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I’ve Been Misquoted by American Conservative Magazine!

This must be some sort of career benchmark. I’ve been misquoted by American Conservative magazine!

American Conservative did an article about American Atheists being booted from having a booth at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference), after initially being told they could have one. In their article, they had this to say:

If their soft-pedaling had won them supporters, American Atheists might have had a new problem on their hands. Although the many conservatives are uncomfortable with atheists, it’s not clear that the atheist movement is necessarily much more comfortable with conservatives. When Edwina Rogers, who had previously worked for Senator Trent Lott and President George W. Bush, was tapped as Executive Director of the Secular Coalition of America, Greta Christina, a popular atheist writer, called it “a disaster” and “unacceptable,” and resigned her membership in the SCA.

Um… yeah. Not so much.

Here is my reply to American Conservative, which I’ve written to them both as a letter to the editor and as a comment in the article.

*****

Dear Sir or Madam:

You recently quoted me in an article, “Conservative Atheists Speak Up About CPAC Shunning.” However, your quotation is highly misrepresentative of the actual position I took — in fact, it’s almost the exact opposite. In your article, you stated:

“Although the many conservatives are uncomfortable with atheists, it’s not clear that the atheist movement is necessarily much more comfortable with conservatives. When Edwina Rogers, who had previously worked for Senator Trent Lott and President George W. Bush, was tapped as Executive Director of the Secular Coalition of America, Greta Christina, a popular atheist writer, called it ‘a disaster’ and ‘unacceptable,’ and resigned her membership in the SCA.”

I did refer to Rogers’ appointment as a “disaster” and “unacceptable,” and I did resign my membership in the SCA as a result of it. But this was not because she was a conservative or a Republican. My opposition had to do with Rogers’ deceptive, manipulative, contemptuous, and insulting responses to questions about her appointment. Her conservative politics were cause for serious concern about whether she shared the values of most people in the atheist community and could effectively represent us. But I specifically stated in the article you linked to that I was willing to be proven wrong about this. I said, quote, “Maybe this is one of those ‘only Nixon can go to China’ things. Maybe a Republican could be uniquely effective at pitching secularism to Congress, and to America. The people who hired her aren’t idiots. This is worth considering. Keep an open mind.” I opposed her appointment because of her evasion, spin, and outright falsehoods in response to questions about her record — evasion, spin, and outright falsehoods aimed at the very community she was appointed to represent.

To state that I opposed Rogers’ appointment solely because she was a conservative is a serious misrepresentation of my views. I would very much appreciate a correction. If and when you issue one, please let me know. Thank you.

*****

Am now holding my breath for that correction. After I recover from the utter shock of American Conservative misquoting a progressive atheist in order to fit their narrative.

Comments

  1. Al Dente says

    Am now holding my breath for that correction.

    It’s good to see that naiveté is still found among those in late youth.

    After I recover from the utter shock of American Conservative misquoting a progressive atheist in order to fit their narrative.

    I’m reminded of this bit from Casablanca.

  2. perplexed says

    Greta, just curious about your thoughts regarding Edwina now that she has been in the job for 2 years.

  3. Cassandra Palladias says

    Hi Greta, this is Leah, the author of the TAC article (sorry for the wrong username, had to use my old Yahoo Music account, as your comments login was giving me tsuris).

    My impression, both at the time of the original controversy, and when rereading your article was that you were unhappy with how Edwina Rogers described the Republican party (i.e. that you thought she was giving them a read that was either way too charitable or disingenuous).

    I made sure to link so that people could read your full complaint in context, but it’s a fair criticism that the antecedent I used was ambiguous. I wrote:

    When Edwina Rogers, who had previously worked for Senator Trent Lott and President George W. Bush, was tapped as Executive Director of the Secular Coalition of America, Greta Christina, a popular atheist writer, called it “a disaster” and “unacceptable,” and resigned her membership in the SCA.

    And, ‘it’ as has no definite referent. I meant “the appointment” and didn’t go into details about what about the appointment rubbed you the wrong way. If I swap out “it” for “Rogers’s defenses of Republican policies” would you feel like your position was more clearly represented?

