When "Truth" is Anything But

Today I was minding my own business on my Twitter feed when I saw this:

Well, from earlier in my feed I knew that Sarah Pulliam Bailey was at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Center's national conference on same-sex marriage and religious liberty. I was very surprised to see such a misleading characterization of what happened at that event. I didn't need to be there to see that it is misleading because I already know the facts. Something, Ms. Bailey, a journalist, ought to know, as well. 

So, before we get to that, let's do a little thought experiment. 

Imagine, if you will, a similar tweet: "NAACP crowd gives standing ovation for black man who declined to sell to white customer."

That would be a pretty inflammatory, no? It reflects pretty badly on both the crowd and the person receiving their affection. What a bunch of racists, cheering a guy who refused to serve a white guy! And what kind of a degenerate refuses to do business with somebody just because of the color of his skin?

But what if I told you the black businessman had had no problem with the white guy, and nicely served him for a decade? And that trouble only started when the white guy came in and wanted to buy white bedsheets for his "big day," a KKK rally coming soon to their community?

Okay. Pretty obvious, isn't it? That tweet would be an unbelievably misleading characterization and nobody, I mean nobody, would defend it. Pretty much everybody would give the guy a standing ovation, too.

I guess a room full of conservative Christians don't get that treatment. Because Sarah Pulliam Bailey defended that tweet. For the next hour or so.

She knew the facts. Baronelle Stutzman had been the florist and friend to a gay couple for almost a decade. Never had any problem at all until they asked her to provide the flowers for their "wedding." Stutzman doesn't believe same-sex unions are weddings, based on her deeply held religious convictions, and politely declined. So, of course, they [correction: the Attorney General] sued her and she's lost her business and livelihood.

But Sarah Pulliam Bailey refused any sort of clarification or retraction because she thinks "Standing ovation for florist who declined to sell flowers to gay couple" is true.  However, it clearly implies A) She declined to sell flowers to them. False. She'd done it for years. B) She did so because they were gay. False. She did it because of the nature of the event. 

Bailey's defense is that the tweet is "true." After all, she did decline to sell the flowers. And the couple was gay. The best you can say for this defense is that two entirely tangential details happened to be true. But I would like to see her defend my thought-experiment tweet on these grounds. The black seller did refuse! The customer was white!

I think somewhere way back in the recesses of my steadily aging mind I remember my mother telling me that a half-truth is the same thing as a lie. I see what she meant.

Brian Mattson