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03/05/2011

The Times' latest DOMA story: A Fisch-y disservice to the debate

by Jeremy Hooper

Screen Shot 2011-03-05 At 10.13.39 Am-4This morning I read The New York Times prominently placed (top of A16) article regarding House conservatives' decision to step in and defend the Defense of Marriage Act. I then immediately re-read it, compelled by its content to examine it a second time through the lens of an independent, objective, less-informed reader who simply wants to learn more about this fairly complex matter. And unfortunately, that second read really hit home how and why this national conversation on LGBT issues so often gets so muddied, skewed, and frustrating. This before my second cup of coffee, even.

Here's the deal: In its 790 words, the Times story, as written by Jennifer Steinhauer, rightly refers to conservative members of Congress (Boehner, Bachmann, Labrador) and the reasons why they either are or are not stepping up to take on this fight at a time when there are so many economic matters on the table. Additionally, the piece quotes Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Jerrold Nadler, both of them take strong, pro-equality positions. And these right/left references of course make total sense, since this is where the Times story is focused: On Congress.

But here's where it gets annoying. The Times piece also features two quotes from "the director of issue analysis" for what is interchangeably referred to as "family organization" and "conservative Christian" one. Here's what this person has to say (with his identity stripped out for now):

My personal preference would have been a resolution on the House floor,” said XXXXX XXXX, the director of issue analysis for XXXXXXXXXX, a conservative Christian organization in XXXX. “But the political landscape in 1995 meant that the law passed overwhelmingly,” he said. “You may not have the same overwhelming majority on this resolution, so the optics may not be optimum.”
...
Mr. XXXXX of the family organization said he would rather have the House than the Obama administration defend the act. “We think the Department of Justice was making a pretty tepid and halfhearted defense,” he said. “This is such an important public policy law it needs to be defended by someone who believes it is good.”

Okay, so if you're a casual reader, these comments sound perfectly fair and considered. Measured. Thought out. Reasoned and even reasonable, regardless of one's personal support for marriage equality itself. Designed to state the conservative movement's position -- little more.

But what if we told you these quotes come from the same guy who said "Homosexuals in the military gave us...six million dead Jews"? The guy who's said "homosexuals should be disqualified from public office," has called on Christian conservatives to breed gays and progressives out of existence, has called gay sex a "form of domestic terrorism," who's said only gays were savage enough for Hitler, has compared gays to heroin abusers, has directly compared laws against gay soldiers to those that apply to bank robbers, who once invoked a Biblical story about stabbing "sexually immoral" people with spears, saying we need this kind of action in modern day, who has spoken out against gays serving as public school teachers, has questioned why Medals of Honor are given to people who save lives (rather than take lives), who says that open service will "assign the United States to the scrap heap of history," who recently commiserated with Bradlee 'Executing homosexuals is moral' Dean, and who has blamed gay activists for dead gay kids, saying that: "If we want to see fewer students commit suicide, we want fewer homosexual students"? The guy who said the only acceptable "culture war" truce would have gays giving up their demand for equality? The guy who painted Native Americans as innately cursed because they "cling to the darkness of indigenous superstition"? The guy who conservative Christian Warren Throckmorton aptly noted is "to the right of Jerry Falwell" on some LGBT issues? The guy whose words pretty much single-handedly landed the American Family Association on the Southern Poverty Law Center's hate groups list? The guy who goes by the name Bryan Fischer of an organization that calls itself the American Family Association?

With that information before you, would these comments still seem like the thing of "conservative Christian" politics? Does the speaker still seem like the right choice to comment on a story like this? Fit to be IDed as nothing more than a mere "family" voice? In our nation's most influential newspaper?!

Oh, and as for pro-LGBT organizational voices? Well our orgs get a single mention...

"The move drew rebukes from gay rights groups and some Democrats."

...but not one LGBT group spokesperson is actually used in the piece. The AFA's Bryan Fischer gets two prominent slots, more than any other cited person (including Speaker Boehner). One of Bryan's quips even closes out the piece, putting the button on the story. But there's no comment from GLAD (with one "a"), HRC, the ACLU, or anyone who could ably provide some organizational balance or informed insight into DOMA's unconstitutionality. Again, you do have Congresspersons Nadler and Pelosi, whose comments are strong, great, and true. But those Reps. are counterbalanced by their conservative congressional colleagues, not by pundit Fischer. Fischer gets the sole "culture war" commentariat role.

And the thing is: We can't even really use the standard "If he made the above-cited claims about any other group of people, would the Times still use him?" question here. Because Bryan's incendiary record *DOES* extend well beyond gays!



And yet The Times did still use him. With nothing more than a "he's a Christian, conservative, family guy" label! With no true counter-pundit.

It's not unfair for us to demand better from our paper of record.

*The story: House Republicans Move to Uphold Marriage Act [NYT]

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