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“Richard Dawkins Is a Privileged White Guy:” #Newsfail Authors Talk Atheism, Privilege, and Government Watch Lists

(Featured Image Photo Credits: Jakub Moser & Kevin Allen Caby)

As a long-time fan and subscriber to Citizen Radio, I was psyched to hear that podcast founders and hosts Allison Kilkenny and Jamie Kilstein would be releasing a book detailing the many failures of today’s modern media. I sat down with them to talk about the book, Richard Dawkins, and government watch lists. You can pre-order/purchase #NEWSFAIL at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Simon & Schuster, or at your local bookstore. The book releases on October 14th, and every purchase  is a step toward putting two atheists who don’t hate women on the best seller list! Don’t forget to subscribe to Citizen Radio as well!

I will also be giving away a digital copy of #Newsfail! Just leave a comment with your favorite example of a media fail by 6 PM CST today, and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win. EDIT: Congrats to commenter Nerdling for winning the free copy of #Newsfail!

CC: Thank you guys for sitting down with me!

JK: We gave you a shout out on todays’ show. We ended the show early so we could do the interview because my voice is shot and I was like, “Only we would turn down an interview with Thought Catalog who has millions of viewers, to go to our friends over at Skepchick!”

AK: We would much rather do an interview with nice people, who aren’t awful and transphobic.

JK: Our publisher was so excited, they were like “Guess who wants you to write a piece!” and we have to be like “We have terrible news for you…”

AK: I feel like we have that conversation with them once a week, where they’re like “Oh boy, have we got news for you!” and then we have to explain why we’re not going to do an interview.

CC: I’m sure they’re pretty used to that at this point.

AK: To their credit, they’re never mad. They’re like “Oh yeah, cause you guys are ethical, we’re just not used to that.”

Image by Shane Pope

CC: So here at Skepchick, we have always appreciated that on Citizen Radio you guys (who are atheists) don’t hesitate to call out other atheists who are being shitty. Do you do any of that in #Newsfail?

AK: We have a chapter called “Just because you’re pro-choice doesn’t mean you’re not a sexist douchebag.”

JK: Yeah, we talk about the rape culture stuff, and I think we talk about Rebecca Watson in there! We talk about how with progressives and atheists, it’s all good to talk about scary Muslim sexists, but not sexually harassed people at atheist conferences. The book went to print before Richard Dawkins went fucking HAM on Twitter and was just like “Hey I could tweet about biology, but why not tweet about not knowing how ladies work!”

AK: I think we took a lot of themes that sadly we’re seeing in the larger atheist community like rape culture and Islamophobia, and talked about that without necessarily targeting the atheist community itself.

JK: I will happily say that when we talk about Islamophobia, we’re talking about Sam Harris, and when we talk about sexism, we’re talking about Richard Dawkins. But I got a huge uptick in fans when I first became an atheist, and I was definitely that angry white dude atheist. My mom came to visit us this weekend, and she goes, “The thing that’s really been pulling me through, and I don’t want to upset you, is prayer.” Mom, you are telling me the thing that’s making you happy and helping you through all your struggles… and it was like, “Oh yeah, I must have been that asshole atheist.” Like I would have been like, “That’s not real, dummy!”

AK: “Who are you praying to, stupid?”

JK: “Read the God Delusion!”

AK: I think sometimes things like Elevatorgate, and really brave people like Rebecca Watson are the best things for communities like the atheist community, because that was a moment where we very clearly got to see where everybody stands. So that’s when I got to say, “I like the Rebecca Watson atheism. I don’t like the Richard Dawkins atheism.”

JK: And I stuck up for those dudes for a long time. I loved Harris and Dawkins. But the true privileged white guy has come out of both of them. And it really is a shame, because to us, the reason we cared about atheism, was we saw religion oppressing people, we saw religion oppressing women. We saw people refusing to ask questions of these powerful beings. And now you see atheists harassing women. The way they stick up for Sam Harris is hilarious to the point where I’m waiting for Sam Harris to pass around a fucking collection plate at his talks.

AK: For a group of people who believe in critical thinking, they don’t seem to apply that same reasoning to their beloved leaders. The second they’re challenged, they freak out. It is highly suspect that these freak-outs keep happening when we talk about women and when we talk about Muslims. Why does it keep happening when it’s those two groups of people?

CC: The kind of journey you’ve described here that you guys went through, where you started out in the atheist community, and you’re like “Yes! All these like-minded people” and then you slowly start to realize that isn’t the case… a lot of us actually went through that. You guys have always been really open on the show about your evolving viewpoints. Is there anything in #Newsfail that “Past” Jamie and Allison would have been like “Ugh, those assholes” because you just didn’t get it quite yet? 

