Salon's sometimes media critic Mary Elizabeth Williams just wagged her mighty finger at the rumor mill that has become online journalism — a system that allowed Manny Pacquiao to be misquoted as saying gay men should be “put to death” yesterday. In truth, Pacquiao's original interviewer deceptively inserted the Leviticus 20:13 quote into his article, making it look like Pacquiao himself had recited it.
Unfortunately, Williams' story on terrible reporting is quite terribly reported, so we wanted to clear some things up with a handy timeline.
• Examiner writer Granville Ampong interviewed Pacquiao over the weekend, spawning a piece called “Pacquiao rejects Obama's new twist on the Scriptures.” In it, Ampong included the Leviticus passage “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
• Ampong's placement of that quote was so misleading that early Tuesday morning, when USA Today reporter Tom Weir picked up the story, he wrote that “Pacquiao also invoked Old Testament” and “recited Leviticus.”
• After that, around 12:30 p.m. EST, Village Voice news blogger James King spotted the better headline within. His followup blog post was titled “The Bible Via-Manny Pacquiao: Gays Shouldn't Get Married, They Should Be 'Put To Death'.”
• At which point LA Weekly news blogger Dennis Romero jumped on the train, seeing as Pacquiao lives and boxes here in L.A., a center of the gay-rights movement. His headline read “Manny Pacquiao Says Gay Men Should Be 'Put to Death'.”
• Dozens more news outlets picked up the story, including Pacquiao's own “official” news site.
• Upon noticing that Pacquiao was scheduled for an appearance at the Grove today, I — Simone Wilson, LA Weekly news blogger — wrote a piece at 6:15 p.m. PST about how mall management was not going to allow the interview to go down, for the reason that “the Grove is a gathering place for all Angelenos and not a place for intolerance.”
So when word got out this morning that Pacquiao had only said that homosexuality goes against the word of God — not that gays should literally be put to death — Williams, the Salon critic, decided to blame the whole thing on me.
Here's her assessment of how the Pacquiao rumor got started:
The confusion stems largely from a Tuesday L.A. Weekly blog post by Simone Wilson, in which she wrote, “Pacquiao told the National Conservative Examiner over the weekend that gay men should be 'put to death' for their sexual crimes.” She then backpedaled a tad by noting “Yes, he was quoting Leviticus 20:13, but he hasn't backed down from his harsh stance.” She continued further in the piece to invoke “what Pacquiao said” and ponder that “For the sports star to announce that he thinks thousands of gay Angelenos should be 'put to death' for loving a same-sex partner should hugely alienate him to the locals,” adding that “Because … uh … 'put to death'? You just don't say that kind of thing in 21st century America.” Maybe that's why he didn't. And by the way, calling the source “the National Conservative Examiner” greatly glorifies Examiner.com, a site anybody with an Internet connection and rudimentary typing ability can write for, “even if you're not a professional writer.” It's a site with all the journalistic credibility of, oh, L.A. Weekly.
But what kind of commitment to facts could we have expected from Simone Wilson? This is the person who, when real journalist Lara Logan was attacked in Egypt last year, hastily banged out a grotesquely offensive fantasy version of events, writing, “In a rush of frenzied excitement, some Egyptian protestors apparently consummated their newfound independence by sexually assaulting the blonde reporter.”
No matter your opinion of the Lara Logan piece, nothing in it was incorrect. It also has damn near nothing to do with Manny Pacquiao saying or not saying that gays should be put to death. It appears Williams really just wanted to wag her finger some more at my 2011 blog post on rape victim Lara Logan — which, at the time I wrote it, even prompted Williams to go on CNN and talk about what an awful person I was.
Williams is baffled that any journalist would interpret the Examiner's inclusion of Leviticus 20:13 as a direct quote from Pacquiao. She actually gets quite catty about it, saying, “You need to have an eighth-grade reading proficiency level to get a driver's license, yet apparently you can be functionally illiterate and work for L.A. Weekly and USA Today.”
This is how the Examiner's interview with Pacquiao currently reads:
“Pacquiao's directive for Obama calls societies to fear God and not to promote sin, inclusive of same-sex marriage and cohabitation, notwithstanding what Leviticus 20:13 has been pointing all along: 'If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.'”
But James King, the Village Voice staffer who followed USA Today, says the Examiner article “wasn't like that yesterday. It's not the same story that was up there.” If anyone has a screen shot of the original, we'd love to see it.
USA Today has yet to correct its piece. As does Salon, an apparent victim of the very breakneck news cycle it seeks to criticize.
Update, 1:10 p.m.: When Williams called me back, she couldn't explain why she thought my Grove report got the rumor mill rolling. She said she would make an “amendment” to her think piece.