A few months ago, I was emailing back and forth with a student named Michael Tracey at The College of New Jersey about possibly speaking there over my Spring Break since he’s the president of their Secular Student Alliance chapter. We were unable to find a day that worked so we put the talk on the backburner.
Last week, I heard a story about how Republican presidential candidate and FOX News Channel host Mike Huckabee spoke at the same school and made some ridiculous comments to a student newspaper about gay people and whether they should be allowed to marry:
“That would be like saying, well there’s there are a lot of people who like to use drugs so let’s go ahead and accommodate those who want to use drugs. There are some people who believe in incest, so we should accommodate them. There are people who believe in polygamy, should we accommodate them?”
“Why do you get to choose that two men are OK but one man and three women aren’t OK?”
The student newspaper published this interview, providing a transcript of Huckabee’s own words.
What did Huckabee do in response?
“The young college student hopefully will find a career other than journalism. I would ask that he release the unedited tape of our conversation. I believe that what people do as individuals in their private lives is their business, but I do not believe we should change the traditional definition of marriage. Not only did he attempt to sensationalize my well known and hardly unusual views of same-sex marriage, he also inaccurately reported my views on Michael Steele as GOP chairman — I offered my support and didn’t “Rip into Steele” as his article asserted. I had a candid and frank conversation with the group about health care, education, the economy and national security while the young journalism student, instead, chose to focus on the issue of same-sex marriage and grossly distort my views.”
In response, the student newspaper released the unedited tape of their conversation.
Huckabee’s being ridiculous, right? Right.
Anyway, imagine my surprise when I saw Rachel Maddow covering the story… and heard her around the 0:16 mark:
Michael Tracey was the interviewer? The same Michael I had spoken to before?!
Turns out he’s the Editor-in-Chief of The Perspective. He conducted the interview that got all the media attention. And he had plenty to say in response to Huckabee:
It is telling that nowhere in his statement did Huckabee suggest he was misquoted in the article, and rightfully so; we have the audio and transcripts to prove that everything reported is accurate.
… regardless, his words speak for themselves, and it is a shame that he is now so quickly embarrassed of them.
Damn… Go Michael!
I had so many questions to ask him in the aftermath of all of this and he was gracious enough to respond:
I asked how his peers have reacted to this story. Were they supportive of him?
As far as I can tell, my peers have been largely supportive of how I’ve managed this controversy. Frankly… there’s not a whole lot to be angry with me about; I conducted an interview and reported what was said, which is pretty standard in the journalism world!
My email and Facebook have been lighting up over the past week, and all the messages I’ve received are congratulatory. Funny how social networking sites bring people you haven’t spoken to in years out of the woodworks when something newsworthy like this happens.
The only unhappy party right now seems to be TCNJ’s main campus newspaper, The Signal, whose staff members have never liked me or my magazine. We’ve always rejected their tired old approach to journalism, which essentially consists of a bland, disengaging standard of objectivity that strips their reporting of any passion or conviction. One of their senior editors, Megan DeMarco, actually went out of her way to try to undermine my credibility in the comment sections of different articles about the story, portraying me as an insidious agent of the “liberal agenda,” whose content is not to be trusted. I don’t know how she can make that argument after the audio transcripts of the Huckabee interview were released, but her outbursts are understandable: most people at TCNJ don’t take The Signal very seriously, as it seldom features any genuine reporting or compelling stories.
I asked whether Michael’s view of Huckabee changed as a result of this interview and the aftermath. Or was he not surprised by the way this all played out?
Interestingly enough, my perspective of Mike Huckabee hasn’t changed all that much as a result of the controversy. I remember silently rooting for him during the 2008 Republican presidential primary season, when he was propelled from an also-ran with zero name recognition outside of Arkansas to the frontrunner for the nomination after winning the Iowa caucus. He’s someone who isn’t necessarily a darling of the party establishment and actually relied on grassroots momentum and a frugal campaign strategy to be successful. And I do believe he earnestly wishes to bridge the angry partisan divide between those who disagree on political issues. His demeanor during our interview was pleasant and welcoming, which I think is admirable.
