How to be fair to “homophobes”

NoSpeechSignLike many in the newspaper business, I keep up with journalism news by reading Jim Romensko’s blog on the very helpful Poynter site. Anyone who thinks that the media world leans left will have their suspicions confirmed by reading Romenesko, but I find there’s no better site with interesting news about the media business. Something he posted yesterday caught my eye:

Billie Stanton says her journalism profs at the University of Arizona 30 years ago were relentless about balance and objectivity. “Every angle must be covered, and if you had any bias, it better not show,” she writes. “This credo served me well for many years. When some talented Denver Post reporters covered an anti-gay referendum later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, their bias showed. Repeatedly I demanded rewrites to give the homophobes’ side equal credence.”

Stanton made the point in a column in the Tucson Citizen about why she is glad to be on the editorial page. But it just cracked me up. Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, certainly, but the question is at least worth asking: how fair of a shake can you give people when you believe their legislative opinion is based on an irrational fear of homosexuality? Of course, I was in college and living in Denver at the time of the vote and remember that things were weird. Our own governor — himself part of an interesting polyamorous family situation — marched in the streets condemning the people of his own state for how they voted.

Anyway, you would expect the irreverant Gawker site to poke fun at Stanton’s statement. But I didn’t think it would be hard to find more respected media analysts defending impartiality and balance. Instead, we have this comment from Steve Lovelady of the Columbia Journalism Review:

Let’s imagine an Alabama editor in the 1950′s writing, “Repeatedly I demanded rewrites to give the Klu Klux Klan’s side equal credence.” Or how about “Repeatedly I demanded rewrites to give Hitler’s side equal credence.”

Where the hell has Billie Stanton been for the past 15 years, during which the most discredited journalism credo in the book has become the premise that “balance” equals truth ?

It is truth that journalism is supposed to be about, not “balance.”

People got mad at her — but not because she shouldn’t have used the word homophobia to describe those with whom she disagreed about a political issue — but because she thought those opponents deserved to have their say! As for Lovelady, I disagree that balance is not compatible with truth. But I’m glad he states his view unequivocally. Too bad he invoked Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies so early in the debate. Seriously, when everybody is Hitler, Hitler doesn’t seem so bad. But Lovelady thinks journalism is not about balance and it shows. Stanton, whose work I’m unfamiliar with, thinks balance and a fair shake are important.

Polls of media professionals’ opinions show that they are out of the mainstream when it comes to issues surrounding homosexuality. Many readers who oppose extending marital rights to homosexuals probably wish someone in the newsroom truly understood why they believed that way. The truth of the matter is that in many papers they’d be lucky to get someone as tolerant of their view as Stanton, who thinks they’re sick in the head but reports on their views fairly anyway.

The thing is that it’s not the reporter’s vocation to slant the news in order to manipulate what the reader thinks. And we should always be on guard against the practice, particularly on the issues about which we have strong personal opinions. If one “side” is so obviously right, the reader will figure it out through simple reading. I mean, come on people. I’m Lutheran. Do you have any idea what I personally believe about James Dobson and his type, to name someone I wrote about recently? But my vocation here is not to tell you what to think of James Dobson’s theology, but merely to look at whether he is portrayed fairly in local and national newspapers.

Oh wow. A further search of journalistic response to Stanton shows the situation is worse than I’d thought. Reporters think they should be the judge and jury. Here’s Attytood‘s Will Bunch saying Stanton’s drive for balance is “what’s wrong with American journalism”:

So, an American journalist of some reputation believes that news articles should accept homophobia as equally “true or valid” to those who do not hate gays — all in the name of something called “balance.”

homophobia.jpgIt’s getting easier for me to see why there’s such a disconnect between Americans who oppose extending marriage to same-sex unions and the media. Views held by a large percentage of the readers are deemed pathological, invalid and unworthy of a fair shake. I wonder if reporters and editors realize that readers pick up on that dismissal of their views. Or if they care:

Objectivity — never a great idea in journalism in the first place — posits that we shouldn’t make value judgments as to the people involved in the story or their views. But I think we can, and should. It may not be universally accepted, but homophobes’ views are NOT equally as legitimate as the views of those who preach tolerance, just as segregationist views are not equally as legitimate as those who preach racial harmony.

I love the unironic use of the word “tolerance” in that comment. The thought police have set up shop at your newspapers! Don’t think for yourself — we’ll tell you which view is acceptable. Obey and submit!

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  • Rathje

    Tolerance is overrated.

    The word is really just code for “Everyone just shut up and ignore each other.”

