in Analysis and Commentary

Why pay for publicists when you have the world’s media outlets at your beck and call?

When Franklin Graham, the arch-conservative, anti-LGBTQ son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, speaks, the world listens. And this time, it’s Graham’s outrage over a minor character who will be portrayed as gay in the new live-action remake of Walt Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

As he often does, Graham was able to capture the attention of the world media not by press release or press conference or through any other traditional means. So, how you ask, did Graham find his words reprinted and rebroadcast the world over? Facebook. That’s it. A Facebook post.

And looking at the coverage —whether in a local outlet or international outlet like Time — you’ll notice a very clear trend: Graham speaks alone.

For years, Graham has been given special treatment by media outlets across the globe, and what he’s been able to craft is his own entirely free, PR media machine. He speaks, they reprint what he says or writes, and that’s all she wrote.

Rarely, in these news stories, will one find any alternative voice or perspective. No quote from an LGBT activist or leader or a group like GLAAD. No “other side” of the story journalists are often so proud to say they always cover.

Years ago, when I was still working as editor of our local queer newspaper, I spoke at a small event meant to help educate and broaden the perspectives of journalists working at our daily newspaper. Along with a leader of the African-American community and the Muslim community, we were asked about the sorts of actions news writers could take to make their stories more fair, more nuanced and more inclusive.

Controversy had recently been swirling around Graham and another of his calls for an anti-LGBTQ boycott (he’s fond of those). The daily newspaper, like most other news outlets, had just reprinted Graham’s words verbatim. No quote from another source. No telling of how his words were being felt among the community he was targeting. The stories then, like the ones published over the past few days this go ’round, might as well have been press releases written by Graham’s communications director.

My local paper switched that up this time, publishing a piece from a local film critic who took some time to get more than just Graham’s limited perspective.

News outlets do readers and their communities — and, in particular, minority communities targeted by hostile political or social leaders — a great harm when they fail to properly contextualize comments like those from Graham. When covering stories from the opposite perspective, anti-LGBTQ voices are almost always included. Journalists say they want to be fair and cover all sides, but it’s a double-standard applied mostly when LGBTQ people have something to say, not when our oppressors do.

Perhaps writers and editors don’t really know or haven’t realized what they’re doing. Maybe they just think they’re getting a quick and easy article they can churn out for clicks or views. And that’s probably true. But, perhaps unwittingly, they’re also being played. Y’all realize people get paid to do publicity work far more than what you get paid to write news, right? Why are you doing someone else’s job for free?

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