The Weekly Wrap — the most important, impactful and interesting news stories, ideas, cultural trends or just plain-old fun and oddball items I found this week.
[There’s only one item this week, folks. This item needed some room for thought and expansion. We’ll be back to a wider rundown and shorter commentary next week. If you’re in need of more variety, check out Five Facts for National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, chocked full of interesting stats and infographics.]
Lazy journalism hurts LGBT community
North Carolina’s hot-button LGBT political story of the week was Charlotte’s U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger and his comments defending anti-LGBT employment discrimination. On Thursday, advocates with the Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina delivered 30,000 petitions to the congressman, calling his comments an “outrage” and asking him and other elected officials to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and other measures that would put a stop to unfair discrimination against LGBT workers.
What should have been a fairly simple, cut-and-dry political story was botched by two local TV news stations, WSOC and WBTV. Neither apparently had taken the time to do any confirmation, any research or any follow up when Pittenger and his office denied making the comments. Instead, they just “ran with it,” something, ironically, Pittenger’s office had accused the blogger who originally reported his remarks of doing.
Most astonishingly, one reporter, WSOC’s Eric Philips, seemed to feel it was entirely incumbent upon HRC and Equality NC to have verified Pittenger’s comments. During the press conference at the Thursday petition delivery, Philips seemed insistent upon making the activists explain whether or how they’d done any confirmation on Pittenger’s remarks, going so far as to ask if any of them had actually been present when the remarks were made.
Lost on Philips and WSOC was the fact that if they were so worried, they should have done their jobs and followed up. All they had to do was reach out to ThinkProgress and their writer and ask for a recording or some other evidence.
They didn’t do that.
And, lo and behold, ThinkProgress produced a recording on Friday morning, despite WBTV having reported this doozy of an un-fact-checked, inaccurate line: “Pittenger is not recorded saying that, and he denies it.”
WSOC later produced an updated story, though in it they failed to acknowledge their earlier error. I’ve yet to find or hear of an updated story from WBTV.
Both stations’ lazy journalism (yes, it is lazy; neither took the time to ask even the most basic of questions, instead merely taking Pittenger’s word at face value) hurt the LGBT community. By reporting, at face value, Pittenger’s denial, both stations sowed seeds of doubt in readers’ and viewers’ minds. The story couldn’t stay focused on the issue at hand — employment discrimination. Instead, it took readers and viewers on a detour, begging them to weigh which side was telling the truth, a job that should have rested solely with the journalists.
The story was simple: A congressman defended the right of employers to discriminate against LGBT employees (in the full recording, we also learn he believes employers should be able to discriminate on the basis of religion, something already prohibited by federal law). LGBT people and activists found the comments offensive and organized to speak out against the discriminatory remarks.
By creating doubt over the claims of LGBT activists and by taking the aggressor’s (or, oppressor’s, whichever term you prefer) view at face value, the stations in essence took the side of the aggressor. By doing so, LGBT activists’ voices and the stories they were trying to share got lost and the story changed into an entirely false narrative: LGBT activists claim a congressman made remarks which he says he didn’t make. And, that story, my friends, leaves readers and viewers with a horrible (and ultimately false, given Pittenger’s own untrue denials) takeaway: LGBT people are liars.
Equality North Carolina’s Jen Jones hit the nail right on the head in her response to the slanted media coverage. The key word in her entire response: obfuscates —
“Being asked by reporters to prove Rep. Pittenger made his anti-LGBT comments — when he himself had already defended his statements to the press — only obfuscates the issue of LGBT workplace discrimination and illustrates there is still much work to be done to educate the media, as well as electeds and the public, about the realities facing gay and transgender workers everyday,” Jones told qnotes.
Jones added, “This educational work necessarily includes an understanding of the current lack of, and immediate need for, workplace protection policies on the state and federal level to make sure no hardworking North Carolinian, including gay or transgender workers, has to live in fear that they can be fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance. By updating our existing non-discrimination laws, we can help level the playing field for any North Carolinian who is willing and able to work hard, earn a living, provide for themselves and their families, take responsibility for their own lives, and contribute to society-at-large.”
At the very least, WSOC and WBTV could have owned up to their mistake. They could have issued corrections. They could have apologized. Neither station did so, despite having shirked multiple obligations and ethics in the process:
- Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work.
- Verify information before releasing it.
- Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.
- Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.
- Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.
- Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.
- Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.
By no means are WSOC’s and WBTV’s actions the most egregious example of anti-LGBT media bias. Still, they are both modern examples of why LGBT people began their own news outlets — those like QNotes — beginning a half century ago. When the mainstream media doesn’t play fair and chooses the oppressor over the oppressed, then the oppressed will choose to take matters into their own hands and “set the record straight.” Shamefully, it’s a task that’s still required in 2014.