  • Steve

    If someone believes that homosexual activity is sin, is that person intolerant or homophobic?

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  • revpharoah

    Isn’t the whole concept of sin intolerant? And if so, what do you do with all those people who believe in the concept? And if the concept of sin is intolerable, what do you offer as a substitute? Can a society exist without a concept of sin? Who gets to determine what is and what isn’t? Hmmm.

  • revpharoah

    Is there a difference between “believing homosexuality is sin” and “irrational fear of homosexuals?”

  • Maureen

    What’s wrong with a modus vivendi? Why do people have to shut up, especially in the public square?

    There are probably all sorts of people on your own street who hold views with which you violently disagree. If you think about it, you may even realize that you have heard these folks talk about them, or seen evidence of them. But most of the time, you _don’t care_. As long as you are all law-abiding citizens who don’t spit on each other’s lawns or do things in the street which make motor vehicles shy, neither you nor they have any need to care. You can mind your own business, live and let live, and recognize that a man’s home and mind are his castle.

    I think that’s a perfectly good civic virtue. It’s not the highest one, but it’s the one most essential to the continuation of any livable human society.

  • Maureen

    I forgot to say:

    A man’s mouth and pen are his heralds, and so have a certain diplomatic immunity.

  • Joel

    It may not be universally accepted, but homophobes’ views are NOT equally as legitimate as the views of those who preach tolerance,

    I thought his journalistic credibility went out the window as soon as I saw the phrase “equally as.” Gives you an idea of what sort of dolt is writing.

  • ELC

    This is a rare window into mainstream media’s point of view. I think their intellectual arrogance comes partly from assuming that their viewpoint is correct because… well… because it’s their viewpoint.

    But I think something else is at work, too, something more subtle and, therefore, harder to detect: they identify (equate, synonymize) their point of view with being fair and balanced. To put it the other way, they believe their point of view is, by definition, the fair and balanced point of view.

    Thus, whenever an article has effectively expressed their viewpoint, it is by definition fair and balanced. Thus, any request to present some other point of view is, by definition, a request to present an “extremist” viewpoint. Thus, when they do present another point of view, one that doesn’t accord with theirs, though it might add to the depth or breadth of the article, it doesn’t really add to its fairness or balance; indeed, it might knock the fairness and balance out of whack. And, like, why can’t everybody see that?

    Thus, too, their genuine shock and outrage when they are accused of not being fair and balanced: according to how they think, they are fair and balanced by definition and, therefore, can hardly be anything else. I can almost hear them saying, “Just ask anybody in the business, they’ll tell you: we’re fair and balanced. They agree with me about that. And about everything else, too. Except the conservatives and Christers they let onto the staff for some stupid reason.”

    Of course, everybody tends to think he’s right. I think the problem in mainstream media comes more from the Fair And Balanced By Definition mentality, though, than from a My Position Is The Correct Position mentality.

  • Denny

    Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle states we cannot observe a quantum system without also influencing it. There will always be uncertainty in what we measure, as our measurements are always influencing the system. This seems very logical, as we are a part of the system we are measuring. How can we measure ourselves objectively? How can we separate ourselves from nature?

    Is it possible for any human being to give an objective account of a physical event, entirely free from bias? This should be established prior to arguing over whether or not a journalist can be objective.

    If journalist’s really appreciated the written word as they should, they would see the linguistic mysteries being openly discussed in the Bible. They would gain tremendous respect for the Christian worldview.

    For instance: Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded and came forth from God; I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.” (Jhn 8:42)

    What is this saying? When we speak a word, doesn’t it proceed and come forth from us, not of its own accord, but by our will? By itself, a word can do nothing. It only goes where we direct it.

    Furthermore, if you love a person, you love to listen to them speak. You love for them to share themselves with you. You love to hear what they love to hear.

    Jesus is the Word of God. If you love God, why will you not listen to Jesus? That is what was being asked in the passage above. That question still applies today.

    ::If someone believes that homosexual activity is sin, is that person intolerant or homophobic?::

    No, because such people view almost everything in the sphere of human activity as being tainted by sin, as man is by nature a sinful creature who is in need of God’s forgiveness.

    If we say we’re without sin, we negate God’s purpose in Jesus Christ, which was to come in the flesh and take all sin upon himself in order to redeem our fallen nature.

    If we say we have no sin, we call the Jesus of our hearts a liar, and so we do not listen to Him, the only one capable of imparting the knowledge of God to us, as Christ is the living expression of God’s perfect knowledge. He is the Word.