  4. says

    Hello, Leah. The answer to your question “If I swap out “it” for “Rogers’s defenses of Republican policies” would you feel like your position was more clearly represented?” is directly and specifically addressed in the post above where Greta says “My opposition had to do with Rogers’ deceptive, manipulative, contemptuous, and insulting responses to questions about her appointment.” Though I don’t presume to speak for Greta, I can confidently say that the answer to your question is self-evidently “No.”

    Furthermore, the post above links to the original post that you yourself reference and quote from where Greta mentions concern about Rogers’ Republican ties but then makes it clear that the real problem is as quoted above. And she helpfully goes into specifics at that post; if you start from the line “The fact that Edwina Rogers responded to questions about this history with evasion, spin, and outright falsehoods? That is much more than a big problem. That is unacceptable” and continue reading from there you will see those specifics.

    Given the presence of these clearly stated reasons in the very post you quote from, it would appear that you either didn’t actually read the post in question but simply skimmed it looking for keywords, or that you did read it and chose instead to misrepresent Greta, an appearance which is reinforced by your question in the comment above. Can you enlighten us as to which of these is what you did? If the former, would you say that this reflects on your qualifications to compose an essay with accuracy and integrity? If the latter, would it be fair to say that such misrepresentation is a reflection of conservative values?

  5. Greta Christina says

    If I swap out “it” for “Rogers’s defenses of Republican policies” would you feel like your position was more clearly represented?

    Cassandra Palladias/ Leah @ #4: No.

    It was not Rogers’s defenses of Republican policies that I considered to be an unacceptable disaster. It was the fact that she told outright falsehoods about those policies; that she dodged and evaded questions about those policies; that she used (or attempted to use) transparent spin techniques on the community she was planning to represent; and that she didn’t seem to share many of the central values of the community she was planning to represent — not just values related to specific political issues, but our value of honesty and truth and straight talk. The problem wasn’t the fact that she defended Republican policies — it was the fact that she did so in such a dishonest way.

    The entire premise of your quotation of me — that I considered Rogers’s conservatism to be “a disaster” and “unacceptable” as ED of the SCA — is inaccurate. The reality — not just for me, but for most atheists I heard from on this issue — is that our response to her being a Republican and a conservative was to be cautious, wary, deeply concerned, highly skeptical, but willing to be won over.

    It would be accurate to say that I found her appointment, and her being a Republican and a conservative, to be (quoting from the original blog post) “a real problem” or “a big problem.” If you edit the piece to change “a disaster” and “unacceptable” to “a real problem” and/or “a big problem,” AND if you remove the part about me resigning my membership in the SCA (which again, was done in response to Rogers’s dishonesty, not to her being a Republican), it will be an accurate representation of my position. Thank you.

  6. Greta Christina says

    Greta, just curious about your thoughts regarding Edwina now that she has been in the job for 2 years.

    perplexed @ #2: Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question with any kind of honesty or clarity, without revealing things that were told to me in confidence.

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    Greta Christina @ # 6: … she told outright falsehoods …; … she dodged and evaded questions …; … she used (or attempted to use) transparent spin techniques …; … she didn’t… share many of the central values of … honesty and truth and straight talk.

    In short, she acted like a Republican (except for not, sfaik, killing people or stealing things).

  8. Holms says

    Greta, your comment at the article at TAC has been removed.

    A sure sign that they habe no intention of honest engagement.

  9. Cassandra Palladias says

    It’s Leah again. Thanks for your quick response. It sounds like part of the original problem was just describing your objection a little too briefly to have space for details, so I’ve revised the post and expanded the section referring to you as follows:

    Greta Christina, a popular atheist writer, said that her work as a Republican was “a real problem” and that the aims of the GOP were “diametrically opposed to those of the atheist and secular community.” Christina subsequently resigned her membership in the SCA, when she felt that Rogers did not adequately address these concerns.

    Thanks for relaying your concerns and I hope my most recent article, on reasons to stigmatize cyberwar, is more to your liking.

  10. says

    And the comment is now back, just within the last thirty minutes.

    It’s worth noting that though her revision is not quite so egregious as the original it still misrepresents Greta’s position. Worse, to the extent that it does address Greta’s words in context it is to minimize Greta’s actual objections… and an example of the very evasion and spin that was such a problem with Edwina Rogers’ conduct on her appointment. How unfortunate.

