W. Va. newspaper's signed editorial falsely stated PFAW president Neas attacked "evil churchgoers"

››› ››› SAM GILL

A West Virginia Sunday Gazette Mail column quoted Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, that "[t]he religious right already controls the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives" and plans to "pack the Supreme Court with right-wing ideologues" but then falsely attributed words to Neas, suggesting without basis that by "religious right," Neas meant "these evil churchgoers."

Johanna Maurice, editorial page editor of the Charleston Daily Mail of West Virginia, falsely suggested that Ralph G. Neas, president of the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way (PFAW), attacked the religious right as "evil churchgoers" for attempting to move the Supreme Court to the right. In fact, what Neas said, which Maurice accurately quoted in her January 22 column in the West Virginia Sunday Gazette-Mail, was that "[t]he religious right already controls the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives" and plans to "pack the Supreme Court with right-wing ideologues." But Maurice added her own interpretation of Neas's words, suggesting without basis that by "religious right," Neas meant "these evil churchgoers."

In each edition, the Sunday Gazette-Mail, a joint weekend publication of the Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail, features two opinion pieces side by side, penned by the editorial page editors of the Gazette and the Daily Mail, respectively. On January 22, Maurice's piece appeared alongside Gazette editorial page editor Susanna Rodell's offering, which expressed concern over "[Supreme Court Nominee Samuel A.] Alito's record of consistently siding, in case after case, with big corporations and established power against the little guy." For her part, Maurice criticized what she described as Democratic attempts to "brand Alito as an out-of-the mainstream ideologue." She claimed this "battle" over Alito's image began "with a Dec. 6 story in The New York Times." The Times article, by staff writer Sheryl Gay Stolberg, actually appeared on December 7 and covered a December 6 PFAW event. The Times article reported Neas's comments at the event as follows:

"The religious right already controls the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives," Ralph G. Neas, president of People For, as the group is known in Washington and Hollywood circles, said in a speech as the awards ceremony began.

Now, Mr. Neas warned, the right is planning to "pack the Supreme Court with right-wing ideologues."

In her article, Maurice lifted Stolberg's quotation word for word, but, where the Times used the term "the right," Maurice opted for "these evil churchgoers":

The battle started memorably, with a Dec. 6 story in The New York Times: "Group Opposed to Nominee Rallies Its Hollywood People."

"The religious right already controls the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives," said Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way. Now these evil churchgoers are planning to "pack the Supreme Court with right-wing ideologues."

Maurice offered no explanation for her decision nor any additional information about the event that would justify her suggestion that Neas equates the religious right with "evil churchgoers."

PFAW has as part of its mission the promotion of religious freedom. In addition, the People for the American Way Foundation administers several projects "to strengthen democratic institutions and energize citizen participation throughout America," including the African American Ministers Leadership Council. The African American Ministers Leadership Council recently initiated a voter registration and civic education program called Sanctified Seven, which "utilizes the existing structure of the church and the prominence of church leaders in the larger community" in order to foster "the link between faith and civic participation."

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