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Why does the `right wing' reap the wrath of NOW?

Brian Leftwich of Topeka, Kan., was cutting across the West Front of the U.S. Capitol last Saturday en route to the Promise Keepers all-men's evangelical prayer rally.

Suddenly he saw maybe a million men stretched for more than a mile below him. He stopped. He started crying. He raised his hands and praised God - as others knelt in prayers of thanks on the Capitol steps. Some were literally shaking at the sight.Then Leftwich looked at me, as I was trying to estimate the size of the crowd. He said, as tears streamed down his face, "Have you ever seen anything like this? This is a blessed event."

Actually, I have seen many similar events - though none were quite so large. I have seen huge gatherings on the Mall by gay activists, pro-choice activists, pro-life activists, civil-rights groups and the Nation of Islam.

But I've also noticed that the only ones in recent years seriously attacked as strange, insincere or even crazy are right-wingers. Left-wing groups, meanwhile, seem to be portrayed more as heroes using free speech to fight for rights and improvement.

In other words, free speech, religion and assembly are assured without censure - except for the right wing. Maybe that's because the national press and power structure currently seem to identify more easily with goals of the left as "normal."

That seemed to follow form again Saturday.

Many in the press and left wing questioned the motives and background of Promise Keepers. But protesting feminists were portrayed as fighting for rights that they feel are threatened by a "secret agenda" by Promise Keepers toward male domination.

I walked up to National Organization of Women President Patricia Ireland at her protest site to ask about her concerns. She was chatting with a female reporter, but when she saw me approaching she yelled, "Stop, don't come any closer."

An aide jumped between us and told me to retreat to the media area. No such area was marked, or to my sight even existed.

Even though I was wearing media credentials, they suspected me, the aide explained gruffly, of being one of the "dangerous right." After a minute, Ireland returned and apologized, saying right-wing people had approached her a couple of times that day - and she considered that dangerous on a day of high emotion.

I suppose then that any white male like myself might be considered dangerous by them.

Ireland explained her group compiled statements by Promise Keeper leaders that she said showed they are pushing a stealth agenda of male domination - including saying that men should be the spiritual leaders of families and condemning homosexuality and abortion.

Of course, many if not most major churches in America say similar things - but Ireland said the rapid growth and popularity of Promise Keepers threatened reversals of women's rights in such areas.

I noticed most media (including me) covered such NOW charges. No one made fun of people at its protest site, even though some used extreme amounts of body-piercing jewelry and wild haircuts.

Contrast that with coverage of Promise Keepers' leaders. At their press briefings, they faced a barrage of questions about feminists' charges. That's fine and needed - but the press had few questions about Promise Keepers' own goals or response to its huge success in numbers.

And TV shots had a heyday with men crying, embracing or flinging arms heavenward. Not many bothered to ask the men's wives if the group had helped improve family relationships, or if it had - as feminists worried - lead to male domination.

Wives of Promise Keepers from Utah, whom I called (and even a mother-in-law), universally praised what the group has done for their families.

But national publications focused little on such fruit and more on how big of a business the group is, whether it has hidden political goals and whether it wants male domination. Funny, I don't remember such business and political scrutiny of gay rights and women's rights groups when they staged big rallies.

It seems either the left-wing groups need that scrutiny, or the right wing deserves benefit of the doubt about its motives and sincerity that the rally-staging left has had recently.

Such equality indeed would be a truly blessed event.