor blade after he became a Christian while serving 20 years in prison for a murder committed during an armed robbery. After this personal rebirth he decided to "give up" women and devote himself to saving babies. "I've been vaginally defeated all my life," he says.
Even Michael Bray, the Bowie minister who served four years in jail for torching seven abortion clinics and who advocates murder in his book "A Time to Kill," squirms away from the overbearing Lokey. A trucker by trade, Lokey encounters Bray at the White Rose banquet held in this area on the eve of the yearly march in Washington to protest Roe v. Wade. The banquet honors those "martyrs" to the cause who have been or are in jail for violent acts directed at clinics or their employees.
Paul Hill is one of their all-time heroes. Interviewed in prison, he calmly and chillingly tells how tough it was for him to kill Dr. John Britton and his volunteer escort James Barrett, and wound Barrett's wife, in 1993. "It was very difficult, a very grim task," he says proudly. He is delighted to be on death row, although he admits having had some pangs of regret at leaving his three children fatherless. "I hope others will act in a way similar to the way I acted," he says. The filmmakers were smart to include his description of loading and firing his shotgun -- the detail reveals Hill as more coldblooded killer than martyr.
Jonathan O'Toole is an admirer of Hill's. At 19 he is drifting but determined to make his mark as an antiabortion crusader. His passion stems from having watched the births of his siblings at home in Mississippi. He thinks the movement is failing because too few people have been willing to lay their lives on the line; through an Internet search he finds the Army of God and becomes a new recruit. "It's just a question of how I lay down my life," he says.
He goes to work in Georgia for Neal Horsley, the keeper of the Nuremberg Files, a Web site listing the name and address of every abortion clinic owner, manager and doctor. Horsley, who spent time in prison for selling marijuana, compares the fight against abortion to protests against the Vietnam War. He, too, is endlessly garrulous, and the viewer learns that one reason these guys are so vehement is that they think what they're doing is manly. Men have been afraid to stand up to -- well, anything, including women and homosexuals.
Other characters appear in minor roles: John Brockhoeft, who served seven years for bombing two clinics -- inspired, he says, by a Pat Buchanan column. Donald Spitz, the former head of Pro-Life Virginia and creator of the Army of God Web site. And one woman, Regina Dinwiddie, a kind of cheerleader for death who holds social events to show that their army can have "fun."
As the film rolls on, you get the impression that abortion is just a vehicle for these people to express some deeply buried sense of impotence and rage. The "civil war" seems to be going on within themselves, and it's hard to understand why they haven't been arrested as conspirators when they so proudly proclaim themselves as such. The only indication of police intervention (other than in Hill's case) is when Lokey is visited by two Secret Service agents. He assures them he does not plan to harm the president or the Supreme Court -- "unless or until the civil war comes."
If it weren't for the fact that these "soldiers" claim credit for numerous acts of murder and violence, this film could be criticized for focusing on only the most sensational fringe of the antiabortion movement....
The documentary neglects to tells us the source of the army's money, a key point that should have been included. But both sides of this unending debate would profit from watching it. Abortion rights proponents can use it to invigorate their troops. The antis could use it to assess what they have unleashed, and figure out a way to get the discussion back to principle and away from terrorism, which only they can do. And that can be accomplished only by convincing these extremists that they are hurting their own cause.
c 2001 The Washington Post Company
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