Reporting on his execution, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution described McVeigh as "an avowed agnostic" whose sudden last-minute decision to see a Catholic priest just before his execution surprised everyone who knew him. As recently as July 2001, even a lefty like Barbara Ehrenreich (writing in the Progressive) did not portray McVeigh as having religious motives. She called McVeigh a "homegrown neo-Nazi mass murderer," yes; Christian fundamentalist, no.
So when did the media begin to routinely portray McVeigh as a Christian terrorist? Right after 9-11. Here are two early examples: On Sept. 17, 2001, a San Francisco Chronicle columnist blurted: "The hijackers are no more typical Muslims than Timothy McVeigh is a typical Christian." On Oct. 4, a USA Today columnist picked up the refrain, describing Sept. 11 terrorists as having "more in common with Timothy McVeigh, whose twisted paramilitary take on Christian retribution led him to avenge the Davidians' death."
Timothy McVeigh, Christian terrorist. How has such a patent falsehood spread so quickly and easily through responsible media? Evidently the psychic need to equate Christian fundamentalists, millions of whom have lived peacefully in America since its founding, with radical Islamic terrorists who commit mass murder simply overwhelmed standards of journalism. Or, one might add, common decency.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.