How to Respond to Anti-Atheist Bigotry in Newspapers, Television, Magazines
By Austin Cline, About.com Guide
The growing attention to atheism and atheists has given rise to increased anti-atheist bigotry in the mainstream media. Newspapers, magazines, and even prominent television programs seem to think little of allowing bigots to express anti-atheist sentiments when the same ideas would not be permitted if directed against Jews, blacks, Catholics, or pretty much any other group in American society. This will likely continue unless and until atheists can make people understand that anti-atheist bigotry is wrong, unjustified, and undeserving of their promotion. What steps can an atheist take that will be effective, though?
1. Identify the Correct Person or Department to AddressIf you are going to write in to complain, nothing will make your complaints less effective than contacting the wrong person. Even if your message is forwarded along rather deleted, the fact that you didn't do your homework will cause it to carry less weight. Every newspaper, magazine, and television station web site has contact information. There is also often contact information for specific departments, programs, and people. You don't need to contact everyone in the organization, just the editor, reporter, or manager who seems most responsible for the piece in question.
2. Have All the Relevant Information About What You are Responding ToAlmost as bad as contacting the wrong person is failing to be clear in what you are responding to. The very first sentence of your message should contain all of the information about the article, column, program, or news segment in question. Include the date, the author, the reporter, the section, and whatever other information you have. If you're unsure, do some research to find out. No one can respond to your complaints if they don't know where to look and they aren't going to do the leg work to figure it out. That's your job, and if you can't be bothered to do it, they can't be bothered to care that you're upset.
3. Carefully Review the Article, Transcript, Video You are Responding ToIt should go without saying that your criticism should be accurate, but failing to be so is a problem that afflicts far too many complaints - I know, because it's something I see all the time in complaints written to me. Regardless of what you remember seeing or reading, go back and re-read the article, read the transcript, or re-watch the video. Be absolutely sure that people have said what you thought they said. Be absolutely clear on who said what so that you don't mis-attribute the comments you're complaining about. Be sure that you haven't forgotten about anything important or perhaps exculpatory.
4. Respond Promptly, But Not HastilyAs with so many other things, you need to balance promptness against haste. You should respond promptly while the issue is fresh and it's more likely that the organization will react in a substantive manner - for example, by publishing a correction or even a detailed follow-up. On the other hand, you don't want to be too hasty in responding. Taking some time will allow you to not only do some research in order to make sure you have your facts straight, but you will get a little distance from the bigotry. The angrier you are when you compose your response, the harder it will be to remain polite.
5. Respond Thoughtfully and Forcefully But PolitelyPoliteness, of course, is often necessary in order to get your grievances taken seriously.Civility should never be treated as a substitute for decency, which means that if you are responding to truly indecent bigotry you should not hesitate to be forceful in your condemnation of that bigotry. Hatred and bigotry don't deserve the credibility they automatically receive by being treated as legitimate differences of opinion. The people you are writing to, however, are likely not the sources of that bigotry. Politeness in this case thus means not getting personal with whomever will be reading your complaint.
6. Be Brief and Proofread Your MessageIf you feel tempted to write a line-by-line rebuttal of the article or transcript in question, don't. Really, just step back from the keyboard and do something else for a while. Save the detailed rebuttals for your blog; when writing to complain, keep your comments as brief as possible. The more you write, the less likely it will all be read in full, much less acted upon. Pick one important point to address and do so in a paragraph or two. Furthermore, take the time to check spelling, grammar, and punctuation. The more obvious errors in your complaint, the less seriously you will be taken.
7. Let Others Know About the Issue and Encourage Them to RespondA single complaint, no matter how well argued and composed, carries little weight; a dozen may make people stop to think. Several dozen may lead to changes. Post your complaint, plus perhaps additional commentary, on a blog where others can read it. Get a prominent blogs to link to and discuss it as well. If you don't have a blog, write to the author of one and see if they will start posting on the issue. Be sure that people have all the contact information and necessary details (the homework you did in the first steps above will be a big help to others now).
8. Follow Up After a Week or SoDon't just send in a complaint and then forget about it. If you think the issue is serious, then you should follow up after a week or so to see what's happening. If you don't care enough to do more than send in a single message, it's hard to justify expecting others to do more than read your message and then forget about it. Ask if those in charge have considered what you have said and if they have made any decisions regarding the anti-atheist bigotry in question. Will there be policy changes? Will they publish a correction or rebuttal? Let them know that you care and are paying attention to what they decide to do.
9. Depending on Their Response, Contact Advertisers and Other MediaIf you get no further response or are unsatisfied with their reaction, you'll have to decide just how important the matter is to you because the next steps involve much more work. If you wish to pursue this, you'll need to publicize the tacit or explicit endorsement of anti-atheist bigotry by contacting other media organizations. This lets them know they are being watched and may give them a story to do. You can also contact the advertisers of the media in question to let them know they are sponsoring anti-atheist bigotry. It might be a good idea to send copies to the managing editors of the original organization.
10. Keep a Record of All CorrespondenceWhen pursuing complaints about anti-atheist bigotry in any media organization, learn to be a pack rat: keep copies of everything. Make screen shots of online articles,. Keep copies of every email you send and receive. If there are online videos, find a way to save them on your own computer. Many sites force you to contact them via an online form rather than regular email, so you'll have to remember to save a copy of what you send. If you are being careful with proofreading, you should probably write your complaint in a separate program anyway, making it easier to save that original for your records.
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