    St. Padre Pio said the sins he suffered for the most were contraception and abortion (and he shed blood everyday for over 50 years). These are not necessarily homosexual activities, you know?

    When human beings objectify one another, we are using each other. When we use, we devalue. When we devalue, it becomes easier to kill. Some people don’t think of life as a blessing, but as an unfortunate side effect of sexual pleasure. That is why we have condoms and birth control pills, both things that the saints suffer for immensely.

    Pick up St. Faustina’s diary and read the account of her sufferings for the abortions in her home country. The woman would feel all of that pain as if she herself were being torn up on the inside. Now imagine that St. Faustina is your sister or your mother or your daughter. What do you think?

    Is she being intolerant by accepting the punishment for others willingly, herself being innocent of any such crime against nature? Could you convince St. Francis, St. Faustina, or St. Padre Pio that there is no such thing as sin? Each of these souls had proof in their bodies to the contrary. Does this evidence count for anything?

  • tmatt

    Folks, note that Denny starts with journalism and then heads off into theology.

    Making a theological case for a journalistic decision will not work in a newsroom, at least it won’t work in any of the newsrooms I have worked in.

    Please note, also, that GetReligion is not big on the word “objectivity.” That tends to be a word that leads to endless circles of debate of a philosophical nature. What we cheer for is a commitment to having diverse newsrooms that strive — note, STRIVE — to be as accurate, balanced and fair as possible (OK, in a world that is both glorious and fallen).

    What Mollie is describing in this most excellent post is, well, the growth of a journalistic heresy.

  • Don Neuendorf

    I like the path usually advocated by Joel Belz at World Magazine. They make a good faith effort to be honest in their reporting, and to see things from more than one side, but in the end what matters more is that they’re up front with the reader about their own bias. They admit they have a point of view from which they’re writing. Then the reader can evaluate what they say for himself.

    As Terry suggests, objectivity is a tough claim to make, even in the laboratory. But honesty… that shouldn’t be quite so unreachable.

    The shocking thing about Stanton’s piece and the response is that, for once, we’re getting a peak at the honest views of these journalists.

  • BluesDaddy

    Just another demonstration of why “professional” journalists are becoming increasingly irrelevant and traditional news sources increasingly losing viewership and readership.

    These journalists view themselves as above the masses. The do not merely want to be the “4th estate”, but the high priests and priestestes of all the is good, pure and “truth”.

    What’s fascinating is these were the people who 20 years ago were telling us everything was relative and there was no such thing as “truth”. Now they are the arbiters of it.

    The sooner the NY Times goes out of business, the better off we will all be.

  • dk

    It’s not clear to me at all what Mollie is describing. Instead of just asserting that she sees “balance” as being “compatible with truth,” it might help to flesh the position out. Or just define “balance” for starters.

    These terms get thrown around here a lot, but they aren’t clearly defined. A key issue is, balance, fairness, and accuracy relative to what/whose standard?

    Note that Mollie dismisses a valid and important argument in this debate simply because it invokes Hitler. This move is very much in the style of newspaper columns where you can dismiss people or ideas with a clever dig. But is that being fair or balanced? Is it accurate? Is it even logical?

    Of course the point is often made: Hitler (and others) made a big and lasting problem clear–that truth can be incompatible with balance when balance means giving substantial attention and an implied plausibility to falsehood.

    Mollie’s ending point is highly unconvincing. It moves attention more to the opposing view. Would she really not admit to believing that all views are not equally legitimate? DOes she really deny that at some point we all declare a limit to how much theoretical equality we can even pretend to ascribe to certain people? Thinking you are right and others are not is simply the result of being faithful to the idea that truth exists. The objection that it is arrogant is irrelevant. Is it arrogant if you’re right?

    This site is frequently humorously arrogant and dismissive of certain people and views in a wink-and-nod manner to its implied audience–fellow travellers who get religion. (This is observation, not criticism.) If GR is really supposed to be about bringing greater accuracy, fairness, and balance to the MSM (those who don’t get what “we” get), this is a funny way to do it. If they don’t get a certain ghetto, why talk to the ghetto about it?

    I think the best we can reasonably hope for in the media is that such groups as the homophobes and infanticides will give inevitably biased but potentially fair and accurate consideration to each other. Those who are so caught up with the replacements for “objective” reporting (ie balance, fairness and accuracy) may just need to step back and consider the possibility that their quest for a relatively singular voice to address a diverse and divided public (a voice derived from adherence to a rule or method) is quixotic.

