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Getting The Facts Right! Part One.


Time and space constraints often force a journalist to tell less than the whole truth. As long as it is done without malice, it is winked at and called journalistic licence. However, when a film producer has a whole hour of air time to make his point, and a whole year in which to finish his production, higher standards are generally expected.

We found that just about every second comment Jon Ronson made in his documentary, "Kidneys for Jesus", contained some kind of an inaccuracy... most rather trivial, but some not so trivial. Several deliberately deceptive, and a few downright dishonest. We have listed a few below.

JON: Dave lives in Australia. Here he is in Heathrow meeting his London followers and meeting me for the first time. This is when I hear about the secret.

In January, 2002, shortly after we first contacted Jon, we told him about the secret plan to leak information to the media. The team in London talked about it with him personally and there was some email correspondence about it, with Jon agreeing to it for a few weeks. Jon's producer paid to fly Dave and Cherry to London in March, so that he could take these pictures of them. So this was NOT when Jon heard about the secret.

JON: Dave emailed his group who've renounced their possessions and live in campervans in India, America, Australia and London. He said he was going to donate his kidney to a stranger and if anyone else wanted to, they should let him know.

The Jesus Christians no longer live in campervans in the UK, nor have they ever lived in campervans in India or America. One member in Australia has been living in a bus for several years. Jon and his representatives have visited us in our homes in every country except India.

Dave did not send a single email saying that he was going to donate, and asking for other volunteeers. He sent several emails describing his own decision, without any reference to anyone else donating, and over a period of several months, others responded and said that they wanted to donate as well. THEN, many months after his own decision, he sent an email suggesting that those people planning to donate should co-ordinate their efforts.

JON: Almost all of them have decided to donate their kidneys to strangers.

Five Jesus Christians have donated, and five or six others are hoping to donate. "Almost all?" We're a small group, Jon, but not that small!

JON: Dave says he's going to donate his kidney in Australia in a few weeks.

The hospital in Australia said that it was close to approving anonymous donations at that time. Dave was fifth on the list. It would have been a few MONTHS before such an operation could have taken place.

JON: Robin is 36, and has been with the group for 15 years.

Wrong by six years. Robin has been with the group for 21 years.

JON: Casey was only 23, and had been a Jesus Christian for less than a year.

Casey had been with the group for two years and three months.

JON: Like Bobby Kelly, Casey had joined the group after being handed one of their comics on the street.

Casey was never handed a comic on the street.

JON: Robin and Casey are Australians.

Casey is not an Australian. He is a US citizen.

JON: [Robin and Casey] live in a Jesus Christians campervan in Dallas.

They do not live in a campervan in Dallas. At the time they lived in an apartment (flat) in Dallas. Jon visited the community there.

JON: In America it's not illegal to donate to strangers although it is controversial and rare.

The only thing that makes donations to strangers in America "rare" is that there are not more people coming forward to do so. Such donations are almost routine in some of the biggest and best hospitals in America. Controversy is minimal and exists mostly in the minds of people like Jon Ronson.

JON: It's the middle of February, and Susan has, in one day, hooked up with two people who want her kidney.

Actually it was February 2nd.

JON: [talking to someone] They've never been that successful, you know, it's not the most fun religious cult to be in you know (he laughs).

How would you know Jon? (we laugh!)

CHRISTINE (the kidney patient from Scotland): You know you've got to give away part of your body to join it.

We don't know how Jon coaxed Christine into making such a pronouncement (considering in the clip immediately prior to that, she says that she doesn't even know the name of the group), but he took every opportunity he could find to imply this very wrong impression throughout the documentary. He knows it is totally false, and yet he must assume that he can get away with stating it because he managed to get someone else to say it for him.

JON: The Jesus Christians have been renouncing their possessions since Dave formed them in Australia in the 1970's.

Robin and Ross are the longest standing members of the Jesus Christians, and they joined the community in the 1980's. Dave and Cherry have been together (married) since the 1960's.

JON: In 20 years Dave has only managed to attract 40 members.

Thanks for the compliment, Jon, but currently there are only 26 members. Membership has never even been close to 40.

JON: On the rare occasions when they do attract a new member, there is usually very bad press.

Over 100 people have joined the community over the years. We have had bad press on three or four occasions. But we've had far more good press... literally hundreds of good reports in Australia and elsewhere.

JON: Dave, writing under the pseudo name of Anita Foster, has been writing to anti cult groups telling them that Dave has been coercing people to sell their body parts on the black market.

Dave sent a couple of preliminary letters to two cult-busters under the name of Anita Foster, and they did not say Dave was coercing people to sell body parts on the black market. When Jon turned against the Anita Foster idea, Dave followed Jon's lead and dropped the whole idea.

JON: Dave hopes the tabloids will go into a frenzy...

Dave didn't "hope", he "knew" that the tabloids were going to go into a frenzy with or without Anita Foster. Anita Foster was only a ploy to be able to pick the date when the frenzy would happen, so that Jon could be prepared for it. Jon himself checked with contacts in the tabloids and reported back that Dave was quite right in what he expected from them.