Image by crouchy69
Image by crouchy69

JK: Oh yeah, I tell the story of how I became an atheist in the book. It wasn’t this cool epiphany that you hear the scientists talk about. I was very college kid agnostic, like “Look at the stars, there has to be something out there, we’re all one!” Because I was high.

AK: I want to punch you right now.

JK: Allison looks so violent right now. But even as an agnostic, because religion is so ingrained in us, that when Allison & I were having our first date, and I said I was agnostic, and she said “Cool, I’m an atheist,” and my first thought was, “You’re going to go to hell!” Because I didn’t know any people who said they were atheists.

AK: I think Old Me would be mystified by my nuance when it comes to stuff like finding political allies with religious people who do a lot of community organizing. When you first discover atheism, you have this impulse to be radical about your atheism and think that religious people aren’t capable of doing good work. And now, I’m much more nuanced with it. I don’t put my atheism first, I’m much more likely to want to talk about global warming and stuff like that. And my atheism is still there, it just happens to be another aspect of my personality. But I think it’s totally normal when you first discover atheism to be really excited about it and want to talk about it all the time. So I think “Old Me” reading #Newsfail would be like “Why aren’t you talking about your atheism as much?”

JK: Yeah, like, “Why don’t you have the ‘Fuck the Church’ chapter?” I’ll also say this, when we were watching protest in Ferguson, I saw priests getting pepper sprayed, and then I saw Richard Dawkins on Twitter like, “What is rape, really?” Granted there were probably lots of atheists on the ground –

AK: We just don’t have uniforms.

JK: But I’m just done subscribing to these fucking movements, I just want to help and be around good, funny people.

AK: I think that happens as you get older, you’re less interested in “groups” and “labels,” and you’re just like “Are you a good person, and are you doing good work?” I know great activists and organizers who believe in god, and to me it’s just like “Okay! We won’t agree on that, but what else are you about?”

CC: So you mentioned earlier about Richard Dawkins saying some shitty stuff on Twitter, and that you didn’t get to cover it in the book because it had already gone to print. There’s probably a lot of examples of things you didn’t get to cover –

AK: *laughs* Yeah.

CC: What do you think is the biggest example of a Newsfail that you didn’t get to cover in the book? 

AK: Oh my god, so many. This is like, what is most frustrating to me, because I didn’t want people to think that we didn’t think certain things were important. A quick example, the gun violence chapter was incredibly difficult to keep up to date because there are so many shooting massacres in the United States. Until the last minute, I was in communication with our editor and throwing in new examples of gun massacres. I would have loved to have something about Ferguson in the book, because it was just such a glaring example of a Newsfail and how independent media is really important because independent journalists were doing great work going into St. Louis and covering the story.

JK: We didn’t want a list book of “Here’s all the things the news did.” The reason I think people will like the book, is all the chapters are sort of combinations of ridiculous personal and political anecdotes that Allison & I have gone through. And also, covering these sort of broader issues.

AK: A book like #Newsfail could be volumes and volumes and volumes, and that’s kind of daunting and a problem in itself because we had to pick just a handful of examples of “Here are the biggest Newsfails. What does the media fuck up on the most?” So it was like climate change, race, rape culture, the big broad categories. And then we worked from there.

CC: Do you worry after people read the book that they are going to be like “Why didn’t you include [XYZ pet cause]!” and be really upset at you?

AK: No, actually, I just don’t want them to think that WE thought it didn’t matter! I think that would actually be good if people started thinking of their own examples of Newsfails, because that would just means you’re thinking critically about the media. So that would be really good if people were like “Oh yeah, I remember being really pissed off about how the news covered this story!” Great! That just means like, you’re aware of what’s happening.

JK: I mean if #Newsfail takes off on Twitter because of this, that’s fucking awesome. We would love that! We would get in on that!

CC: Switching gears a little bit, I’ve got a friend and I introduced them to the show. They were really excited, and wanted to sign up for a monthly donation, and they told me, “I’m going to have my partner do it, because I’m worried that I’m going to be put on a government watch list if I donate to them.” 

JK: Haha, awesome.

CC: Is there anything in the book that makes you think, “Oh yeah, this’ll be the thing that gets us in trouble.” 

JK: Oh man, listen to tomorrow’s episode of Citizen Radio where I encourage people to put the book in front of a conservative author and then tweet us a picture with #BookJihad.

AK: I think you would be naive to believe if you’re in alternative media, if you’ve ever contacted Glenn Greenwald at any point in your life, like we’re all kind of on the radar, without sounding like a conspiracy theorist. But I mean, in terms of what we do for Citizen Radio, we’re in a very privileged position where it’s like, “We’re two white, documented citizens.” In terms of being afraid, I’m not afraid.