    Smart people who want to “get religion” look at the NYTimes and WORLD magazine, Indymedia, the Catholic Labor Network, etc etc. So what is the problem? Others complaining because they can’t get all that into one newspaper, or one newspaper article? Or because they want WORLD to be TIME to be WORLD…? Find your own balance, accuracy and fairness in the media ocean.

  • c.tower

    Does the phrase “fair and balanced” really mean anything since Fox News co-opted it? (Even the most hard-core conservatives would have to concede that outfit’s biases, even if they do agree with them). If the media were to REALLY present both sides of a religous debate, they’d have to continously point out how ALL religions are based on unprovable belief in the supernatural (hey, yhat’s why they call it faith, people…) And while the Hitler metaphor is both overused and overkill, that comparison to the KKK is valid (especially given the kind of casual acceptance the Klan had in the Deep South back then…)

  • Mollie

    DK, you wrote:

    “Note that Mollie dismisses a valid and important argument in this debate simply because it invokes Hitler. This move is very much in the style of newspaper columns where you can dismiss people or ideas with a clever dig. But is that being fair or balanced? Is it accurate? Is it even logical?”

    I’m sorry, but you completely lost me here. And the rest of your comment kind of meandered so I’m not sure what your overall points are.

    I didn’t dismiss his argument, just noted that he invoked Godwin’s Law quite early. In fact, I praised him for making a straightforward argument. One I happen to disagree with. As in, YES, I think that Hitler’s followers ABSOLUTELY should have been quoted fairly and accurately and given good space. HOW ELSE DO YOU KNOW WHAT THEY BELIEVE? HOW ELSE DO YOU KNOW HOW TO REACH THEM?

    The point is, though, that I didn’t dismiss his argument. Neither did I choose to engage it in an indepth manner (wasn’t the purpose of the post) but I certainly didn’t dismiss it.

    Please read more carefully and work on crafting responses that are more specific.

  • Cole

    I agree with Stanton that homophobes are bad people (just as bad as racists), but that they should still be fairly represented. I agree with Mollie that Nazis and Klansmen should also be fairly represented (of course, homophobes aren’t nearly as bad as Nazis and Klansmen—even Fred Phelps isn’t that bad—except for those homophobes who use intimidation and violence against gays).

    Mollie’s use of “thought police” is uncalled-for. Even if the press is ideologically-blinded, they are not criminalizing thoughts or reporting homophobes to the state for re-education. Any claims to the contrary are pure hysteria. What this press is doing is (i) looking down on homophobes and (ii) abandoning any commitment to fairness in reporting their views. (I agree with the first and not the second). Presumably, Mollie would (quite rightly) roll her eyes at someone who called Fox News the “thought police” just because they push an ideological agenda; if so, she seems to be guilty of inconsistency.

    Homophobia vs. regarding homosexuality as a sin. First, terminology: homophobia (like xenophobia) isn’t just a pathological fear, it extends to any bigoted attitude towards homosexuals. And while there is a distinction between being bigoted towards a group and thinking that what they’re doing is immoral, when there is absolutely no reason to think that what they’re doing is immoral (apart from the ‘reasons’ of bigots), then the two seem to shade into each other. For example, consider people who think that interracial marriage is immoral—if they’re not bigots, they’re certainly close enough.

    Now, anyone who genuinely thinks that homosexuality is immoral is (to an important extent) a bad person, just as anyone who genuinely thinks that interracial marriage is immoral is a bad person. Perhaps we can imagine weird scenarios where people against homosexuality or interracial marriage are not bad people, but they’re pretty far-fetched.

    But suppose we’re dealing with someone who doesn’t genuinely think that homosexuality is immoral, but instead tries to make himself believe that it is a sin, in order to live up to his religion. Then the person has a different kind of character flaw: a willingness to hold loathsome moral positions whenever his religion says so. Thus someone who tried to make himself believe that interracial marriage is a sin because his religion said so would be a bad person. And likewise, someone who tried to make himself believe that women are inferior because his religion said so would be a bad person. And so on. In general, putting more confidence in one’s religion than in basic principles of decency is a sign of a bad character.

    So I think making the distinction between homophobia and regarding homosexuality as a sin won’t help much.

  • Paul Barnes

    Cole, except that some people do argue that homosexuality IS immoral. Look at the new Natural Law movement. Your unstated assumption is that homosexuality is morally neutral, or even a good. Some people do not have that assumption.

    It is very convienent to call those who disagree with you a bigot to get points, but it will hardly solve anything. Furthermore, it seems like a large dose of hubris to call someone “a bad person” because they do not like homosexuality. That would include such thinkers as Aristotle and Plato (ok, so I am defending two of my favorite thinkers).

