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09/05/2009

Dear 'paper of record': Please start recording our foes' incendiary paper trails!

by Jeremy Hooper

Yet despite these points (and these are just the ones we assembled in about five minutes of digging through our archives), how does the venerated New York Times choose to speak of Randy? Well, while quoting him on the California legislature's recently passed (but not yet signed) Harvey Milk Day bill, Times writer Jennifer Steinhauer simply says:

“The bill is so broad it could encompass all kinds of things,” said Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, who has been active in opposing same-sex marriage in the state. “Remembering the life of Harvey Milk could allow for gay pride parades on campus or mock gay weddings or cross-dressing. There is no prohibition of what the bill calls ‘suitable commemorative exercises.’ The sky’s the limit.”
Bill Saluting Harvey Milk Brings California Fight [NY Times]

And this, my friends, is a HUGE problem in regards to how the mainstream media covers our fight. All too often they take figures who've  Good As You Images  Good As You Images 200811061333-1-1-2sunk to some of the nastiest, most ad hominem attacks under the "pro-family" sun, and present them as simple "traditional marriage" supporters. Situations like this are frequently misrepresented as two-sided battles in which both the "pro" and the "con" deserve equal merit, when the reality is that one side has been absolutely vicious in their attacks against our lives and loves! In fact, if someone on our side had been as vicious as Randy has (to the degree that his own movement shuns him), then it's unlikely that the New York Times would even quote them. But if they did quote them, they'd most certainly note the extremism. Rightfully so.

The fact is that our side's organized advocates, in California and elsewhere, are not comparing folks to Nazi officers! Nor are we viciously demeaning pop culture figures after their deaths, or viciously demeaning the innate characteristics of our opponents' beings. Yet despite the obvious differences in our behavior, we're still presented by the mainstream media as simply one side in an even-handed "culture war" tête-à-tête. It's a completely unfair assessment that gives some completely out-of-line people undeserved passes!

Step it up, Gray Lady. We're not asking you to be gay activists, but we are asking demanding that you be anti-gay accurate.

**SEE ALSO: Activists in San Francisco recently had a similar reaction when local Bay Area media felt a need to cover Randy's anti-Harvey press conference: Local coverage of Milk’s Medal of Freedom sparks protests [Bay Area Reporter]

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Your thoughts

I sent a letter to the editor and pasted your quotes which will probably prevent them from being published. But my heart was in the right place and my fingers hit the right keys.

Posted by: John Ozed | Sep 5, 2009 12:02:45 PM

This is one of the sucky things about the mainstream media, they're so obsessed with not appearing 'biased' that they have to treat literally everyone as equals. If their talking about medicine the hippie selling magic herbs is just as credible as a Doctor, if they're talking about science the astrologers and creationists are just 'alternate views' from the astronomers and biologists and when they talk about civil rights the people lying and demonizing fellow americans are painted as just an 'opposing viewpoint' to the people who just want to live their life in peace.

Posted by: penguinsaur | Sep 5, 2009 1:44:02 PM

@penguinsaur, I think that's BS. Mainstream media is most DEFINITELY biased, and I've never seen them try to portray someone without credentials as someone that's just as qualified. The media is meant to report the truth, not appear unbiased; while the "truth" aspect doesn't always happen, plenty of views have been expressed and I see no reason for them to have only shown the least rude of Randy's remarks.

Posted by: Yuki | Sep 5, 2009 2:57:35 PM

In order to maintain their credibility, mainstream media reporters, at least to some degree, have to maintain the principled appearance of a neutral observer. I don't think that any of us will disagree with that, or the fact that most reporters attempt to remain neutral. But, remaining neutral should not ever equate to being a simple moderator.

In order to remain "neutral" in today's world of financial reporting, interviewer/moderators/commentators adhere to a process of "full disclosure", whereby they clearly state what their own personal conflicts of interest might be, so that the listener can make a better informed decision based on the availability of information that may have biased their reporting. These reporters' bosses are cognizant of the fact that their personal biases might affect their reporting, and effectively mislead their readers/listeners. And, the motivation behind their full disclosure is to minimize litigation.

But, while one could argue that simply indicating that Thomasson fought against marriage equality fulfills a similar "full disclosure" doctrine, that any reputable reporter would strive to adhere to, I fully agree with you that it doesn't go nearly far enough. Personally, I think that reporters should actively avoid those fringe lunatics, unless they're doing an expose on them. To the lunatic fringe, like Thomasson, it is very welcomed and FREE publicity.

Simply including the fringe element as a source in an article, without fully labeling them what they really are, is tantamount to taking a non-neutral stance on the story. And, doing so, ultimately undermines the reporter's credibility. Reporters need to understand that their one valuable commodity is their credibility. It is also our job to remind them of that fact, and also, that once their credibility is gone, they will never get it back.

In this case, the only way reporters can protect their credibility is by adopting an aggressive "full disclosure" policy when relying on statements from the "loonies on the fringe" as sources for their reports. And, the only way they know that their credibility is slipping away, is when we point it out to them.


But, this also brings up another issue, which may very well be at the heart of the demise of the printed news media. When you have a flat (strictly linear) medium, like a newspaper (or even television, for that matter), there are limitations not only on the number of words, pictures, references, etc., that can be used in any one article's "column inches". And, many times, the editors have the final say on what is included.

The ability of online media to include additional expandable, linkable, embeddable, etc., media is a great advantage in the "full disclosure" arena. I will be surprised if the printed page as a medium for disseminating anything other than propaganda, survives for another 5 years.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Sep 5, 2009 3:10:35 PM

When the media does this it is critical to call them on it. When Dr. Dobson was invited to give his views on marriage equality by CNN.com I went radioactive. I asked them when they would be inviting the KKK to comment upon issues affecting the African American community. Enough!

