Ask most Montana reporters what MNA stands for and they’ll tell you The Montana Newspaper Association—you know, the good folks who give out the Better Newspaper awards every year.
They probably won’t have heard of the Montana News Association, perhaps because that MNA is an online publication, not a trade organization,and its version of news isn’t likely to win any awards.
The Newspaper Association, you see, acts as a sort of guardian of and resource for responsible journalism in Montana, promoting what you might call the scientific aspect of journalism: careful research and documentation of newsworthy fact.
The Montana News Association represents something else entirely.
An example: Last week the site ran a story with the badly copyedited headline “Provoking God; Wake Up America Time is Running Out.” The story suggests that hurricane Katrina was caused by a U.S. citizenry run amok, provoking the Christian god with “abortion, homosexuality, turning away from Him in public, and promoting the division of God’s covenant land in Israel.” That places the “God-fearing” News Association’s un-bylined “reporter” squarely in line with the views expressed last week by Muhammad Yousef Al-Mlaifi, a Kuwaiti official who told a newspaper in his country that hurricane Katrina was sent by Allah to destroy the United States.
The use of superstitious blame-casting to explain natural disasters isn’t new, of course. Greek, Roman, Japanese, Aboriginal and other forms of mythology have long been exemplary passers of the buck when it comes to blaming victims for the tantrums of ill-tempered deities. The word “hurricane” itself comes from Hurakan, the Mayan god of thunderstorms and wind.
Then, round about the 18th century, humanity—much of it, anyway—hit the Age of Enlightenment and discovered that scientific, testable laws of nature govern natural disasters. Hurricanes, we now know, are caused by specific atmospheric conditions. Every time. That’s why we can predict them.
Still, some folks, apparently missing the whole vengeful God angle, prefer to attribute natural phenomena to an invisible power. And some of these folks would like to slip their hatefulness into the room behind a curtain of respectability by piggybacking on the credibility of a quietly legitimate newspaper association. It reminds us of the way Intelligent Design advocates like to cast their faith-based theory as a scientific alternative to evolution. Intelligent Design is an alternative to evolution alright, but it’s not testable, and so by definition it’s not scientific.
We contacted the editor in chief of the News Association, Don Cyphers, to ask him about confusing readers—if he has any—with an acronym clearly designed to do just that.
“Well,” Cyphers answered, “I think if you have any questions with that type of regard, I suppose you can contact our attorney’s office.”
He then hung up.
We’d call that a no comment. And given the claptrap the Montana News Association tries to pass off as journalism, we can only thank God for that.