    Certainly, we can both agree Fred Phelps is loathsome, but that does not mean we have to support homosexual acts.

  • Cole

    Paul, I accept that some people think homosexuality is immoral, just as I accept that some people think interracial marriage is immoral or that prohibiting women from reading is OK. The world is filled with people who endorse terrible views, and I accept that.

    I’m not calling anyone a bigot to get points, I’m simply responding to people who think a lot of work can be done by the distinction between homophobia and thinking homosexuality is a sin. I don’t think it will work: if homophobia is bad for the standard reasons (bigotry), then thinking homosexuality is a sin will also be bad for similar reasons (being willing to embrace bigotry for the sake of one’s religion).

    I think I agree in principle with your point regarding homophobia making someone a bad person. I wouldn’t want to say that without qualification. (That’s why I put in provisos like “to an important extent” and “just as bad as racists”). Just as you can take people of the 18th century to be basically decent people despite their anti-black bigotry, or people of the 1940s to be basically decent people despite their opposition to interracial marriage, you can take homophobia as not disqualifying a person of the past from being basically decent. These days, however, anti-black bigots and people against interracial marriage have little to no excuse, and so you can safely judge them to have pretty bad character. And the same goes, I would say, for homophobes; they have little to no excuse. Maybe I’d cut someone more slack if he’s in his 70s or something.

    (Also, I don’t know if you want to invoke the ancient Greeks vis-a-vis homosexuality. Don’t make me break out the Symposium!)

  • Dan

    Race discrimination and the belief that homosexuality is wrong are not comparable, for multiple reasons. One is that our Judeo-Christian tradition has never taught that blacks are inferior to whites. While it is true white southerners tried to justify slavery theologically, that proves nothing. People have tried to justify just about everything theologically (including, for example, abortion).

    Two is that race disrimination and the belief that homosexual conduct is wrong are on entirely different scientific and logical planes. There is no plausible scientific or logical argument for race discrimination. There are however good reasons why homosexuality has been condemned throughout Western history. These reasons include the fact that homosexuality is a perversion, as the concept of perversion was defined by Freud (any sexual act not tending toward procreation).

  • Cole

    Dan, I don’t see what “our Judeo-Christian heritage” has to do with the wrongness of racism and homophobia. When I compare the two, it is in terms of their moral status, not in terms of their history within some religious tradition. (I cheerfully grant that sexuality is more flexible than race—more of a choice, to speak somewhat misleadingly. But I don’t think that fact makes any difference in the relative moral statuses of bigotry concerning sexuality and bigotry concerning race.)

    Now, you do give a reason for thinking homosexuality is immoral, but I think it is a very weak reason. I guess the argument goes something like “Homosexuality is a perversion-as-defined-by-Freud. Anything that is a perversion-as-defined-by-Freud is immoral. Therefore, homosexuality is immoral”. But, if so, the second premise is unsupported, and implausible on its face. Why does the mere fact that something falls under the scope of Freud’s use of the term ‘perversion’ show that it is immoral? Is Freud supposed to be a moral authority? (Freud?) Are his definitions of terms supposed to settle moral questions? I presume no one would seriously answer yes to these questions.

    Perhaps you intended the argument “Homosexuality involves sexual acts not tending towards procreation. Anything involving sexual acts not tending towards procreation is immoral. Therefore, homosexuality is immoral”. But again, the second premise is unsupported, and indeed it looks plainly wrong. For, according to it, all sorts of perfectly innocuous activity is immoral: masturbation, sex with birth control, sex between old people, sex between infertile people, etc.

    Of course, you could insist that all these things are immoral, but then your argument would be extremely question-begging: it would rely on a premise even more controversial than the conclusion it intends to establish! As a side note, it would have little place in “our Judeo-Christian heritage”, which has no problem with those activities.

    Alternatively, you could try to make adjustments to the disputed premise, making use of the vagueness of “tending towards”, so that it doesn’t imply that old people shouldn’t have sex. But a moral principle with lots of adjustments and add-ons and provisos and epicycles rarely has enough plausibility to settle anything controversial. So any argument based on such a principle would probably be question-begging.

  • Cole

    Correction: I realize that masturbation and birth control have a mixed record in “our Judeo-Christian heritage”; what I meant was that contemporary American Jews and Christians (with the exception of some Catholic theologians) seem to have no problem with them. Of course, this makes no difference to their moral status; it was just a side note.