Posted by: ScottNH | Sep 5, 2009 9:58:30 PM


You're not supposed to be working tonite, Jeremy.

Your readers and I will miss you, but we'll survive. Go do some high living - it's memorial weekend, after all. It's good for the soul.

dave b.

Posted by: dave b | Sep 5, 2009 10:23:30 PM

penguinsaur is right.

Randy Thomason should get in the sack.

TRiG.

Posted by: Timothy (TRiG) | Sep 7, 2009 12:22:26 PM

I'll try again, remembering that you strip out links.

penguinsaur is right.

Randy Thomason should get in the sack.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/07/in_the_name_of_balance.php

TRiG.

Posted by: Timothy (TRiG) | Sep 7, 2009 12:41:21 PM

I doubt you will post this, but here is a link to the letter sent by Harvey Milk to President Jimmy Carter DEFENDING the Rev Jim Jones of People's Temple when they were in Guyana. Mr and Mrs Storm were trying to rescue a little boy from this horror and Harvey Milk tried to persuade the US government into stopping their efforts. We all know what transpired after that..
http://savecalifornia.com/images/stories/PDFs/harveymilklettertojimmycarter.pdf

Posted by: Ed Rapp | Sep 8, 2009 6:44:43 PM

Ed: Don't make such assumptions. We post everyone's comments here, even when they do link to Randy Thomasson.

As for that Peoples Temple letter: The connection between San Francisco politicians and Jim Jones' Peoples Temple is the subject of great debate. It is fair to say that many politicians of all stripes supported early version of Jim Jones' "church," as did many Bay Area residents (thus the reason why his crew grew so large). And it's true that various campaign workers tapped into the Peoples Temple's network, as the "church" was very politically active, and seemingly in support of many appealing ideals (inclusivity, fairness, nondiscrimination, etc.).

But it wasn't just Democrats who initially praised Jones. For one, the complete San Francisco Board of Supervisors gave Jim Jones a Certificate of Honor. Also, a Republican senator by the name of Milton Marks was an early Jones supporter, even passing a Senate resolution honoring the work of the Peoples Temple.

However, as the extent of the Peoples Temples' cult-like behavior became known and the harsh treatment of its members became clear, there is considerable evidence that Harvey Milk, George Moscone, and other SF politicians moved away from Peoples Temple support. In fact, some people believe Milk and Moscone were planning to blow the lid off Jonestown (and there are even conspiracy theories saying that's why the two were killed).

Plus, even while supporting Jones/using his network, there is firsthand evidence that Harvey had his suspicions. In 'The Mayor of Castro Street,' Randy Shilts quotes Milk as saying of Peoples Temple: "They're weird, but they're good volunteers"... "You take help where it comes from, but don't trust them."

Modern people must remember that it took investigation to learn the extent of what was going on with Jim Jones. Remember, investigating the truth of Jonestown is exactly what Congressman Leo Ryan (a friend of Moscone and, presumably, Milk) was doing in Guyana when he was assassinated by Jones' cohorts. The truth was largely unknown before that horrific instance. Hindsight being 20/20, it's easy for folks to now condemn anyone who had connection with Jones. But this crystal-clear hindsight is often anything but. It may be politically opportunistic to exploit the hindsight -- but it's rarely fair.
http://www.goodasyou.org/good_as_you/2009/03/video-molotov-cocktail-burns-both-milk-and-truth.html

Posted by: G-A-Y | Sep 8, 2009 6:52:49 PM

Sorry for pointing out facts. Guess his admission to having a sexual relationship with a 16 year old at 33 can be explained away too. No problem. Maybe the accusations against Anita Bryant fire bombing his photograpy store should be taken more seriously..Now THERE is a terrorist we should all take heed of. Anita Bryant..Ooooooo..
I'm not anti-gay. One of the people I most respect in my life is a man named Eric Chandler that owns a resturaunt in Honolulu. Great human being I loved working with him here in SF Bay area..I am against our schools and tax money being used to promote and celebrate this obvious disturbed individual. Remember it took him 4 times to get elected to public office. Most will use the excuse he was gay for this. Fact is he was just not fit for public service. Great legislation he worked on, granted his time in office was tragically cut short. Proclimation against gay discrimination and proclimation against dog owners to pick up after their pets..Very important legislation at the time as opposed to drug abuse,(oh right, he liked his young boys doped up by his own admission), elderly care, better neighborhoods, REAL EQUALITY for all abused minorities, etc..Let them study him as all prominent persons of history, but DO NOT force a celebration day of this immoral person on our school children...

Posted by: Ed Rapp | Sep 8, 2009 7:27:32 PM

"Sorry for pointing out facts"

Why are you sorry? I'm not sorry for pointing out the carefully examined facts that belie the far-right's oversimplified assessment of Harvey's supposed Jim Hones camaraderie.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Sep 8, 2009 7:42:18 PM

Ed Rapp, I don't recall any of Harvey Milk's writing where he admitted "to having a sexual relationship with a 16 year old." As far as I can tell, that statement of yours is just a lie. Randy Shilts wrote, several years after Harvey was assassinated, that a sixteen year old, Jack McKinley, who had ran away from his home somewhere in the mid-west, did move into Milk's apartment.

At some point they did become sexually involved, and apparently were together for several years. But to my knowledge there is no evidence that he had sex with him prior to his seventeenth birthday. Or, even that Shilts was correct about McKinley's age when he moved into Milk's apartment. Maybe I'm naive, or mistaken, but if anyone had been taken advantage of, you would think that it would have been a matter of public record.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Sep 8, 2009 11:07:45 PM

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