IFAS | Freedom Writer | June/July/August 1989 | wildmon.html

Religious leaders denounce
Wildmon's anti-Semitism

In response to a Freedom Writer organization study, John L. May, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and other Christian leaders have denounced the tactics and tone of the Rev. Donald E. Wildmon's crusade to "promote the Biblical ethic of decency in American society." Wildmon heads the American Family Association (formerly known as the National Federation for Decency (NFD)) in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Since 1977, Wildmon has "declared war" on everything that fails to promote his version of a Christian America. While he advocates school prayer, a ban on abortion and an end to sex education in public schools, most of Wildmon's efforts revolve around censorship. His campaign has created a chilling effect on the entertainment industry.

Attacks the broadcast industry

Wildmon recently scored several major successes in his assault on the broadcasting industry. NBC blames Wildmon for the loss of nearly $1 million in advertising revenue for its critically acclaimed made-for-TV movie, "Roe vs. Wade." Although Wildmon had not seen the film, he quoted a wire service story, out of context. Wildmon interpreted it to mean that NBC admitted that the movie "was pro-abortion." In fact, NBC went to great lengths to present a balanced view in "Roe vs. Wade," which was based upon the Supreme Court's 1973 decision to legalize abortion throughout the nation.

Another NBC program, "Saturday Night Live," which failed to comport with Wildmon's "Biblical ethic of decency" for America, lost millions in advertising revenue, after Wildmon convinced General Mills, Ralston-Purina, and Domino Pizza to cancel their advertising.

One month after Wildmon called for a boycott of Pepsi, Pepsico canceled a $5 million contract with the pop singer Madonna. Wildmon was reacting to Madonna's video "Like A Prayer," which he believed to be blasphemous. According to Wildmon, in this video, Madonna represents Christ, and is shown" suggesting that she has sex with a priest obviously to free him from sexual repression.

Donald Wildmon has enjoyed some measure of success in his attempts at censoring the free press. In fact, he was largely responsible for the Southland Corporation's decision to drop the sale of Penthouse and Playboy from its company-owned 7-Eleven stores. This occurred shortly after a Wildmon-authored report on the effects of pornography accompanied a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice. The letter was mailed to companies alleged by Wildmon to be distributors of pornography. Certainly, the distribution and official sanction of Reverend Wildmon's religious opinion by the U.S. Government was a clear violation of church/state separation.

Wildmon creates tales to fuel his readers' desire to believe in the evils of "pornography." For example: the January 1987 issue of Wildmon's magazine, the NFD Journal the National Enquirer of the religious right ran an article with the sensational headline, "Murder Imitates Porn Magazine Layout." The article was about the tragic murder of an orphaned Chinese girl in North Carolina. Police arrested a George Fisher after the girl's body was found hanging from a tree. Subsequently, Fisher was convicted of kidnapping, attempted rape, and murder. The NFD article commented, "The location where she was found and the disposition of her body resembled a December 1984 Penthouse magazine feature showing Asian women bound with rope from neck to ankles, hanging from trees."

Police in North Carolina, however, dispute the NFD's contention that Fisher imitated a Penthouse photo. Police Lt. Arthur Summey of Chapel Hill, who investigated the case, told Freedom Writer, "We have no information that ties him to the photo in any way. Summey added, "As far as we know he had never seen that photo or issue of Penthouse.

More tall tales

The February 1986 NFD Journal had an article which described the woes of a Christian inmate serving time in Leavenworth prison, who was supposedly leading an anti-porn campaign at the federal institution. The NFD claimed that due to the publicity he received through the NFD Journal the prisoner, James Davenport, "has received so much mail that he is unable to answer all the letters." According to the NFD Journal story, the prisoner said, "The prison limits the number of stamps I can buy as a punishment for my stand against pornography."

When Freedom Writer interviewed Karen Gray, a spokesperson for Leavenworth, she responded, "Everyone is allotted the same number of stamps each month." She added emphatically, "No one would be punished for taking a stand against pornography."

Due to their vagueness, many of Wildmon's stories are impossible to confirm. For example: the March 1986 issue of his magazine had the tale of a Christian teenage girl in Alberta, Canada who was forced to shower with her stepfather as punishment for attending her fundamentalist church. As the NFD Journal told it, he demanded one shower for every sixth time she attended church. The stepfather, according to the NFD, was sentenced to prison. The article failed to name the stepfather, judge, attorney, or any other persons with whom we could corroborate the story.

A March 1987 NFD Journal headline read, "Fort Lauderdale Free of Porn Videos." That story was based on a letter from Wildmon's friend, Bill Kelly, a former FBI agent. As reported in the NFD Journal the letter stated: "As of today, there is not one video tape store in the city of Fort Lauderdale selling or renting X-rated video tapes."

A few days after that story was published, we happened to be in Fort Lauderdale. We sought out the nearest Fort Lauderdale video store and found an attractive, well-organized family-type video rental shop. After browsing through the Disney films and other PG fare, we asked if they rented X-rated movies. "Sure, they're in the side room," the clerk replied. A sign above the door indicated that the room was for adults only. We learned that other video stores in Fort Lauderdale also continued to rent adult tapes. These stories illustrate the fact that Wildmon, through his NFD Journal, makes claims which are not true.

Bogus backers

Wildmon has claimed the support of religious leaders who say they never authorized him to use their names. Denver's Archbishop Stafford is listed as one of 223 Christian leaders who have endorsed the National Federation for Decency (now the American Family Association). Yet, the Archdiocese of Denver told us in a letter that they were perplexed about allegations that the Archbishop had any relationship with Wildmon's organization, for they do not.

