Confessions of a ‘Notorious Atheist Who Inflitrated the Girl Scouts’

A woman writes a book for the Girl Scouts of the USA and then, a couple of years later, authors a website about nonreligious parenting. Which one ends up as fodder for the conservative media giant Fox News? Why, the Girl Scouts, of course!

Life is downright wackadoo, I tell you.

So here’s the scoop:

About three years ago, I applied for and won a contract to write a book for the Girl Scouts. My job was to create an 80-page, magazine-style book on media literacy for middle-school-age scouts as part of the organization's Journey Series. The book, I was told, needed to be creative, fun and educational, but I also was given numerous requirements and guidelines. This was the Girl Scouts, after all. They had strict standards.

Titled MEdia, the book set out to educate girls about how the media works, encourage them to examine the messages they hear, and show them how they, themselves, can use the media to shape a better world. In other words, we wanted to ask the girls to put the ME in media. Get it? The book was all about boosting girls' self-esteem, and I loved being involved. I kept thinking how much MEdia would have benefited my own awkward, adolescent, 13-year-old self, had it been available 25 years ago.

Anyway, after sending the manuscript to my editors at the Girls Scouts, I was given two more contracts — one to write a senior-level book called BLISS, and another to write a handbook for adult volunteers. All three books went through various layers of editing; but other than a few rewrites, I was mostly uninvolved. The collection came out in December 2010, and the Girl Scouts began using the books in earnest this past fall.

Fast forward to last week when I found my name in a story on The Blaze, a conservative blog founded by Glenn Beck. In the Dec. 27 post, writer Billy Hallowell accuses the Girl Scouts of showing liberal bias by including in MEdia a reference to Media Matters, a website devoted to debunking misinformation by conservative news media — primarily Fox News. (As you can imagine, Beck’s not a big fan.) Hallowell states, "one wonders why the book’s authors, Wendy Thomas Russell and Sarah Goodman [who contributed several profiles to MEdia], would include this as the sole source for getting 'the word out about media misinformation.'"

Here’s the page. The Media Matters reference is at the bottom.

The Blaze story, which was picked up by The Drudge Report and a handful of other websites, suggested that the Girl Scouts were acting irresponsibly and insidiously — slanting the news and feeding it to young, vulnerable girls. And the response to the story was ferocious. The Blaze got more than 400 comments from its readers, some of whom searched my name on the web, found Relax, It's Just God, and began printing that I was an atheist. [Read: Shitty Person.]

One woman on Twitter suggested that @WendyRussell (Hey, that’s me!) was being fed information by @AlGore. Another woman left a review on Amazon.com with the headline: “Wendy Thomas Russell is a notorious atheist who infliltrated the Girl Scouts.” She went on to write: "Why would she be allowed to promote her beliefs on an organization that specifically states they serve God? Why would she place her daughter in an organization that serves God when her entire life is devoted to the ridicule of God?"

Wow, right?

It's as though this woman believed that thinking some thoughts automatically made those thoughts true. (Hmmm, where have I seen that happen before?) Unfortunately, she didn't stay on my website long enough to read even my most recent post. It was on the pitfalls of stereotyping nonbelievers; funny, that.

Meanwhile, according to The Blaze, a spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts agreed to investigate how Media Matters came to be included in the book, and promised a second printing would delete the Media Matters reference. By then, though, the “scandal” had raised the hackles of the folks over at Fox News. On Dec. 29, Fox ran at least two segments about MEdia. You can watch the Grapevine segment here and the Fox & Friends segment here. [Update: You can also watch this, which ran on the Jan. 7 edition of Fox News Watch.] Fox called for all current versions of the book to be removed from bookshelves immediately.

Comedy Central's Indecision later satirized the Fox-Girl Scouts showdown under the deadpan headline: Fox News Uncovers Girl Scouts Plot to Destroy America. Sadly, Steven Colbert has yet to weigh in.

***

So how did Media Matters end up in the book I wrote? The truth is, I have no idea.

My final draft read as follows:

The Internet is a breeding ground for “urban legends,” which are false stories told as if true, and then spread quickly. Next time you receive a txt or a forwarded e-mail about something terrible that happened to someone, try to confirm it. The fact-checking site snopes.com investigates everything from urban legends to “news” articles and posts its findings.

That's it. Just Snopes.

No offense to Media Matters, but I didn’t even know the group existed until last week. And no offense to the Girl Scouts, but, even if I had known about the group, I never would have included it in the book. Media Matters' slant isn’t only evident in the content, it’s spelled out in the freaking masthead.

So, yeah, not sure what happened there, or who made it happen. But I must confess that I’ve found the whole ordeal highly entertaining. It’s hard not to be a little proud that my little ol’ Girl Scout book is getting so much attention. It’s hard also, not be flattered when someone calls you “notorious” or injects you into the middle of a good, old-fashioned conspiracy theory.

Plus, I’ve always wanted to have something in common with Mark Twain — and now I do.

We both have banned books.