Sacrificing journalism on altar of gay advocacy

A few weeks ago, departing New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane said something everybody already knows:

When The Times covers a national presidential campaign, I have found that the lead editors and reporters are disciplined about enforcing fairness and balance, and usually succeed in doing so. Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.

As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.

What happens when you cover something like a cause rather than a news subject is that the journalism suffers. We saw the eleventy billionth example of that with a puffier than puffy one-sided hagiography of a gay Christian activist named Matthew Vines. Headlined “Turned Away, He Turned to the Bible” with the url “matthew-vines-wont-rest-in-defending-gay-christians.”

It seemed, from the piece that ran in — of all things — the “Fashion & Style” section of the paper that an interesting story could have been written about the man and his advocacy work in favor of changing traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality. But because it read like a press release rather than a news story, we didn’t get the chance to have an interesting story that really engaged the work.

The reader who sent in the piece asked a set of questions that explain the problem with the story so well that I don’t even need to quote anything from the Times report (so GetReligion readers should read that text for themselves):

People who disagree with Mr Vines are ‘belittling’, ‘blistering’ and lumped together with people who call him Satan? Really?

Why is it that Mr. Vines’s arguments which ‘are based in solid religious scholarship’ ‘have been argued before, and rarely to much effect’? Any reason for that?

Why are Vines’s arguments ‘unlikely to change many minds, especially among the leadership in the conservative Christian communities to which they are addressed’ ? Could the author elaborate on that?

Boom. Exactly. In other words, let’s try journalism!

The bottom line: It’s boring to read another cheerleading piece about how awesome all gay activists are and how evil their opponents are. But how about we take this story out of the Fashion & Style section, which suggests that homosexuality is just a lifestyle issue and go ahead and edit the piece to remove some of the silliness and add in some meat from people who don’t agree with every word printed by the New York Times, no matter how many times they’re printed over and over and over again. Wouldn’t that be nice? Just for a change of pace, even?

Meanwhile, we once again need to ask — in the wake of those infamous words from former editor Bill Keller — whether the Times is truly willing to take a balanced, accurate approach to the viewpoints on both sides of this issue. After all, remember his words that night at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin? Of his newspaper, he said:

“We are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, sort of tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes — and did even before New York had a gay marriage law — included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense of the word, I guess. Socially liberal.”

Asked by the moderator if the Times slants its coverage to favor “Democrats and liberals,” the recently retired editor confessed:

“Aside from the liberal values, sort of social values thing that I talked about, no, I don’t think that it does.”

The key words, of course, are “aside” and “from.”

A visual interpretation of the puff piece in question via Shutterstock.

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  • deiseach

    First page of the story, I was sitting there wondering “He’s a 22-year old college student who is studying philosophy, not religion. How the heck does he merit an article like this?”

    That question was answered for me on the second page; his Youtube video went viral and big-hitters like Dan Savage quoted him. In other words, this is a media confection. No disrespect to the young man, who seems – in what we do see of him – to be a nice, sincere, genuine young man who thinks he has good arguments. But the story does seem to be stacking up as institutional homophobia on one side, nice gay people on the other.

    I would also like a little clarification: the first line of the story says he was “forced to leave” the church he and his family attended (which most people would take as meaing excommunicated or otherwise officially kicked out by the elders, bishop or whatever form of government is in place in the denomination). But on the second page, it says that the family “severed their relationship with the church they had attended for decades”, which makes it sound like they decided if the official policies and teaching didn’t change, they were going to leave.

    So which was it? Left of their own accord or driven out? Though I suppose that if the church (and we don’t even find out what church or denomination or anything else, other than it’s located in Wichita) didn’t fall over themselves to throw out two millenia’s worth of teaching based on a paper by a twenty-year old who is basing his arguments on the scholarship of others not in his field – well, that’s the same thing as forcing them out, isn’t it?

    I was also mordantly amused that Leviticus does not apply to Christians. Yay! So I can sleep with my siblings, parents, step-parents and others, huh? Adultery is not wrong, no matter what Leviticus 18:20 may say? Now, why didn’t anyone tell that to St. Paul when he was rebuking the Corinthians “I can hardly believe the report about the sexual immorality going on among you–something that even pagans don’t do. I am told that a man in your church is living in sin with his stepmother”? Hey, Paul, don’t you know that Leviticus 18 doesn’t apply to Christians?

    • Charles

      Someone forgot to tell the Council of Jerusalem as described in the Book of Acts. They did not bind the gentiles to much of the law, but of the three conditions they upheld included the Leviticus’ ban on unlawful marriages (sexual behaviors).

  • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    Mollie, your last words are so right. I am amazed at the complete lack of clear introspection. How on earth can one demonize, in a kind of reflexive and unspoken way, people who disagree with the gay agenda (and seem to feel justified in it) and not at the same time hold in suspicion everything else they say as proceeding from the same ill will? Favor and criticism follow naturally and subconsciously in the political news stories. Still, it is possible that the reporters and editors actually believe they are being objective and fair. The outgoing editor might lament that from a journalistic standpoint the puff pieces read more like advocacy than news, but that is only a matter of editorial style and not a matter of a deeper sense of justice and values in the reporter. In other words, the advocacy is justified, but it might be poor form to let it show so much in a newspaper.

    And what does “…open-minded, sort of tolerant…” mean? Open-minded to people who agree with them? A very telling Freudian slip if you ask me.

    • Proteios1

      Saying the NYT “thinks” it is being fair is like believing Fox news is fair and balanced. Both are heavily biased. Both all but admit it. And smart consumers all but know it. I like a little left slant on labor issues and a right slant on social issues. So in watching various media outlets the bias of each becomes soooo very apparent.
      And yes, you are correct. Tolerance is your right to agree with me.

  • The Old Bill

    “But how about we take this story out of the Fashion & Style section, which suggests that homosexuality is just a lifestyle issue…”

    It seems like the Times views religion as a lifestyle issue – and a lifestyle they don’t much like. Ancient religious beliefs are so… so yesterday. We need hipper, cooler, edgier beliefs more in tune with today’s fast-paced digital culture: more in tune with… the Times.

  • FW Ken

    It’s not just gay advocacy. I’ve been home for a couple of weeks and watching more cable news than I should or ever have. You can watch the same events on two channels and watch two different stories. I’m pretty cynical, but this is worse than I thought.

    • David

      Your definitely on to something. I am actually committed to the notion that not only television but the movies as well is only used for propaganda purposes, no matter which side.

  • http://areformedcatholicinthepcusa.blogspot.com Reformed Catholic

    The total lack of opposing viewpoints reflects that this piece is more an opinion piece with supporting guest opinions than balanced news.

  • Amatorem Veritatis

    Interesting Rorschach test at work in the comments. Let’s try a thought experiment. According to @Proteios1 says the NY Times is “heavily biased” (leftward we will assume) and Fox News is “heavily biased” (rightward we will assume). So this implies that objectively speaking (after all we do believe in objective truth I assume), there is a large group of media sources that occupy the “two Sigma” range of this theoretical distribution that represent “unbiased” journalism. Who might that be? ABC, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, WaPo, Boston Globe?? No…not even close. They are all echo chambers for the NYT…or worse. So that must mean that Fox and the NYT do not actually occupy the ideological polar extremes, but only represent discernibly different approaches to creating the news. And I do mean creating. The conclusion drawn from our thought experiment is that perspective is critical in judging ideological bias in journalism. @Proteios1 may consider Fox to be heavily biased, but that is only because his frame of reference is a monolithic progressive/liberal media monopoly that has only one contrarian alternative. I, however, find Fox to be painfully PC in their obsession with the “fair & balanced” theme. I prefer truth to contrived relativism. And I find that truth does not require me to lean either direction…only toward Jesus and his Church.

  • David

    The NYTimes sells it’s paper to a small circulation of ‘believers’. They are trying to stay in business and have their own liberal faction of devotees. The only problem with this is that the Times fails to be a ‘newspaper’ in the objective manner that many of us over forty might remember them to be (although they never really were then either). The NYTimes cost $2.50 for “All The News That Suites Their Readership”. In the end it isn’t surprising. I am surprised by people who still to this date expect balanced objective reporting from the Times.

  • dalea

    He seems to be retelling the arguments put together by John Boswell 35 years ago. Boswell in turn drew on a number of earlier theologians. The media keeps putting up this line of thought over and over again. Which is probably much easier than reporting on actual GL religious ideas and movements. Notice, the man is young; which Gay Christians almost always are. AFAICT, Gay Christians consist of very young men, clergy and officials of various denominations and a few academics. There are very, very few women involved. It has been like this as long as I can remember.

    Actual GL religious activity gets virtually no MSM coverage. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has been drawing about 800 to 1,000 womyn a year since the 70′s. It is one of many such events held all over the world. I have never seen any MSM reporting. Nor any on Z Budapest, founder of Dianic Feminist Religion, a movement with followers everywhere. And then there are the Men’s Gatherings, again held everywhere with thousands of attendees. There are two journals, RFD and White Crane, which deal with Gay Male spirituality; never seen any MSM coverage. The only male group that is ever covered are the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, but the coverage manages to ignore that this is a Shamanic spiritual movement.

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