The Nightline program on Madalyn O'Hair that aired a couple of weeks ago made several rather inflammatory charges against the current president of American Atheists, Ellen Johnson. They intimated that Johnson was somehow "in on" the disappearance and loss of money from AA accounts. They made a big deal out of the fact that Ms. Johnson refused to be interviewed for the show. Ellen long ago mentioned that she had phone conversations with the Murray-O'Hairs following their "disappearance." At that point they were simply saying they had business to attend to, and had numerous discussions regarding the upcoming Pope Picket in N.Y. That, of course, was not mentioned in the Nightline report. Here is Ellen's account of the events surrounding the show:
I just want to comment on one point that Mark S. brought up in a recent e-mail about the Nightline program. (It was good to see you at the convention Mark.) I do intend to make a response about the entire show, but not at this time. I will do it soon and there will be something in an upcoming newsletter.
Mark said that not doing the Nightline show was a missed opportunity. Let me explain what happened. I did tell Nightline that I would do the show. BUT, I wanted to go on the air live so that I could respond to any misinformation. They said absolutely not. The show was going to be pre-taped and all they wanted from me was my comments on how Madalyn seemed when I spoke to her when she was in San Antonio. That was all they wanted from me. They were not going to give me any opportunity to respond to anything they said on the show.
Four days out of the week Nightline's shows are part video and part live guest participation. The O'Hair show was to air on a Friday and be all pre-taped. I asked them to consider changing the format to the half-tape version. They said no. I asked if they would tell me what information they had already gathered so that I could correct any misinformation. Valerie told me a few things -- all wrong -- and I corrected her. I told her to contact our attorney about the IRS situation and she did. As far as I remember they didn't report any wrong information about the past IRS situation.
I told Valerie that I was sorry but I wasn't going to give them a video taped interview so that they could do whatever they wanted with it. I was not going to be part of a Madalyn-Atheist-bashing show. That was not good enough for her. She was downright adamant that I tell her what she wanted to know. She acted like she was a police officer and I should "talk." She got nasty. She phoned my home over and over again and had another producer phone me over and over again.
Their next approach was to follow me as I took my daughter to pre-school. Mind you, I had no idea who was following me. I noticed a car up my street and I it was unusual because it is a country road. I knew immediately that I was being followed. It was very scary having a five year old in the car as your heart races and you try to figure out what to do without letting you child know what is going on. I lost the car in no time (I felt really cool about that).
Anyway, I phoned the police when I got to my daughters school. They said to phone them again when I got back to my town. When I did I noticed that a second car was following me. I pulled into an elementary school parking lot to call the police again and the car pulled up behind me. (Is this how you ask for an interview??) What was the point of following me? Believe me, the thought did cross my mind that I might end up disappearing that day like the O'Hairs.
Well the police surrounded the two cars (yeah!) and told them to leave me alone. They didn't. An hour later they were at the end of my driveway after I returned from taking my son to school. That is the shot that aired on Nightline. I was so upset with them for scaring me to death. Do any of you really think that I would have talked to them after that?
I would also like to point out that Nightline has never come to American Atheists concerned with any press releases we have issued since the show has been on the air. They could care less about us -- and I am supposed to now do something for them? No. I told their producer that I wanted to know why they never give us any coverage or invite us on their show to talk about the issues that we work so hard on. They couldn't answer.
When we were in Washington, DC picketing the Promise Keepers Nightline did a show on it but only invited Patricia Ireland from NOW to be on.
If I am going to spend my time talking to the media it is going to be on my terms. I am glad that I wasn't part of a story that kept referring to Dr. O'Hair as the most hated woman in America. They had to go back to Time magazine from 1963 to get that. That shows you how much they want to be impartial. This happens over and over again.
When the Murray-O'Hairs first disappeared I talked to any media that contacted me for a full year. Now I am more selective.
Thanks for your patience and understanding with us and this situation. Things are not always what they seem.