NBC News panders to religious hatred

A headline on NBC News plumbs the depths of bigoted writing. It reads: “‘Wiccan Ritual Killing’ Leaves Family of Three Dead in Penascola: Police.”

The evidence? Andrew Hobbes, speaking for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, said, “It appears that this might be connected to some type of Wiccan ritual killing and possibly tied to the blue moon.” He further referred to “The injuries to the victims, the positions of the bodies and also the person of interest right now is also a practitioner.” The injuries were described as blunt force trauma, and the murder weapon was supposedly a claw hammer. Funny, I haven’t heard of claw hammers as a Wiccan ritual instrument of sacrifice before.

If an unnamed “person of interest” in a murder were a Jew, would Hobbes declare that this was a “ritual Jewish murder”? Quite possibly, but he’d get a much larger number of people outraged. Bigotry against Wiccans is much safer.

As further “evidence,” NBC offered this statement from a neighbor: “It’s frightening to think about. Especially when you have small children. To find out that it was this weird, satanic cult, witchcraft whatever, is just really unsettling.” It’s for the children, so that justifies any sort of fear-mongering and unsupported accusation. Wicca isn’t Christianity, so it’s “satanic.”

The article offers the phase of the moon as its only “evidence,” doesn’t quote or refer to any actual Wiccans, and relies on nothing but innuendo. Apparently NBC News has decided that religious hatred sells.

Update: A transcript of Sheriff Morgan’s statement for the media doesn’t mention Wicca. He does refer to “witchcraft,” but in a nuanced way. Andrew Hobbes apparently concocted the smear against Wiccans on his own.

Update 2: A blog called The Wild Hunt suggests that NBC News may have fabricated the quotation from Hobbes:

The Wild Hunt reached out to ECSO [Escambia County Sheriff’s Office] and spoke with its PIO Sena Maddison, who said, “The department by no means meant to imply that Wiccans are killers.” She offered apologies to the community for this confusion. When asked about Hobbes statements to NBC, she said that Hobbes was misquoted. He never said the word “Wicca.” She further explained that it was the media confusion that prompted ECSO to release that second statement and to also post the news conference on its You Tube channel and Facebook page.

NBC News still says Hobbes referred specifically to Wicca. The new article is clearly trying to put all the blame on ECSO, but it doesn’t explain why the earlier article ran a string of accusations against a religion without addressing their implausibility and lack of support or getting any information from local Wiccans. The article doesn’t acknowledge that NBC News itself played a leading role in spreading the smears.

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