Saturday, February 20, 2016

case studies in how internet journalism and snark transform jokes into internet certainties--the claim that Mark Driscoll ever said Gayle Haggard "let herself go", wish fulfillment from lazy folks on the internet

Ever heard of the urban legend that Steve Burns quit Blues Clues because he was going bald?  Neither have I, until this last week.
The genesis of the legend is a fascinating example of the odd way the Internet works. In 2006, to mark the 10th anniversary — and, as it turns out, the end — of “Blue’s Clues,” Nickelodeon aired a primetime special called “Behind the Clues,” a parody of the VH1’s “Behind the Music,” which chronicled the often-tawdry stories behind the rise and fall of popular music acts.

Taking a similar (if joking) approach to the origins of “Blue’s Clues,” the special revealed the “real” reason Burns left the series at the height of his success. “I knew I wasn’t going to be doing children’s television all my life, mostly because I refused to lose my hair on a kid’s TV show,” Burns said on “Behind the Clues. “And it was happening … fast.” In the context of the show, it was clearly intended as a sendup of the shocking revelations that you might find on an episode of “Behind the Music.” Burns made the joke, and that was seemingly that.

However, in May 2014, Bill Bradley on The Huffington Post unearthed a clip of the then eight-year-old special and cited Burns’ comments as the truth. Within a month, his piece was picked up by tons of other online outlets, including Entertainment Weekly, and the story was now solidified as “the truth.” But is it?

Burns’ balding may have played some role in his decision to leave, but it seems pretty clear that wasn’t anywhere near the primary reason for his departure.

Internet writing can have this way of transforming things. 

Take something that started up here in Seattle a decade ago.  Ted Haggard got caught up in a controversy and Mark Driscoll used that as an opportunity to jump on his soap box and share his axioms with people about marriage and fidelity.  Along the way he mentioned something about how husbands aren't excused for cheating but wives who let themselves go weren't helping, either. 

Dan Savage had a sarcastic rejoinder to Driscoll's curiously not-related-to-what-actually-happened bromides at the following link:

People using the internet being what they are, Dan Savage's sarcasm was transformed by the power of wish fulfillment into imputing to Mark Driscoll statements he never made.  Driscoll didn't say Gayle Haggard "let herself go". For that matter not even Dan Savage ever actually suggested that Mark Driscoll did that. 

What's surreal is that Lindy West, who by dint of having written for The Stranger for a few years would have been in a position to have discerned the difference between what Mark Driscoll actually did or didn't say and what Dan Savage wrote, couldn't be bothered to make precisely that distinction when she invoked the mythical Mark Driscoll remark about Gayle Haggard in a piece she did for Jezebel published December 6, 2013:

The Time Mark Driscoll Said that Ted Haggard Had Meth-Sex with a Male Prostitute Because His Ugly Wife Probably Didn't Blow Him Enough
Via The Stranger:
"A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband's sin, but she may not be helping him either."
Except that it was relatively easy to prove Mark Driscoll never actually wrote that thanks to The Wayback Machine and a visit to an old Resurgence link.

Now for some reason robots.txt was reintroduced to the Resurgence this year.  But that's okay, because the entire text of Driscoll's notorious 2006 post that didn't talk about the Haggard controversy so much as use it as a pretext can be found over here:

Ah, but who cares about what can be confirmed if you're mind's already made up.  Lindy West dropped the ball by taking as given what could be easily shown to be Dan Savage's sarcastic commentary on something Driscoll wrote in 2006 that, when read in its original formulation, can't be connected in any way to Ted or Gayle Haggard except by dint of Mark Driscoll seizing an opportunity to pontificate.

The swiftness with which Driscoll took the news of the week to skip past what may have happened to share bromides about pastors in ministry is surreal if you see it for what it was.  Progressives, by and large, wanted to believe that Driscoll said something about Gayle Haggard in a way comparable to some people wanting to believe Steve Burns quit Blues Clues because he was losing his hair.

But at least the myth of Burns used a misunderstood quote of something Steve Burns actually said, rather than taking a sarcastic joke made by Dan Savage about something Driscoll wrote as something actually stated by Mark Driscoll himself.

Not one of Lindy West's finer moments in journalistic care, there. 

Why mention this?  Because the misinformation has continued to thrive.
The first and easiest thing to digest, because the media so readily reported the juiciest bits, is the large groups of people whom Mark Driscoll has offended. Usually the aims of his ire were women or gay men. Sometimes, he hit both at once, like the time he suggested Ted Haggard's wife “letting herself go” might have had something to do with the rival evangelical pastor’s proclivity for male prostitutes and crystal meth.

For as long as members of the press keep circulating this easily debunked claim those who may still support Driscoll will be justified in believing the press keeps getting things wrong about him because of, say, liberal bias.  When Justin Brierley asked Driscoll about the Haggards Driscoll said point blank he never said anything about the Haggards.  Technically true.  It was creepy that Driscoll saw fit to use the Ted Haggard controversy as an occasion to opine on matters that had no certain relevance to the Haggard controversy ... but perhaps the misunderstanding is a price Driscoll has had to pay for deciding to transform Haggard's fall into an occasion to soap box about guys frustrated with their wives for more or less entirely different reasons.

Then there's this:

The largest repository for his most offensive remarks comes from early 2001 in his church’s members-only forum, where he posted under the Braveheart pseudonym “William Wallace II.” In one particular thread, Driscoll rants (in part) that: We live in a “pussified nation” where men are “raised by bitter penis envying burned feministed single mothers,” homeosexuals are “Damn freaks,” and women, (unpoetically described as “homes” for a man’s penis), “will be ignored,” because Driscoll “[does] not answer to women.”

Alas, not quite. Follow the links

Midrash was open access to anybody regardless of attendance at or membership in Mars Hill.  It was also completely unmoderated.  This was something confirmed by Driscoll, like, a decade ago.

Mark Driscoll,  Zondervan
copyright (c) 2006 by Mark Driscoll
ISBN-13: 978-0-310-27016-4
350-1,000 people

At this time, our church also started an unmoderated discussion board on our website, called Midrash, and it was being inundated with postings by emerging-church type feminists and liberals. I went onto the site and posted as William Wallace II, after the great Scottish man portrayed in the movie Braveheart, and attacked those who were posting. It got insane, and thousands of posts were being made each day until it was discovered that it was me raging like a madman under the guise of a movie character. One guy got so mad that he actually showed up at my house to fight me one night around 3 a.m.

Still, there's a lot in the piece that checks out.  We're not talking about an article nearly as inaccurate as the first run of Valerie Tarico's piece for AlterNet/Salon from 2014 was. 

It's just that the recurrence of things like Midrash being members-only in its first iteration (Midrash didn't become members only access until about 2002) and the Gayle Haggard legend need correcting when they keep coming up.

The Jennifer Roach story thoroughly checks out.  As best I can recall that eruption from Driscoll was in the wake of a discussion of the Sophia Coppola film Lost in Translation on the members-only Midrash.

On the claim that Mark Driscoll reached out to and reconciled with leaders from the Mars Hill era ... let those with whom this has actually happened say something, anything for the record.  It would clear things up.  If nobody's willing to confirm something for the record it makes it harder for outsiders (or even former insiders) to have any confidence at all that any reconciliation of any kind happened. 

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