JK: I was really upset when I saw Black Twitter kind of have a riff with the Glenn Greenwald types, and I didn’t know why it was happening. And I realized it’s because communities of color have been spied on for fucking ever. So we’ve seen our names come up on weird watch lists and shit like that before and I know a lot of white libertarians don’t want their porn history to be public, but the way communities of color have been spied on and harassed is just so bad.

AK: We’re in a really privileged position, where we can say the stuff we say.

JK: I’ve got Economy Plus on United! I’m a big fucking deal at the airport. I see Arab people without podcasts getting searched every time I go to the airport, and I pretty much just cruise on through. But at the same time, if it was “Mohammed and Mohammed Radio” and we talked about the exact same issues, we would probably be in a lot more trouble.

AK: And not to downplay, there have been private security companies who have included us on watch lists, and we know that for a fact. We’ve seen the data. Privacy concerns are completely valid, and you do get placed on those lists very quickly depending on who you associate with.

newsfail3CC: One last question, if there was one thing you would want readers to take away about #Newsfail, what would it be?

AK: We need better media. Independent media is really important. We try to present that argument in a really funny and accessible way by detailing how Jamie & I met, the evolution of Citizen Radio, but it’s called #Newsfail for a reason. The corporate media we have right now is fucking up, and not serving us in the way it should.

JK: Also that people are more progressive than you think. They just don’t have access to the facts. I mean, the majority of people are against the war in Iraq, but the reason we were so gung-ho to invade them is because a bunch of very serious newscasters said that we were in danger. Conversely, the reason that Ferguson is getting so much coverage, and Steubenville is getting so much coverage, is because of Twitter, because of independent media, because of independent sites like Skepchick. And that’s really important. We’re forcing these motherfuckers to cover these stories. And that’s a big deal!

AK: And I think we’re not going to beat the corporate media in the way that we thought traditionally we were going to beat them, like with the Air America model. “Oh, we’ll just match Fox News in size, and scope, and messaging.” It’s not going to look like the liberal Fox News equivalent. It’ll be more like guerrilla warfare.

JK: Now we’re on a watch list!

AK: But we can win that way. We just have to think differently about alternative media.

JK: Also, the book is funny as shit. It’s filthy, it’s funny, it’s designed for people who are good people, but would rather watch The Simpsons than CNN. It opens up with a fake quote from Wolf Blitzer, and a dedication to our cats. So if you like fake quotes from Wolf Blitzer, dedications to cats, then it’s the book for you.

Jamie & Allison co-host Citizen Radio, which is dedicated to covering the stories that the mainstream, corporate media ignores. They have had the privilege of interviewing such distinct intellectuals as Rachel Maddow, Bad Religion, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Matt Taibbi, Jeremy Scahill, Rise Against, Robin Williams, Janeane Garofalo, Moby, Sarah Silverman, Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman, Regina Spektor and more. They have also been the recipient of batshit crazy threatening letters by the hate group God Hates Fags. Good stuff. You can Pre-Order #NEWSFAIL at AmazonBarnes & NobleSimon & Schuster, or at your local bookstore and subscribe to Citizen Radio at wearecitizenradio.com

Courtney Caldwell

Courtney Caldwell is an intersectional feminist. Her talents include sweary rants, and clogging your social media with pictures of her dogs (and occasionally her begrudging cat). She's also a political nerd, whose far-left tendencies are a little out of place in the deep red Texas.

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11 Comments

  1. Oh, there are so many examples.

    How about reporting on refugee children as if they were plague-ridden terrorist drug mules, or not covering the extensive eroding of voting rights since the SCOTUS dismantled the voting rights act, or freaking the fuck out about a single ebola case in Texas and giving the fear monger exactly what they wanted?

    Wait, I know. My “favorite” is how we are pretending that what Isreal is doing in Gaza is anything short of war crimes because they are seen as untouchable. Yes, that’s it, that’s the one. I wouldn’t suggest that the Palestinians are perfect little cherubs but I don’t know how you “forget” to cover massacres in the name of not offending.

    I guess they can only spend so much time on countries stepping on the necks of their citizens, probably why they haven’t covered Brazil much, or Hong Kong, or Mexico, et cetera.

  2. Oh, so many newsfails to choose from! I always love the super basic ones like mislabeling countries on a map, because how can we trust your analysis of Middle Eastern politics and wars if you don’t even know which country is which? Even though logically I know that the graphics department is entirely separate from the writers and talking heads, it drives me up the wall when they don’t bother to check that shit.

    Though, what really pisses me off is terrible science reporting in the media. Like, the other day one of my friends was freaking out about the headline that claimed your baby could carry some traits of your first lover, but the study was about fruit flies. Or ANYTHING where evolutionary psychologists try to explain women’s behaviors by how they affected men.

    Also, thank you guys so much for this interview! I’m sick of Dawkins and Harris and their army of bros, so I will definitely have to check out more by these two.

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