Detroit's Archbishop Edmund Szoka was also listed by Wildmon as a supporter. Yet, the Archbishop's office told the Detroit Free Press that in 1985 the Archbishop signed a general statement about television ethics, but "he has signed nothing else, nor does he endorse the organization" led by Wildmon.

Infiltrates NFD

Freedom Writer successfully infiltrated Wildmon's organization in 1986. Our purpose was to obtain accurate inside information. During a six-month period, the Great Barrington NFD was the darling of the Tupelo "home office." We corresponded personally with Wildmon, and conversed with him on the phone about our chapter's activities. We received chapter mailings and sent the "home office" reports of our activities.

At the culmination of the project, Skipp Porteous visited Wildmon in Tupelo. After the first day Wildmon realized that he'd been tricked. On the second day of the visit, Wildmon called in the police and local press. After the brief confrontation Porteous left Tupelo.

According to a report in Tupelo's Northeast Mississippi Journal, police affirmed that Porteous had broken no laws. In the article, Wildmon accused Porteous of unsuccessfully attempting to infiltrate the NFD. He said this was not the first attempt to gain information under false pretenses, but may have been the first time someone tried to infiltrate the organization. For some reason, Wildmon couldn't bring himself to admit that the attempt was successful. So, instead, he lied to the press.

Wildmon's anti-Semitism

"Perhaps the most serious charge against Wildmon," according to the May 21, 1989 Detroit Free Press, "involves anti-Semitism."

Early this year, Simon, Porteous & Associates, Inc., publishers of this newsletter, documented the anti-Semitic position of Rev. Wildmon. This documentation was delivered to 60 national Christian leaders from whom Wildmon claims support.

The documentation includes evidence of Wildmon blaming Jews for objectionable TV programs and "anti-Christian" films. For years, Rev. Wildmon has maintained that "Hollywood and the theater world is heavily influenced by Jewish people." And he has consistently expressed his belief that there is a conspiracy among television network executives and advertisers which amounts to "a genuine hostility towards Christians and the Christian faith." "This anti-Christian programming is," according to Wildmon, "intentional and by design."

Besides the religious leaders who denied any involvement with Wildmon, responses included that of James M. Lapp, executive secretary of the Mennonite Church: "I have reviewed the materials you have sent to us. I find the inferences and tone in these materials to be offensive. [W]e do not wish to be on public record in support of any writings or programs with open or implied anti-Semitic biases. In summary, we support Mr. Wildmon in his concern for decency and positive values. We do not support some of his tactics, attitudes or biases against Jewish people."

May, Archbishop of St. Louis, and head of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, responded, "I certainly do not agree with the obvious anti-Semitic bias of Reverend Donald E. Wildmon." Other church leaders stated that they had objected to Wildmon's tactics. One, Robert M. Overgaard who is listed as a member of Wildmon's advisory board president of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren, said, "In so far as Wildmon equates MCA [which produced "The Last Temptation of Christ"] with the Jewish race, I find his tactics unacceptable." He continued, "I do not excuse Wildmon for his racial generalizations. I have objected to them."

ADL concurs

Stuart Lewengrub, director of the Anti-Defamation League's Atlanta office, said of Rev. Wildmon, "He's encouraging his followers to believe that Jews are responsible for the kind of programming they dislike."

Much of Wildmon's trouble stems from his misuse of a 1982 study of television writers, producers and executives. The independent study was done by S. Robert Lichter, a professor of political science at George Washington University, and Stanley Rothman, a professor of government at Smith College. Wildmon bases much of his anti-Semitic innuendo on his misrepresentation of their findings.

Lichter stated that his survey "drew no conclusions about the nature of [TV] programming or the precise motivations of program directors." He added, "We naturally abhor any imputation of anti-Semitic inferences from our survey of television producers and executives.

Rothman went even further he wrote directly to Wildmon. He said, "The inferences you draw from our data are not justified." In fact, Rothman told Wildmon that their findings presented "no evidence" to support any of Wildmon's allegations, and that a new study actually proved the contrary.

Wildmon now claims that his use of the Lichter/Rothman study is to point out that "these people are secular people who have spurned religion."

Lewengrub said the ADL has tried in a constructive way "to lean over backward to give him the benefit of the doubt."

"If Wildmon's point is that Hollywood leaders are secular or atheists," Lewengrub said, "he can say so without alluding to their religious backgrounds. Nor does Wildmon need to note, as he often does, that the Jewish background of television executives 'contrasts dramatically with society as a whole, which is 2 1/2 percent Jewish.'"

"There is no doubt in my mind that Wildmon has engaged in anti-Semitism," Lewengrub said. "He didn't stop. He continued doing it."

Self-appointed censor

Wildmon's platform consists of one concept, which we mentioned earlier in this article to promote "the Biblical ethic of decency in American society." In order to achieve his goal, he wants to eradicate all ideas with which he disagrees. In his book The Home Invaders, Wildmon wrote, "The danger lies not in the vulgar and obscene pictures... The danger is the philosophy behind those pictures. That philosophy is humanism." Wildmon insists that his philosophy is the correct one to be conveyed by the media. For example:

Wildmon has a constitutionally protected right to his beliefs. In his eyes, the "Biblical ethic of decency" must rule American society.

© 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.