JON: ...and then I'll come along and make the tabloids look stupid by writing a newspaper article of the Jesus Christians' remarkable philanthropy.

We never asked Jon to write about our "remarkable philanthropy". We only asked him to carry out whatever tests he needed to carry out in order to satisfy himself that the donations were being done without coercion. We knew from the start that accusations of coercion would be the hardest to refute without strong proof.

JON: It seems like a crazy plan to me.

Jon didn't treat it as crazy at all until he decided that he was going to use it against us.

JON. It's April and Susan has made her choice about who to give her kidney to. She has flown to Scotland to tell Christine the news.

Susan made her decision in February, and she started arranging the tests with Larry then. From the start, Sue had told Christine that she (Christine) would have priority over Larry. But it was Christine who urged Sue to go ahead with Larry in February. Jon knew that, because even in the Guardian article he wrote: "Christine told Susan that she doesn't need a kidney and has suggested that if someone comes along with a more urgent need, Susan should give her kidney to them instead."

In the documentary, Jon failed to mention that, at the time Sue consented to donate to Larry, Christine didn't even need a kidney. She was not even on dialysis. It was much later that Christine appeared to take a turn for the worse. Is Jon trying to confuse the issues with regard to that turn, and to make it look like the Jesus Christians made an arbitrary decision at the expense of Christine, to whom they had given false hopes? Read on...

JON: Later, Susan tells Christine that another Jesus Christian, Reinhard, has agreed to give her his kidney. I think the whole thing is becoming messy and hurtful.

Sue told Christine that Reinhard was willing to be TESTED to see if he could donate to her. Sue was careful not to lift Christine's hopes too much. Notice that Jon doesn't show any footage of Sue actually telling Christine this part, because it would have contradicted what he was claiming she said, i.e. that the Jesus Christians were definitely going to donate to Christine. Knowing that such a donation never eventuated contributes to Jon's "messy and hurtful" scenario.

JON: Tomorrow, Dave will fly home to Australia. My newspaper article is about to appear.

Jon says that the meeting with Christine took place in April. Dave and CHERRY flew home to Australia on March 16 (Jon never mentions Cherry, because a lifelong, faithful marriage relationship doesn't fit the image he is trying to portray). Jon's article came out on April 6. The time sequence jumps all over the place here.

JON: Dave is excited about the tabloid fury he believes will soon unfold.

No way! Dave had long since given up the idea of any tabloid fury, and accepted that it was JON who was going to try to create his own fury. On March 19, Jon wrote to Dave: "I know that you are no longer planning to do a leak." That was two weeks before his article was to appear.

JON: What worries me are the people who are getting lost in all of this are the recipients who are desperate and so thrilled to be possibly going down the line of Susan or you and then suddenly this tabloid frenzy which I think you are hoping might happen stops all that from happening. So you achieve one aim, which is to make the cult busters look bad, but in all of this the recipients are kind of lost and they don't get the kidneys.

Now it becomes clear why Jon tried to make it sound like Christine expected Sue's kidney right up until after his Guardian article came out. The idea is to rewrite history, so that it supports his theory that we were trying to scupper our own plans to donate to Christine, through a tabloid frenzy. He knew that Christine had been the only potential recipient in the UK, and he wanted to link a tabloid frenzy with secret plans to scupper the donation to Christine!

Jon repeats his deception from the Guardian article, implying once again that he is the one trying to save the Christines of the world from the "messy and hurtful" influence of the Jesus Christians, when, in fact, he is the one trying to undermine the Jesus Christians and what they are doing.

On April 8, long before the question above was put to Dave, Jon wrote: "I didn't want to imply that you were deliberately trying to find a way to not donate by leaking the story. If that implication came out, I'm sorry."

And yet he made the exact same implication in the documentary! What treachery!

JON: (footage of Casey distributing tracts and asking for donations). This is how the Jesus Christians make their money to live. If they don't make enough money this way, they raid bins for food.

We "make our living" by asking God what to do each day. We have never lacked money, and so there is no contingency plan if we did not have enough to live on. We live simply so that we will have more to give to others. But how does making money to live relate to the story, anyway? Just another attempt to make us look bad.

JON: I was away that morning my article came out, but David, my cameraman went to the Jesus Christians house without me.

I thought we all lived in campervans, Jon?

JON: Casey was a little upset that I had written about his brief regrets after the operation.

Casey was more than "a little upset". It was the worst thing in the whole story.

JON: Dave sent me a video message.

No, Jon, Dave did not send you a video message. Dave doesn't even own a video camera. In October, you sent Dave a list of questions, and asked him to record his answers using a video camera that you paid for. Why is it okay for you to use such deceptions to make your story read better and yet you have wasted all this time, first in the Guardian article, and now in a documentary supposedly about kidney donations to debate the ethics of something that was only discussed in confidence between us and that never even happened?

End of part A. Conclusion tomorrow.


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