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False Prophet

How Reverend Ken Hutcherson Launched a Nonexistent Boycott

PASTOR KEN HUTCHERSON - Smoke and mirrors.

It was less than a year ago that eastside pastor Ken Hutcherson first swaggered onto the national stage, presenting himself as a man who, with God on his side, had single-handedly forced Microsoft to withdraw its support for Washington's gay civil rights bill.

"I told them I would organize a national boycott against Microsoft," Hutcherson bragged last April to the viewers of ABC World News Tonight, one of the many national news programs that sought him out after Microsoft withdrew its backing and the bill failed. "They knew who I was. And they knew I had the opportunity and the power to do it."

What a difference nine months makes. There was a time, in early 2005, when Hutcherson's boasts fit with a national feeling that religious fundamentalists were on the ascent. It was a time, just after President Bush had been sworn in for a second term (thanks in large part to people like Hutcherson), when Americans were awaiting the Christian right's next big move, and consequently, the story of a fiery Redmond pastor frightening a huge American corporation into switching positions on gay rights shot straight into prime time.

But fast-forward to this year and everything has changed. Microsoft, having suffered an onslaught of bad publicity for acting in accordance with Hutcherson's wishes, has reinstated its support for the gay civil rights bill, and this year the bill has the votes to pass. The mood of the country is different, too, less awed by the religious right's power and more wary of its overreaching. Earlier this year, Ford followed Microsoft's example and reaffirmed its support for gay rights despite a threatened boycott by the hard-right American Family Association.

Despite the national mood shift, Hutcherson is sticking to the same script that got him on Scarborough Country last year—the one that also got him in the New York Times (where he declared that "God plus Hutch is enough"), on MSNBC (where he told Pat Buchanan that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer "speaks with a forked tongue"), and on Fox News, where he proudly revealed his media manipulation strategy to John Gibson.

"Everyone knows, John, a boycott doesn't necessarily have to work," Hutcherson said then, in a perhaps too-candid moment. "The negative publicity puts a lot of pressure on you."

This year he has pledged another boycott of Microsoft, and has upped the ante by extending the threat to other corporations (Boeing, Corbis, Vulcan, RealNetworks, Nike, and Hewlett-Packard) that signed a letter with Microsoft earlier this year endorsing the gay civil rights bill.

Surprisingly, given that Hutcherson has long since admitted that creating the illusion of a boycott is more important to him than creating an actual boycott, the Associated Press, acting on nothing more than Hutcherson's word, last week pushed an exclusive story out over its wires reporting that Hutcherson's boycott was imminent. The boycott, according to the AP, would be announced to millions of religious-right foot soldiers via James Dobson's national radio program, and would be backed by the conservative groups Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and the Southern Baptist Convention.

It turned out that almost everything Hutcherson told the AP was wrong. It seems he had improved on his idea that "a boycott doesn't necessarily have to work," and this year created a boycott that didn't necessarily have to exist. As first reported on The Stranger's blog last Thursday, the boycott was never announced on national radio, and never had the support of the prominent right-wing leaders Hutcherson said were behind him. Presented with this reality, Hutcherson backpedaled, claiming the AP had reported things he'd "never said."

The AP begged to differ. Olympia reporter Rachel La Corte told The Stranger that Hutcherson did in fact tell her he was going to be calling for a boycott. And she added that she now might have to revisit the boycott story, in order to clarify for her millions of readers whether Hutcherson's promised boycott is real.

The flap has shown that despite what he told the Times last year, "God plus Hutch" was never enough. It was media exposure that gave the pastor much of his power, and this year, by very publicly blowing his credibility with the AP (not to mention blowing his credibility with his Christian fundamentalist followers by failing to get support from religious-right bigwigs, or the attention of Microsoft), Hutcherson is beginning to look like a paper tiger, if not an outright charlatan.

Asked by The Stranger when he would actually follow through on this year's threats, all Hutcherson could say was, "I'll let you know."

eli@thestranger.com

 

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