It may or may not be the case that actor Johnny Depp participated in a British pop band's song blaspheming Jesus Christ. Every news organization from Reuters to ABC claims this is so, but they all rely on a report by the British tabloid The Daily Star, which now appears to be at least partially false, at least according to E!. Unlike reporters from the more "serious" news outlets, E! actually bothered to fact-check its sources.
And according to E!, which originally mimicked other news agencies in parroting The Daily Star's claims, a spokesman for Focus on the Family-one of two Christian groups cited by The Daily Star for condemning Depp-has denied issuing any such condemnation.
I don't know how often journalists attribute dozens of words-27, in this case-to organizations that later deny having made any comment at all, but it certainly ought to raise eyebrows.
More suspicious still is the fact that while The Daily Star quotes a spokesman named Lee Douglas from The Christian Coalition as asserting that Depp and other band members will "burn in hell," a search of the Coalition's website finds neither a press release about Depp nor any evidence that it has a spokesman by that name in its employ. Representatives from the Coalition have yet to respond to a request for clarification from WORLD.
I suppose it doesn't matter whether The Daily Star reporter simply fabricated her quotes; secular readers and writers are inclined enough to believe that Christians will proclaim someone hell-bound that they don't even need the quotes in the first place. In fact, prove that these quotes are invented and the average reader is likely to say to himself: "Well, maybe those Christians didn't say it, but I know darn well they were thinking it."
And maybe a good many Christians are inclined to think such a thing, given the blasphemy of the song, which posits Jesus as a drunken party guest. I know I'm tempted to think so, perhaps not as much for the blasphemy as for the awful quality of the song itself, which has the plodding, uninventive vocals one might associate with Soviet-era patriotic hymns. If anything is an offense against God, then surely bad art is.
Still, it's troubling that so many major media outlets will run almost verbatim a tabloid report when it suits their ideological agenda. I'm hard-pressed to imagine the same outlets running, without verification, a tabloid report indicating that abortion increases breast-cancer risk or that atheists made death threats against a prominent preacher.
My friends on the left often wonder why my friends on the right and in Christian circles are so distrustful of the mainstream media. Here's a great example why.