  11. says

    did not adequately address these concerns

    Yeah.. Completely content-less statement, which you can interpret to mean that Edwina continued to act all conservative. Which, I suppose, for some (a lot?) on our side, could actually mean – “misleading, and/or lying.”, but which, I tend to rather suspect won’t be the interpretation of that phrasing that Cassandra’s readers are going to see. This is especially true since there is about as much chance of any of them actually trying to find out what Greta’s actual stance was on the subject as there is of Ken Ham actually agreeing with science on the age of the earth.

  12. jamessweet says

    I dunno, I don’t think this is all that egregious, though I can definitely understand Greta’s misgivings.

    It is true that the atheist community kinda blew a gasket when Rogers was appointed, and at least some of that was directly because she was conservative. TAC is trying to capture that point (which is indeed relevant to the article — was I the only one scratching my head about AA wanting a booth at CPAC to begin with? I can’t have been…) and Greta makes for a dramatic example, since she is (relatively) high profile and also resigned her membership with the SCA. That Greta had a more nuanced position than “Rogers Republican Bad!” is not particularly germane to the article, so it’s very tempting to oversimplify.

    For the purposes of the article, I think that’s fine… but I can also understand why Greta would be upset about her position being publicly oversimplified. I think removing it from the article altogether (and perhaps finding a different example) might have been better. It’s all a bit dicey, I think… TAC wants to make the point that large segments of the atheist community are broadly distrustful of conservatives (which is true) and the example they chose only misses the mark because of some subtle points that would take far too long to cover in that particular article.

  13. M can help you with that. says

    Christina subsequently resigned her membership in the SCA, when she felt that Rogers did not adequately address these concerns.

    Is this how you “adequately address” your previous misquoting? After she told you in this post that Rogers’ conservative positions were not why she resigned? I read through your suggested “correction” a couple of times, then went back to Greta Christina’s suggestions of how you might fix the original — I thought it was pretty clear that Rogers’ spin-doctor/PR-style dishonesty was why she resigned her membership, not any of “these concerns” (where the only examples you include to which “these” could be referring are her work and identification with conservatives).

    It would approach accuracy if it were changed to “subsequently resigned her membership in the SCA when she felt that Rogers did not adequately address other concerns that this author doesn’t wish to repeat.”

  14. John Horstman says

    @Cassandra Palladias #11: The underlying problem is that your narrative – that Greta resigned in some sense becasue Rogers has worked as a Republican operative and is a Conservative – doesn’t quite match reality. Greta resigned becasue Rogers’s response to the concerns of a large segment of the atheist activist community over the fact that she has worked as a Republican operative (and especially for the administration of a pro-theocracy Republican president) was evasive, dishonest, and patronizing. Adjusting the quotes you use won’t solve the problem if you continue to use the same framing. If you want to make that particular point, you need some example other than Greta – perhaps someone who actually resigned becasue of Rogers’s previous behavior and/or affiliations and not someone who resigned from SCA in response to her comments following her appointment. If you want to use Greta as an example, you can’t (honestly) make that particular, counterfactual (with respect to Greta’s behavior and its motivations) point.

    Frankly, I think your narrative is intentionally disingenuous, but I’m willing to grant the benefit of the doubt. It may well be the case that Greta and others (possibly including me) are not explaining the possibly-subtle distinction I attempt to outline above in a way you’re understanding; perhaps you understand the distinction fine but honestly think it’s a distinction without difference (in which case you’d be wrong*, but not lying).

    *I say you’d be definitively wrong on this point because there is a demonstrable difference, made clear by people who initially supposed Rogers simply subscribed to a mercenary ideology and would be entirely effective advocating for atheists’ interests once American Atheists was writing her checks, but then became wary or outright hostile following her responses to the concerns raised about her past.

  15. Greta Christina says

    I’ve revised the post and expanded the section referring to you as follows:

    Greta Christina, a popular atheist writer, said that her work as a Republican was “a real problem” and that the aims of the GOP were “diametrically opposed to those of the atheist and secular community.” Christina subsequently resigned her membership in the SCA, when she felt that Rogers did not adequately address these concerns.