  • Jay

    Gosh, for some reason I thought this was about journalism and not sin and homosexual practice.

    For me, the phrase “Objectivity — never a great idea in journalism in the first place” says it all. Once upon a time (pre “New Journalism”) we were called on to get truth, facts, report the news and all that stuff. Instead, (at best) “journalists” see their goal as to filter the news or (at worst) to create the news to support their view of social change.

    The TV bigshots lament people self-selecting news sources with which they agree. But if the news were presenting facts rather than opinions (er, “analysis”) then there wouldn’t be anything (i.e. reporters’ opinions) with which to disagree.

  • Joel Kropf

    Cole, interesting comments. Full disclosure: I am one of the bad people, by your definition, since I think that having sex with someone of the same sex is a sin.

    One of the interesting things about this thread is that certain writers Mollie cites (e.g. Steve Lovelady) and yourself appear to have a clear and unabashed belief that there is a real morality against which personal preference can be judged. There don’t seem to be that many people who want to talk about that today, although possibly I just need to get out a little more. So the obvious question is: what, in your eyes, is the essential content and basis of morality? This is neither a rhetorical nor leading question, but rather a genuinely curious one. (Admittedly it’s a bit off-topic, but as long as tmatt doesn’t notice, it’s all good.)

  • http://dare Gary McClellan

    I realize that truly “objective” media is pretty much impossible on multiple levels. As such, I much prefer that journalists are open about their own point of view, so that the rest of us can judge how that point of view influences their work.

    However, one of the key issues involved in giving “both sides” of a story is that in many ways, the Media are one of the primary sources of information to our society. As such, the risk is that when the media begins to decide what facts are “unworthy” of being shared, it begins to take a very profound role in shaping the views of a society.

    Now, to a fair extent, this is inevitable. Reporters are always having to choose what information to share, or not share. It could be on the basis of relevance, pathos, or just because an editor thinks it will improve sales/ratings. The line in question here is when the media then takes the position that it is allowed (or even meant) to declare certain information unworthy of being placed into public discourse.

  • Paul Barnes


    I think I see where our disagreement is over. It is in the word homophobia. I suppose that you might apply the word more liberally than I would. Regarding sex (of either gender or with whatever gender) I prefer not to see it, period. It really doesn’t bother me (emotionally) if you are gay, straight, bi…you will do what you want to despite what I say, and I cant really prevent you from doing it.

    Yet, the main issue I have is your use of the word ‘homophobia’. I think it is a case of crying wolf if someone disagrees with same-sex marriage, therefore they are a bigot. I have read of arguments against SSM by atheists (I believe Bertrand Russell did…also, this guy does too dont let the name of the website fool you) I guess I do not see it as such an open and shut case as you do.

    Oh, and I consider The Symposium to be my favorite work of Plato. I believe though that both Aristotle and Plato considered homosexuality to be unnatural in the end. The rest of Greek society…well…I am not a Greek.

  • Paul Barnes

    And I guess my whole point about the media is this: they assume (I think) too quickly that if you are against gay marriage, you are a religious fundamentalist. I think it dodges the issue, and, quite frankly, tilts the debate towards the journalists position without any serious debate.

    I suppose it is the philosophy major in me that doesn’t like the unquestioned assumptions there.

  • Cole

    Joel, as far as the content of morality goes, I don’t have some big worked-out system or anything. I just balance the intuitive plausibility of general principles against their consequences, and try to draw analogies, and find relevant factors, and so on. I assume this is what pretty much everyone does, to the extent that they think critically about morality. As far as the basis goes, I’m pretty anti-realist about foundations for morality, though this isn’t just for norms of morality, but extends to norms of self-interest, means-end reasoning, consistency, and so on. The is-ought gap makes trouble for all of this stuff, I think (even bringing in God wouldn’t help, thanks to the Euthyphro dilemma). But just because my commitments are not the sort of thing that could pick up on some external moral reality (whatever that would be like), it doesn’t mean I should take them any less seriously—to say that I should take them less seriously is itself an evaluative judgment and one which I find pretty implausible. There’d be something wrong with a person who made his opposition to rape contingent on the outcome of philosophical disputes about the nature and status of morality. (To be sure, this is all really difficult stuff, and so I don’t have a super-confident attitude about my position, but since you asked…)

    In any case, I share the exasperation of many on the right with fashionable relativism. But you’ll also find unfashionable people on the left (or liberal/libertarians like me) willing to make moral judgments unapologetically, without hemming and hawing about other people having other values and other such concessions to ‘cultural differences’ and ‘tolerance’. My hope is that this all goes away soon, and we can make judgments, have emotions, and work through lines of reasoning in morality, without having to put in disclaimers.

