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Media Matters

For many people, National Public Radio (NPR) is considered a benchmark of liberal thought, with a reputation for covering stories ignored by the mainstream. Last week, one of their stories upset a lot of people, but not for the reason you think.

They reviewed Kirby Dick’s new documentary Outrage, which investigates closeted politicians who vote against gay rights. The film has been getting a lot of attention, so it’s likely you’ve already heard about it. In his review, writer Nathan Lee mentioned that Larry Craig and Charlie Crist were among the subjects profiled in the movie. It sounds innocent enough, right?

Yet, citing privacy concerns, NPR editors decided to remove those names from the review without telling the author. When Lee learned about the censorship, he took his name off the article and wrote a complaint on NPR?s website, which was also quickly deleted by NPR executives.

When asked to explain their actions, NPR referred to ?a long held policy of trying to respect the privacy of public figures and of not airing or publishing rumors, allegations, and reports about their private lives unless there is a compelling reason to do so.?

What they are saying is that because they have not officially come out, it would be in poor taste to identify them as gay.

It?s ironic that NPR would invoke the privacy defense, because they do not seem to be concerned about the privacy of Queen Latifah, Lindsey Lohan, or Adam Lambert, just to name three public figures who have not come out but have been labeled as lesbian, bisexual, or gay in other NPR stories. Or think back to last year’s controversy over John Edwards’s affair. Before that story was officially confirmed, NPR ran entire segments about the rumor and its impact on the presidential campaign.

I guess some people’s privacy is more important than others.

One of the central points of Outrage is that the media is partially responsible for allowing public figures to live double lives because they don’t report everything they know. NPR?s reaction is a perfect illustration of this policy in action. Stories about Craig, Mark Foley, and Crist had circulated for years, yet the media often waits for a scandal before feigning shock at the revelations. This extends beyond the political realm, because I have seen journalists say they know of several gay athletes in professional sports, but they will never say who they are, even if these athletes engage in homophobic activities. In effect, they support keeping people in the closet.

Even if you do not support outing people, the fact that journalists, people whose job is supposed to be based on telling the truth, willingly allow hypocrisy to flourish should give you cause for concern. Who knows what other kind of information they are choosing not to tell us?

Since I’m singling out NPR for lazy journalism, let me give my opinion about one of their other programs, To The Point. On May 11, the subject was gay marriage, with particular attention to the controversy in Washington, DC that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. So it was no surprise that they eventually settled in on why the black community seems to have a problem with gay marriage. Guests included two professors (Andrew Koppelman and Mignon Moore), Rick Jacobs from the Courage Campaign, a black preacher (Derek McCoy), and Maggie Gallagher, most recently seen working with Carrie Prejean in the fight against gay marriage. I like the Courage Campaign, but the dialogue was very predictable.

My problem with this lineup is that there was no black LGBT representation on the panel. This is such a frequent occurrence, discussions about the conflicts between blacks and gays but never inviting black gay people to provide their perspective. It is as if people believe we don’t exist. There are black LGBTs who are willing to engage the public, with the National Black Justice Coalition, the International Federation of Black Prides, the Unity Fellowship Church movement, author Keith Boykin, and influential bloggers like Pam Spaulding, Darian Aaron, or Rod McCollum coming to mind without too much effort. A professional media organization should have more contacts and imagination than I do, so why aren?t these people being given a platform?

The issue of diverse leadership and representation in the LGBT community has been discussed for years, but it seems change is slow to arrive on this topic. Yet every time I hear people complain that the LGBT community lacks outreach or credibility across communities and potential allies, I think of the resources I named in the previous paragraph and wonder how many other potential community leaders are not being utilized.

From “Blackout” for 5/18/09 by Anthony Rucker


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