    Cassandra Palladias/ Leah Libresco @ #11: No. No, no, no. The first sentence is fine — the second absolutely is not. I did not resign my membership in the SCA when I felt that Rogers “did not adequately address these concerns.” I left when Rogers responded to those concerns with misinformation, dodging, spin, and bafflegab. You’re still conveying the impression that I left the SCA because of Rogers Republican politics — and that is flatly not the case. Either revise that sentence to make it clear why I left the SCA, or delete the sentence about my leaving the SCA altogether.

    Why is that sentence so important, anyway? Because it makes my resignation makes my opposition seem more serious and dramatic? But the whole point I’m trying to convey is that my serious and dramatic opposition to Rogers was not because she was a Republican. My cautious, wary, “wait and see” potential opposition to Rogers was because she was a Republican. My serious and dramatic opposition was because she was dishonest and manipulative. And that was true for a LOT of people in the atheist movement. There were some people who completely blew a gasket simply because she was a Republican — but there were a lot more people who expressed serious concern because she was a Republican but were cautiously willing to give her a chance. This narrative you have, of an atheist movement adamantly and inflexibly opposed to Rogers solely because of her Republican politics and political history, is simply not true.

    How hard is this? How hard is it, as a reporter, to say things that are true, and not say things that aren’t true? How hard is it, when inaccuracies are pointed out, to simply correct them? You ‘re making yourself look very bad here — and you’re making American Conservative magazine look bad. You’re making yourself and the magazine look deliberately dishonest, and more concerned about maintaining your narrative than you are about conveying reality.

  16. Cassandra Palladias says

    Greta, I think lying and spin would fall under the heading of “not adequately addressing your concerns” so I’m going to leave that line as it is. Readers are welcome to click through to read your complaint in full, but the way in which she disappointed you is beyond the scope of the piece.

  17. M can help you with that. says

    …except the proposed “correction” still doesn’t say that the problem was Rogers’ “not adequately addressing Greta’s concerns,” it refers to “not adequately addressing these concerns” — when the “concerns” referred to in the article were not the actual concerns leading to the resignation. As reproduced here, the “correction” still claims that the relevant “concerns” were about being conservative rather than working against secularism and then lying about it.

  18. says

    @Cassandra/Leah Libresco – “I think lying and spin would fall under the heading of “not adequately addressing your concerns”… the way in which she disappointed you is beyond the scope of the piece.”

    You think that “lying and spin” are equivalent to “not adequately addressing [someone’s] concerns”.

    Really.

    You further think that separating those categories in order to accurately report the motive for a decision “is beyond the scope” of your post… a post that was specifically about how atheists were reacting to their treatment by conservatives.

    That’s a breathtakingly disingenuous statement to make, Leah. But not, sadly, entirely unexpected.

    Here’s a writer who would probably take you to task far more harshly than I –

    “Deceiving is choosing to make it hard for your target to understand the world around them. You’re introducing noise and bias into their signal, interfering with their ability to perceive and respond to the world and people around them. So whether it’s by omission or commission, deception is a stumbling block. When we’re tempted to lead others astray, we should be suspicious of our own motives. Honesty is a starting point; you can take the duty to avoid passive deception much further.”

    Then again, maybe that writer would have no problem with what you’re doing here. Maybe she herself was lying when she wrote those words. What do you think?

  19. cpps says

    @ 19

    It still reads as if Greta resigned because Rogers was a conservative when in actual fact Greta resigned because Rogers was dishonest and manipulative. Most of the people here seem to think that there is a distinction to be made between being conservative and being dishonest/manipulative. Why don’t you?

  20. Jacob Schmidt says

    Greta, I think lying and spin would fall under the heading of “not adequately addressing your concerns” so I’m going to leave that line as it is.

    That’s silly. Literally anything falls under the heading “thing.” The point of sets is to categorize, and one can be very vague in their categorization. “Inadequately addressed” leaves a very different impression than “lied”; but then I suspect that’s the point of being unnecessarily vague.

  21. georgelocke says

    I did not resign my membership in the SCA when I felt that Rogers “did not adequately address these concerns.” I left when Rogers responded to those concerns with misinformation, dodging, spin, and bafflegab.

    Like Leah, I fail to see the distinction you’re drawing. Your second sentence literally states that you left when Rogers’s response to these particular concerns was inadequate, inadequate in these particular ways.

