Memo to Bill O’Reilly – “Moonie” is Hate Speech – Don’t Use It!

Memo to Bill O’Reilly – “Moonie” is Hate Speech – Don’t Use It!

How many times is the word, “Moonie,” printed to refer to a follower of Rev. Sun Myung Moon of Korea? If you are reading a blog, chances are your answer is “Plenty!” On the other hand, if you are reading a wire-service story about the Unification Church or a story about Rev. Moon in the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times or USA Today, the answer is “almost never.”

That is because the publications cited above long ago decided to avoid using the word “Moonie,” concluding that it was pejorative. They know well that the word “Moonie” used on websites and even some print publications conjures up the image of people who are abnormal, deranged or sub-human. It is, in fact, a smear word used by haters. For this reason, the M-word is banned by the style book of the New York Times, whose editors say they “resist using the word in direct quotations.” That standard of fairness and civility is the gold standard.

It is a standard of fairness that speaks well of America’s broadcasting and print media. At the head of the class is ABC’s Ted Koppel, who apologized on air for using the word at the end of his Nightline broadcast on Oct. 6, 1994. Now and then, the word creeps into a story by a writer who makes an innocent mistake of thinking the word is acceptable speech, as happened in a sports story in the Toledo Blade in 2008. The editor, whose professionalism is an asset to the Blade, apologized.

Regrettably, there are exceptions who prove the rule on both sides of the political spectrum. The clueless on the left include two staffers of The Nation, Eric Alterman, who used the phrase “Moonie-financed” in his column of Dec. 6, 2007 and Robert Dreyfus in his hit piece against what he called “the Moonie Times” on Oct. 14, 2008. These gentle writers apparently hope to score points by using ad-hominem phrases that are undeserved.

On the conservative side, the hate-word, “Moonie,” figured prominently in commentator Bill O’Reilly’s May 19, 2009 TV show in which he compared the activist group, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), to the “Moonies.” O’Reilly disappointed many Unificationists who were otherwise great fans of his show. Whether O’Reilly, Alterman or Dreyfus apologize for rude speech is of less moment than whether these opinion leaders know that they are in a shrinking number of writers who use this word.

Recent reportage on the Unification Church gives hope that the Unificationists are getting the respect that is due all citizens. The Santa Monica Press of Feb. 4, 2009 got it right, and it deserves credit for being ahead of most American media. Its story about church missionaries called the church by its official name, The Family Federation for World Peace and Unification.

The phrase “Family Federation for World Peace and Unification” might not come trippingly off the tongue, and indeed, many do not know that the term, “Unification Church,” ceased to be the church’s official moniker in 1997. It could be that in time, Unificationists will come to accept the M-word, much as Latter Day Saints have come to accept the label, “Mormon,” which they once resisted. Time will tell.

Yet, for the foreseeable future, the Toledo Blade has the right idea. The latest Blade Stylebook reminds editors: “Moonies – a pejorative term for members of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. DON’T use it.”

Douglas Burton served as the book-review editor for the World & I Magazine for eight years. Today he is an independent media consultant in Washington, D.C. and a contributor to

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