    I hope this isn’t too off-topic.

  • Cole


    Yeah, I think ‘homophobia’, in its prevailing usage, is supposed to be like ‘xenophobia’ and apply to a kind of bigotry. You could go with ‘heterosexism’, modelled on ‘sexism’ and ‘racism’, I suppose, but it’s still a pretty bookish term.

    I agree that the opposition to gay marriage extends well beyond religious fundamentalists. I’d bet a lot of people against it are indulging a sort of knee-jerk contrarianism against a political ideology/movement/identity (the bleeding-heart ‘tolerance’-preaching left) that they’ve grown to dislike. I imagine this is how a lot of political and ethical positions are adopted—you like seeing yourself as part of some group and start adopting their positions, or you dislike a group and start opposing their positions; either way, the arguments you come up for your position are pure rationalizations. To use the incendiary example of the day, I bet a lot of Southerners opposed segregation more because they hated the North than because they were bigoted against blacks.

  • tmatt

    Time to return this to journalism, for a second.

    GR’s position is that diversity of viewpoints in a room is good. Diversity in viewpoints and sources of information in stories is good. Producing stories in which the people on BOTH SIDES OF HOT ISSUES believe that their quotes were handled fairly and that the information they provided was handled accurately is good and signs that (See “Elements of Journalism”) key journalistic virtues are at work.

    Newsrooms in which 95 percent of the people believe the same thing on the hottest issue in American life are, well, bad for the future of the newspaper industry.

  • ELC

    Cole should work in a mainstream-media newsroom, if he doesn’t already: it looks to me as if he’d fit right in, from attempting to define terms so he’s automatically right by definition, and name-calling and smearing those in the unwashed masses who disagree with his opinion. And, probably, shock and outrage at having these things pointed out to him. :-)

  • Joel Kropf

    Cole: thanks for your response.

    Terry: oops … sorry about that.

  • Aceplace


    Hey, nice points, although I have to disagree with the race analogy for the same reasons I always do. Race, as in skin color, is no indication of character or behavior, and in fact the concept of race has no basis at all biologically. For example, if I had a son with a black individual the childs skin color would be different then mine but genetically I’d be much more similar to him then most white individuals.
    Homosexual Sex (not the orientation) on the other hand is an explicit act, so comparing gay sex to race wont work. Acts can have definite moral implications. I should say that I don’t believe the orientation is chosen though (although it does have biological basis), so I can’t say I would take issues with anyone I know who has same sex attractions.
    As for the idea that I can’t think that homosexual sex is wrong, I should say that the Christian lifestyle is fairly restrictive. There is a lot ‘we’ can’t do that is probably seen as okay by the mainstream culture. For example, Christians don’t like fornication, yet many people do it as their personal preference…Am I therefore a fornophobe? Am I also a Adulterphobe and Polyphobe? I also think condom use is wrong…Am I bigoted toward those who use condoms?
    For me, a Gay individual can lead a celibate lifestyle and I would view that choice as perfectly legitimate. I understand this is very difficult for most gays (especially with the secular culture beginning to embrace homosexuality), so if they feel they can’t do it then I can certainly feel for them (and I will refrain judgement). It doesn’t mean I have to like what they they are doing.
    Of course, perhaps you don’t like that conservative Christians promote a certain lifestyle, in which case I can only ask for TOLERANCE.

    As for journalism, I have no problem with journalists having convictions. I don’t even mind when they *gasp* think they are right. Thinking that one is right is not the same as “looking down” upon others. So if they call the other side “not equally valid” than fine.
    They do need to be fair though, and present their opponents true position, and not strawmen of the position.


  • Suzette

    The term “homophobe” is inaccurate at best, perjorative and inflammatory at worst. It is used in a derogatory manner in order to encourage the belief that the OTHER is malignant, just as words like “nigger” “kike” and “faggot” are used. None of those would be acceptable descriptive terms in journalism.

  • Paul Barnes

    My main problem is that journalists should be like historians: almost all of their work should be descriptive. While making moral points might get publicity, it obscures the issue(s) at hand.

  • dk

    Mollie, I don’t know how I can be any clearer here:

    “Note that Mollie dismisses a valid and important argument in this debate simply because it invokes Hitler. This move is very much in the style of newspaper columns where you can dismiss people or ideas with a clever dig. But is that being fair or balanced? Is it accurate? Is it even logical?”