That said, a friendly persona does not justify the woefully skewed logic by which he justifies continued discrimination against gays and lesbians. He has tried very hard to paint his opposition to LGBT rights in friendly language, but when you press him, as I did, the core beliefs from which that opposition stems are no different from what we associate with conventional Christian Right rhetoric. Although he made it a point to say that he did not explicitly equivocate same-sex marriage with incest, polygamy, and drug use, his deliberate invocation of those “taboo” behaviors indicates a belief that homosexuality, as a behavioral pattern which “goes against the ideal,” cannot be sanctioned by the state under any circumstances — just as the state cannot sanction father-daughter sex.
I think most of us simply assume that because some politician is known to oppose same-sex marriage, he or she does not need to be questioned on the issue. As a former preacher, Huckabee is probably not accustomed to actually being challenged on his core beliefs related to homosexuality. Thus, it is not terribly surprising that upon opening a line of discussion that caused him to stray from pre-conceived talking points, he ended up with saying some things he probably later regretted.
It is a bit sad, though, that Huckabee resorted to attacking me personally in order to quell the furor his remarks rightly invited across the Internet. He might do well to hire some new PR people, as that tactic quickly blew up in his face after I released the full audio of our interview, which completely corroborated everything as originally reported. Rachel Maddow summed it up quite well.
I asked Michael what bothered him most about Huckabee’s comments:
I was only bothered by his comments insofar as I am bothered by anti-gay rhetoric of all kinds, especially anti-gay rhetoric that is grounded in logical fallacies like the classic “slippery slope” argument. The sad reality, however, is that there are millions of people in America who feel the same way Huckabee does, and who would invoke the very same reasoning. I think the fact that it has been dissected so scrupulously in the media might cause some of these people to rethink how they view LGBT people, and how parallels which liken their relationships to incest and polygamy can have seriously adverse effects on public consciousness. I think it is great that the Hearty Boys (a gay couple of Food Network fame) have issued a public invitation for Huckabee to join them and their adopted son for dinner in Chicago. Maybe if Huckabee spent more time around well-adjusted and loving gay people, he would be less inclined to make those harmful analogies.
Finally, I asked Michael whether was planned to pursue journalism as a career and whether he thought this controversy would help or hurt him:
I do plan on going into journalism as a career, though not journalism in the conventional sense. I refuse to accept that to be a journalist is to be a passive observer of the world, removed from its passions and emotions, in service of some futile attempt at corporate-backed objectivity. I don’t see how this controversy could do anything but help me, frankly — along with my story last summer in The Nation revealing Bill Clinton’s reversal in support of same-sex marriage, I think I’ve earned a reputation for holding public figures’ feet to the fire. I am not gay myself, but I have done quite a bit in support of LGBT rights, including organizing a rally in support of same-sex marriage here in New Jersey last December. Though the bill did not pass, it definitely furthered along the societal discourse, which I think is crucially important both in terms of public policy and peoples’ own private views on gays and lesbians. And I think a former president coming out in support of same-sex marriage, as well as a former presidential candidate’s bigoted nonsense exposed for all to see, can ultimately have a profound effect on public opinion, and thereby on our laws and governance.
The issue of homosexuality seems to be a catalyst for a wider discussion about religion and its place in the public sphere, which I also think is vitally important, especially in the “New Secular” movement, of which I am an avowed member. I founded a chapter of the Secular Student Alliance here at TCNJ in 2007, and I hope it continues after I graduate.
I’ve also written for The Advocate and The Huffington Post, as well as many blogs, so please — offer me a job!
I plan to pay Michael what I get paid for writing this blog.
Clearly, big bucks are coming his way…
In any case, I think it’s wonderful how Michael has kept his head above water during all of this. I’m glad he didn’t shrink away when a public official with an eponymous talk show went after him. That’s impressive.