    I think Leah deserves a lot of credit for coming here and attempting to rectify the situation. I think we all owe her some respect for that. Journalism is not easy, and she has demonstrated due concern with correcting misrepresentation within the scope of what is practical for a working professional.

    The article as it stands uses your case (Greta leaving in response to Rogers) as evidence that the atheist movement is uncomfortable with conservatives. I agree with Greta that this is somewhat misleading, but I also have to wonder whether we (I include myself; here are my bona fides) would have been so critical of someone with political views more closely aligned with ours who was similarly evasive. Most likely, such evasion would not have been necessary because we wouldn’t have pressed them on their past activism. So while the direct cause of Greta’s resignment was Rogers acting like a slimy politician, this might not have become an issue in the first place if the atheist movment weren’t already uncomfortable with her politics.

    So while Greta’s case isn’t necessarly a slam dunk as far as evidence that atheists and conservatives don’t mesh too well, it’s not entirely inappropriate.

  22. Greta Christina says

    georgelocke @ #24: Asked and answered, in #18 above. Most specifically:

    You’re still conveying the impression that I left the SCA because of Rogers Republican politics — and that is flatly not the case.

  23. georgelocke says

    @ #25: I believe I presented an argument to the effect that “flatly not the case” is itself misleading. In short, we wouldn’t have been so skeptical/hard on her had she not come from the Republican camp, and another Washington wonk might have been equally slippery when pressed on positions at variance with the values of the atheist group. So it’s not accurate to say that her politics played no important role in your resignation. Your disagreement with her politics is not the proximate cause for your resignation, and the most I can concede is that the article allows the interpretation that this was the case.

    Your case is being used in the article as evidence that “…it’s not clear that the atheist movement is necessarily much more comfortable with conservatives.” I agree with Leah that your case substantiates her claim. The extra pressure on Rogers to justify herself is a direct consequence of her political alignment, which runs against the current within the atheist community. Whatever disagreement you may have with Leah, I think you would be wrong to reject the thesis of this paragraph or the use of your case in support of that thesis. I see a more tenable but more limited objection.

    The paragraph as it stands says that you were concerned about how her politics gave you cause for concern and that you resigned when “Rogers did not adequately address these concerns.” It seems to me that this statement is true on its face; it’s not in itself “flatly wrong.” What is “flatly wrong” is that you resigned because you disagreedRogers is a Republican, and your objection seems to be that the article presents acknowledged facts in a way that leads to this conclusion. As I stated above, I concede that the language allows this interpretation, but I don’t think this conclusion is presented as more likely than not, and I certainly don’t find any deliberate spin in this direction.

    I think the worst we can say of Leah is that she failed to convey nuance, a forgivable sin for a journalist. And I reiterate that her showing up here to address your concerns shows a good faith effort to repair the problem.

  24. georgelocke says

    There’s some gobbledygook in the penultimate paragraph there.

    What is “flatly wrong” is that you resigned because you disagreedRogers is a Republican, and your objection seems to be that the article presents acknowledged facts in a way that leads to this conclusion. As I stated above…

    should read something like

    What is “flatly wrong” is that you found her response inadequate because she presented political positions you oppose, and your objection seems to be that the article presents acknowledged facts in a way that leads to this conclusion. As I stated above…

  25. Greta Christina says

    georgelocke @ #26: Oh, for goodness’ sake. Asked and answered. The first part of the revised statement is fine: it makes it clear that I had serious issues with Rogers’ politics and had concerns about whether they would be problematic given the position she had been chosen for. But the second part still conveys the idea that my resignation was specifically due to concerns over her politics, and that the concerns that I didn’t think were adequately addressed were about her politics. It is disingenuous to say otherwise. If Libresco left the first sentence in and took the second one out, I’d be fine with it, and it would still convey the supposedly intended content about me, and the atheist movement, not being comfortable with conservatives or conservatism. It’s the second sentence that is deceptive — and there’s no need for it. The only reason to keep it in is to add drama, and to make my discomfort — and the atheist movement’s discomfort — with Rogers’ politics seem greater than they are.

    I have spent way too much time on this already. Your concerns are noted. Thank you for sharing.

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