    Think Maureen Dowd, or Jonah Goldberg.

    Noting that “Godwin’s Law” (kind of a joke fallacy, not a real one) was invoked quite early is not a counter-argument. You did not make a counter argument. You said you disagreed. That’s not giving readers very much.

    It explains a lot to me that you see “fair and balanced” journalism (“showing both sides”) as a way to not only let people know what different people believe but to “reach them”–i.e., the people you or any given writer finds marginal or otherwise problematic, such as Nazis. What does “reaching them” consist of? It sounds like what some might call argument, persuasion, advocacy, evangelism. It implies a correct viewpoint you want them to consider as superior to their own, which is what anyone is going to believe if they believe in truth.

    Yet the inevitable bias stemming from commitments to certain truths is what you, Tmatt, and many others object to in much of the MSM regarding religion-related subjects. If a writer sees homophobia as including any opposition to absolute equality under the law regardless of sexual orientation, then any opposition to “gay marriage” is wrong, unjust, and deeply threatening to our society and political system. You can argue there is a very different view here to consider that is being slighted, and I completely agree with that, but by making your case on the basis of a principle of fairness and balance (really an issue of equality), you are saying any and every possible viewpoint can and probably should be treated equally. I think we all agree this is impossible and undesirable. All sides are never represented and can’t be. Controlling what sides get represented is a political act with serious consequences. This may as well be admitted once and for all.

    Journalism is always partisanship of a kind. Everyone wants their view represented well and frequently if they feel it isn’t out there enough in a good light, including Nazis. I believe you’d have a problem with it too if the quest for “fair and balanced” journalism led to considerably more “open-minded” engagement of Nazis in the press. The fact is, what you guys are doing is part of a broad movement and effort (not a masterminded conspiracy of course) on the part of religious or cultural or theological conservatives, chiefly Christian evangelicals. Would you really deny that? Would any readers here deny that? Admitting this is not antithetical to a quest for fairness, balance and accuracy. That quest only has meaning relative to a certain standpoint that assumes what the sides are (a lot more than two) and which will be represented in the press. Those assumptions determine the whole frame and outcome of a story. Because of their particularity, they are inevitably partisan. What we need is polypartisanshi in newsrooms. Tmatt is right that “Newsrooms in which 95 percent of the people believe the same thing on the hottest issue in American life are, well, bad for the future of the newspaper industry.”

    THey’re bad for a lot of other, possibly more important reasons too.

  • Mollie


    I think I understand your position a little bit better. Although saying things like “Think Maureen Dowd or Jonah Goldberg” tells me absolutely nothing. I mean, think WHAT about Maureen Dowd or Jonah Goldberg?

    As for your assumptions about my motives, I think they are wrong — but I appreciate you sharing them as they illuminate what you’ve been hinting at recently.

    Anyway, the job of a reporter is not to be a judge, or jury, or partisan, or anything larger than, well, a reporter. Just report the facts as fairly as you can — present the big players in a dispute in a balanced manner. That doesn’t mean doing a word count to make sure everyone has the same number of words — it just means that you do your best to make some decisions about which views are helpful for readers and which ones form the crux of the debate. And yes, I do think that presenting a multitude of views about a given subject is truthful. And I think characterizing those views as fairly as possible is important.

    Yes, it’s an art. Yes, it’s difficult. But a good reporter loves doing it.

  • dk

    Did this come before or after I got called a troll?

    Do you have any idea how annoying it is when someone says “I disagree” or “I think your are wrong” and does not explain why?

    Dowd, Goldberg–you know, snark instead of argument. Of course with Dowd, that’s her job.

    Are you now implying that facts are value free, bias free, and judgment free? You really believe that?

    I just got a big donation soliciting letter from Catholic Action Answers that goes into great FACTUAL detail about James Carville’s strategy to lure more Catholics to the Dems. It is a surprisingly fair, accurate, and balanced piece. Remove the overt Us vs. Them language, a few clear pro-life advocacy statements, and the plea for financial support and it reminds me very much of a GR article. It is mostly an analysis of Carvillian rhetorical and political strategy that accurately dissects some slippery ideas and half-truths. Few strongly pro-choice readers would see this as “just the facts.” Yet as I see it, the facts lead a certain way, toward certain conclusions. You could add all kinds of “other views,” but you can’t organize them into a story without indicating certain (usually foregone) conclusions or getting very vacuous and relativistic. (The typical student essay ending: some say this, but others say that, and whatever you think teacher/boss/reader, I don’t mean to offend you.)