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Getting Schooled On Context

The ConWeb takes President Obama's remarks on religious schools in Northern Ireland out of context -- and they find themselves getting called on it by an unlikely critic.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 6/27/2013

The ConWeb has never been interested in context when it comes to attacking what President Obama says:
  • In 2008, the ConWeb repeatedly took Obama's comments in a 2001 radio interview out of context, falsely claiming that he said the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren was not as radical as he preferred; in fact, Obama said that because the Warren Court "didn't break free from the essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution," that meant it wasn't as radical as its critics claimed.
  • NewsBusters and the Media Research Center get all huffy when conservatives are taken out of context -- but they have no problem doing the same thing to President Obama, particularly his "you didn't build that" comment.

And so it goes with Obama's statement during a recent visit to Northern Ireland:

As someone who knows firsthand how politics can encourage division and discourage cooperation, I admire the Northern Ireland Executive and the Northern Ireland Assembly all the more for making power-sharing work. That’s not easy to do. It requires compromise, and it requires absorbing some pain from your own side. I applaud them for taking responsibility for law enforcement and for justice, and I commend their effort to “Building a United Community” -- important next steps along your transformational journey.

If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another and fear or resentment are allowed to harden — that too encourages division and discourages co-operation.

Ultimately, peace is just not about politics. It’s about attitudes; about a sense of empathy; about breaking down the divisions that we create for ourselves in our own minds and our own hearts that don’t exist in any objective reality, but that we carry with us generation after generation.

And I know, because America, we, too, have had to work hard over the decades, slowly, gradually, sometimes painfully, in fits and starts, to keep perfecting our union. A hundred and fifty years ago, we were torn open by a terrible conflict. Our Civil War was far shorter than The Troubles, but it killed hundreds of thousands of our people. And, of course, the legacy of slavery endured for generations.

Even a century after we achieved our own peace, we were not fully united. When I was a boy, many cities still had separate drinking fountains and lunch counters and washrooms for blacks and whites. My own parents’ marriage would have been illegal in certain states. And someone who looked like me often had a hard time casting a ballot, much less being on a ballot.

Examine the paragraph regarding separate Catholic and Protestant schools. The full context of Obama's remarks clearly shows that he was talking about segregated religious schools as they relate to the lengthy history of violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, as well as the region's efforts to maintain the peace. Obama was encouraging his audience to learn to move past that history in their country as the United States has done regarding race relations.

It's also arguably an allusion to the history of Catholic schools in the U.S., which were created in no small part due to the strong influence of Protestants on public schools in the 1800s -- there were riots over the use of a Protestant Bible over a Catholic Bible in public schools.

But ConWeb writers didn't care to inform its readers about such context, isolating Obama's statement on schools to falsely portray him as hostile to religion. editor in chief Terry Jeffrey wrote a June 20 article falsely insisting that Obama said "that there should not be Catholic and Protestant schools because such schools cause division." Jeffrey then baselessly tied the statement to U.S. events: "Obama is now insisting on enforcing an Obamacare regulation that would force Catholic individuals, business owners and institutions to provide health care plans that cover sterilizations, contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs."

Jeffrey made no mention of the history of religious sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

Patrice Lewis did pretty much the same thing in a June 21 WorldNetDaily column:

It was a remark meant for no other purpose than to be divisive.

When President Obama stood in front of a crowd in Northern Ireland and said, “If towns remain divided – if Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another and fear or resentment are allowed to harden – that, too, encourages division and discourages cooperation.”

In other words, the president was suggesting that private and/or religious schools encourage division and discourage cooperation. Was this remark meant to be unifying? What other purpose could such a hostile suggestion have except to be divisive?

Fellow WND columnist (and rabid Obama-hater) Mychal Massie does the same thing in his June 24 column, with the added bonus of likening Obama to a snake:

Saint Patrick may have been recognized for driving the snakes out of Ireland, but this past week one of them slithered back in. Obama is the personification of an elapid that is now without the appendages some believe the serpent that beguiled Eve in the Garden had possessed before it was made to slither upon the ground. That said, he has not shed the character of the personage incarnate in that first serpent.


But Obama sees Catholic schools as the bane to social stability and antagonistic toward his worldview and social order. He said, “If towns remain divided – if Catholics have their schools and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another and fear or resentment are allowed to harden – that too encourages division and discourages cooperation.”

I am convinced that his words were carefully chosen and intended to undermine the authority of the Catholic Church while providing him a thin veneer of deniability.

Obama is deeply resentful of the stand the Catholic Church has taken against his health-care legislation. And true to his petulant, narcissistic sociopathy, he chose to lash out at the Catholic Church before the audience he did.

Like Jeffrey, Lewis and Massie both failed to mention Northern Ireland's history of religious sectarian violence.

Meanwhile, right-wing apparatchik Dan Gainor apparently wanted to make sure the Media Research Center didn't get left out of such a prime opportunity to take Obama out of context, so he wrote a June 20 NewsBusters post complaining that Obama "used a town hall meeting for youth in Belfast to show his contempt for religious education" and "criticized separate religious schools for promoting 'division.'" Gainor went on to complain that "ABC, CBS and NBC all skipped the story, even though it made the rounds in conservative media especially on Wednesday."

Of course, Gainor fails to note that the reason it "made the rounds in conservative media" and not the media in general is because conservative media took Obama's quote out of context, while the media in general saw that, in context, Obama's statement was not controversial. And, of course, Gainor makes no mention of Northern Ireland's history of religious sectarian violence.

In addition to ignoring context and history, all of these ConWeb outlets failed to report a defense of Obama from an unlikely source: Bill Donohue of the conservative Catholic League (where, ironically, MRC chief Brent Bozell serves on its board of advisers). Donohue said in a June 21 press release:

There are plenty of reasons to be critical of President Obama’s policies as they relate to the Catholic Church, and I have not been shy in stating them. But the reaction on the part of conservatives, many of whom are Catholic, over his speech in Ireland, is simply insane. Never did Obama say he wants “an end to Catholic education.” Indeed, he never said anything critical about the nature of Catholic schools. It makes me wonder: Have any of his critics bothered to actually read his speech?

Obama’s speech, given in Northern Ireland, properly spoke of the divisions between Catholics and Protestants. He lauded the Good Friday Agreement, noting that “There are still wounds that haven’t healed, and communities where tensions and mistrust hangs in the air.” He said that “segregated schools and housing” add to the problem. Then he said, “If towns remain divided—if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs—if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division.”

Obama was not condemning Catholic schools—he was condemning segregation. He was calling attention to the fact that where social divisions exist, the prospects for social harmony are dimmed. How can anyone reasonable disagree with this observation? Moreover, it should hardly be surprising that a black president would be sensitive to segregation, whether based on race or religion.

Some are also condemning Obama for disrespecting a Vatican official who days earlier touted Catholic education before a Scottish audience. So what? Obama’s speech, which no doubt was written before Archbishop Gerhard Müller spoke, mentioned Catholic schools in conjunction with Catholic buildings, the purpose of which was not to assess the worth of Catholic education (or Catholic buildings!), but to criticize religious divisions. In short, ripping comments out of context is an old game, and it is patently unfair to speakers and writers.

Being called out by Donohue, sadly, will not stop the ConWeb from continuing to play its old game of taking Obama's remarks out of context.

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