Over the last few days, I’ve seen a number of stories in national media reporting on fires at black churches, predominantly in southern states. (Some reports include a fire at an Ohio church, but many don’t.) Graphics like this one push the narrative. In fact, many readers will draw their conclusions on the map alone.
I initially reacted in just the way the writers of these reports intended. “Wow! That’s horrible. We still have a huge racial problem in this country. How could anybody burn down a black church? There is just so much hate.”
But after reading through one article, it struck me that the narrative included virtually no specific information about any of the fires. So out of curiosity, I looked up local news reports on all eight fires.
As a journalist, my findings disturbed me.
The national stories create a false narrative.
In fact, only three of the eight fires were ruled arson. And even in those cases, investigators found no evidence of a hate crime.
My point here is not to deny the existence of racism in America. It clearly exists, but that’s a completely different discussion.
But I want to point out how easily people with an agenda can cobble together unrelated events and create false impressions. The writers of these church burning stories approached their work with a preconceived idea – a narrative they wanted to advance. By linking together unrelated events and leaving out important facts, they essentially photoshopped their words to create an image that does not exist.
Beware of false narratives.
Here are the causes of the eight fires cited in these national articles.
Knoxville, Tenn. – Arson
Gibson Co., Tenn. – lightning
Elyria, Ohio – Firefighters don’t believe it was intentional, according to a report released by the Elyria Fire Department.
Greeleyville, S.C. – lightning
Charlotte, N.C. – arson
Warrenville, S.C. – State fire investigators said they have not been able to determine a cause to that fire at Glover Grove Baptist, or an exact origin. They said they could not eliminate all accidental ignition sources to determine a cause. Investigators also said they did not find any criminal intent.
Macon, Ga. – Arson, Local officials insist they found no evidence of a hate crime. Church was recently burglarized and a sound system stolen. There is some speculation the fire was set to cover up the break-ins.
Tallahassee, Fla. – “The fire that consumed Greater Miracle Temple in Tallahassee began when a tree fell on electrical wiring. The electricity arced and ignited the blaze, according to the State Fire Marshal’s Office.”