News Flash: The New York Times believes that a small group of powerful U.S. evangelicals are forcing Ugandan policy makers into something they didn’t already want to do. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the front page article from yesterday on the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda. The dateline says Kampala, but the article appears to be strung together from blog posts and could have been written from Antarctica.
Starting at the top, reporter Jeffrey Gettleman spends three paragraphs on a conference in March on “the threat homosexuals posed to Bible-based values and the traditional African family.” Wait for it. He’s setting us up to demonstrate how these evangelicals are the reason why Ugandans are considering a bill on homosexuality. But where’s the proof?
Now the three Americans are finding themselves on the defensive, saying they had no intention of helping stoke the kind of anger that could lead to what came next: a bill to impose a death sentence for homosexual behavior.
The summary of the bill completely glosses over the details. The bill does not impose a death sentence for just any homosexual behavior; it is for those who have homosexual sex with minors, the disabled or while being HIV-positive. That doesn’t erase many of questions people are asking about this bill, but that kind of information is called context, my friends. The next paragraph, though, is where the reporter made his first mistake.
One month after the conference, a previously unknown Ugandan politician, who boasts of having evangelical friends in the American government, introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, which threatens to hang homosexuals, and, as a result, has put Uganda on a collision course with Western nations.
There is no indication that the reporter attempted to contact this “previously unknown Ugandan politican.” This is like journalism 101, folks. You contact the people you write about, right? His name is David Bahati, and the reporter should have asked him whether evangelicals prompted this legislation. There’s a audio feature that includes quotes from Bahati, but the interviews are not very compelling and do not shed any light on the legislation.
Donor countries, including the United States, are demanding that Uganda’s government drop the proposed law, saying it violates human rights, though Uganda’s minister of ethics and integrity (who previously tried to ban miniskirts) recently said, “Homosexuals can forget about human rights.”
Why does this reporter choose to not include the names of the people he’s writing about? Where and in what context did Nsaba Buturo, the minister of ethics and integrity, make this statement about homosexuals?
The Ugandan government, facing the prospect of losing millions in foreign aid, is now indicating that it will back down, slightly, and change the death penalty provision to life in prison for some homosexuals. But the battle is far from over.
Instead, Uganda seems to have become a far-flung front line in the American culture wars, with American groups on both sides, the Christian right and gay activists, pouring in support and money as they get involved in the broader debate over homosexuality in Africa.
It still appears at though the reporter did not contact anyone in the government about the legislation. Why can’t The New York Times act more like Bloomberg, which did reporting based on interviews indicating that the supporters of the bill may drop the death penalty and life imprisonment.
Also, how are American groups on both sides? Have you seen any American groups in favor of this legislation? Where does this reporter get his information that the Christian right is pouring support and money into the debate? He found a gay rights activist to quote, but it appears that he couldn’t find someone on the Christian right to quote. Strange, don’t you think?
The story notes that strict civil laws opposing homosexuality are common in many African nations. Someone needs to ask if the more powerful legal force on the continent — take the battles inside Nigeria that the reporter mentions, for example — is Sharia law, as interpreted by many, but not all, Muslims. The Sharia factor is a powerful influence, but certainly not the only one.
Towards the end, the reporter returns to those American evangelicals who spoke at the conference back in March. What’s interesting is that the story quotes a board member of Exodus International who says he “feels duped” and had no idea Ugandans were contemplating the death penalty.
So how again is he being connected to the legislation? The reporter writes, “But the Ugandan organizers of the conference admit helping draft the bill.” Why not quote any of them? The only person the reporter quotes connecting evangelicals to the legislation is a Zambian who apparently chronicled the relationship between the bill and American evangelicals. If the bill is in any way linked to the work of U.S. evangelicals, someone in Uganda should be able to verify that, right? But no one in the story verifies this. How can the entire story hinge on a connection with no proof?
The story then brings the Rev. Rick Warren into it. Why is Warren relevant, you ask? Here’s what’s written:
Some of the best known Christian personalities have recently passed through here, often bringing with them anti-homosexuality messages, including the Rev. Rick Warren, who visited in 2008 and has compared homosexuality to pedophilia.
Anyone else miss the connection between a bill proposed by Ugandans to a pastor from California who visited at one time and on a separate occasion he said something else about another issue linked to homosexuality? What did Warren said, on the record? What is the source of this quote? We went over this before. If there’s reason to connect Warren or other evangelicals to this legislation, reporters must find better links. Again, this Times article seems to have been based on information from blogs.
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