As best I can tell, there are plenty of important subjects in public life on which Jerry Falwell, Jr., and I would sharply disagree.
For starters, there is the whole Donald Trump thing. Also, it certainly appears that we disagree on some basic gun-control issues, since I lean toward stricter controls.
However, I have always thought that the most important skill in Journalism 101 is the ability to accurately quote someone with whom one disagrees. With that in mind, let's return to a recent controversy involving Falwell and editors at The Washington Post.
Do you remember the mini-media storm in which the Post noted that Falwell had urged Liberty University students to purchase handguns and learn how to use them should they ever be attacked by heavily armed terrorists? What? That isn't the story that you remember?
This issue was clarified in a latter headline and updated text, but now it's back.
So let's start at the beginning -- again.
Watch the CNN clip at the top of this post and then reading the following. Here is the quote as published in the Post:
“It just blows my mind that the president of the United States [says] that the answer to circumstances like that is more gun control,” he said to applause. “If some of those people in that community center had what I have in my back pocket right now …,” he said while being interrupted by louder cheers and clapping. “Is it illegal to pull it out? I don’t know,” he said, chuckling.
“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” he says, the rest of his sentence drowned out by loud applause while he said, “and killed them.”
“I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course,” he said. “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”
Now, for some context. The "community center" reference refers to the massacre in San Bernardino, which was in the headlines at the time. Thus, Falwell is saying saying that if more people in that community center had been legally armed, they may have been able to fight back against an attack by armed radicals.
As I noted at the time, the key word is "those" in the phrase "those Muslims." The word "those" -- when read in context -- clearly points to the terrorists in San Bernardino.
Alas, the initial Post coverage proclaimed something like this (a screenshot of one of the online promo headlines in an index):
Editors at the Post later updated the story, allowing Falwell to clarify that he was referring to fighting Islamic terrorists, not Muslims in general. It was nice of them to do that, but rather strange since the original quote -- when read as a whole -- was clear about that issue.
Thus, the new headline said: "Jerry Falwell Jr.: ‘If more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those’ Islamist terrorists."
So why bring this up again?
Because it appears that, based on evidence in a new story, some Post readers only remember the original flawed headline. Check this out. The headline says: "Debaters boycott championships at Liberty U. over Falwell’s anti-Muslim remarks." And here is the top of the new story:
Several Northern Virginia high school debate teams said they will boycott the state championships at Liberty University, whose president, Jerry Falwell Jr., made a speech in December that many saw as threatening to Muslims.
Debate coaches and students have been lobbying the Virginia High School League, the nonprofit group that oversees state interscholastic sports and academic competitions, to move the state championship to another location. Liberty University is a private, evangelical mega-university 180 miles south of Washington.
The calls to move the tournament, which is scheduled to kick off next week, came after Falwell said at the university’s convocation in December that students should arm themselves to “end those Muslims.” Falwell later clarified his remarks to say he was referring only to the Islamic terrorists who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., not all Muslims.
In the wake of the backlash over his remarks, some debate coaches wrote to VHSL about their concerns and started a Facebook group urging the organization to move the tournament. Others gathered their teams, many of which have Muslim students on their rosters, and allowed students to decide what would happen.
So we are back into "clarification" quote mode here, which assumes that Falwell had made "anti-Muslim remarks" and truly needed to clarify them -- as opposed to simply quoting what the man had said, in context, in his actual remarks.
The headline on this new debate-controversy story assumes -- if you think about this logically -- that Falwell made "anti-Muslim remarks" when he urged the use of legal weapons by citizens if and when they are attacked by heavily armed Muslim terrorists.
Correct? Is that what the boycott advocates are claiming that Falwell said?
Probably not. It appears that the debate teams in question are still reacting to the original Post coverage -- especially the flawed headlines -- which failed to note that the word "those" point toward the San Bernardino community center terrorists. They appear to think that "those" Muslims referred to Muslims in general. Where did they get that idea?
Once again, let me state the obvious. I am not saying that journalists need to agree with Falwell on gun-control issues. I am simply noting that Falwell needs to be quoted accurately.
In fact, it appears that -- even after the sort-of corrections at the Post -- he STILL needs to be quoted accurately.
One more time: Watch the video. Who are the Muslims in Falwell's original "those Muslims" quote? Why misquote the man?