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New Religious Movements and the Biased Media
What happened in Jonestown? How could “sensible people” follow the “rantings of a crazed lunatic?” The questions and the simplified answers that are provided by the media coverage of Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate perhaps contributed to their downfall. The feeling of public persecution is a central theme of many new religious movements, and the negative publicity of suicide cults only fuels the fear of other like-minded religious groups. The misleading definitions the media provided for the how, what and why of these new religious movements were symptomatic of the media bias against all such movements. Through examination of the print media response immediately following both mass suicides, I will expose the hollow definitions and explanations provided for tragedies that were much more complex. Moreover, although the Jonestown Suicide occurred twenty years before the Heaven’s Gate suicides in March of 1997, coverage remained ignorant and simplistic of the critical differences between movements, and perhaps exacerbated their cultural al…
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