It amazes me how sloppy people can be with the facts sometime. Take a recent entry I read on one diary site claiming that people were denied the right to have a Christmas parade in the Midwest. This person went on to decry that this was a violation of Christians’ Constitutional rights. Had her information been correct, I would’ve actually been inclined to agree with her. However, in my naive sense of idealism, I had my doubts about the details. So, I asked the diarist to send me to her original source.
The diariest quite nicely pointed to another entry on the same diary site. I immediately noticed the first discrepancy. In this version of the story (briefly mentioned by this diarist), she mentioned that it wasn’t a case of a request to have a Christmas parade being denied. Instead, this one stated that some religious groups were denied the opportunity to join an established Christmas parade based on the grounds that their entries would’ve been “religious in nature.” Immediately, I found myself curious to find out more, so I asked this diarist for her source. She happily pointed me to a FoxNews article by Bill O’Reilly. While Mr. O’Reilly’s mention of the parade incident was brief and a small point in a larger political commentary, I am grateful that he finally mentioned a source that gave the name of the town: Denver, Colorado.
Armed with this knowledge, I was able to do my own search and discovered a story by a local Denver News Station on the topic. From this entry, I was able to find out that the parade is being sponsored by the Downtown Denver Partnership. With this information, I was able to find the Downtown Denver Partnership’s site. And from there, I was able to find the following statement from their “About Us” pages:
Downtown Denver Partnership, Inc. (DDP) is a non-profit business organization that creatively plans, manages and develops Downtown Denver as the unique, diverse, vibrant and economically healthy urban core of the Rocky Mountain region.
In otherwords, the parade was being organized by a private organization. As such, as parade organizers, they are within their rights to set any standard they wish when evaluating whether to permit a given organization’s entry into their parade. In effect, contrary to the first diarist’s opinion, there is no Constitutional violation involved. (There may well be a question about whether most of us feel the parade organizers did the right thing, but that’s another matter.)
What truly concerns me here, though, is how this story has changed. In the first entry I read, it was presented as a case of a city denying religious groups the right to start a parade. In the second entry and the commentary by Mr. O’Reilly, the facts were more correct in that religious groups were being denied the opportunity to march in a parade already being planned. However, even in those cases, the identity of the parade organizers was kept vague enough so that people might infer that city officials themselves were organizing the parade and were denying these groups the opportunity to participate. (This is further exacerbated by the fact that Mr. O’Reilly mentions that the mayor of Denver had recommended changing a sign saying “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays” without clarifying that this was actually a separate incident.) It’s not until I dug a bit further that I discovered that the parade organizer was a private organization. (And one must then wonder why Mr. O’Reilly — who supports the BSA’s right to exclude certain men and boys from their organization on the grounds that the BSA is a private organization — would turn around and cry foul when another private organization exercises the same right.)
In the end, I’m reminded of the old game of “telephone.” Someone whispers something to another person, who then whispers it to a third person. Unfortunately, due to poor enunciation and possible hearing problems, the message gets distorted, and what is passed along by whispers eventually bears little or no resemblance to the original statement. That’s exactly what’s happened here. By not carefully reading what they’ve read and taking care to repeat it as accurately as possible, the story eventually gets changed into something it’s not. And the sad part in this case is that a large number of people — who didn’t take the time to trace the story back like I did — will be crying “Constitutional violation” over the wrong situation.