In case you missed it, Nightline aired a piece last night about “Journey to Manhood,” a so-called ex-gay therapy program in New Caney, Texas, outside Houston. You can watch the piece by Dallas-based ABC News correspondent Ryan Owens here, or read a text version here. Better yet, don’t even bother. Just read this reaction from Wayne Besen at Truth Wins Out:
I was incredibly disappointed with ABC Nightline’s segment that aired last night about the bizarre group People Can Change, which hosts Journey into Manhood (JIM) weekends. JIM takes closeted men with religious hang-ups into the woods, where they hug each other to allegedly become more masculine. The goal of this male bonding is to remake these repressed homosexuals into heterosexuals.
The problem is, it does not work, the techniques are based on junk science and the attendees, which pay $650 to be manipulated, can be psychologically harmed. JIM is a strange brew of New Age psychobabble mixed with fundamentalism, weaved into a scam that can accurately be described as consumer fraud, in my view.
JIM does not work for the vast majority of people who go through it. Yet, ABC made the critical mistake of focusing on the hand-picked alleged success stories, while largely ignoring the vast majority of attendees — which were victims who were ripped off by this scheme.
Why would a network elect to create what essentially was an infomercial for JIM, while skimming over the harm perpetrated on the majority? Shouldn’t this story be told in the form of an expose from the perspective of the victims?
Sadly, Nightline’s producers elected to trade accuracy for access. They bragged that they were the first network that got to take cameras into JIM. Well, not exactly. ABC was denied access to the actual JIM weekends — which are furtive, painful and bizarre — and instead allowed the network to film a JIM Reunion featuring canned spokespeople touting the Party Line. In essence, the PR people at JIM slyly created a Potemkin Village and ABC was suckered into videotaping the propaganda.
This really pisses me off. I spoke to the producer, Melia Patria, and explicitly warned her that in order to do this segment correctly, Nightline had to go undercover, like 60 Minutes used to. This would be the only way to get an accurate account of the silliness and seduction that truly represents JIM.
I suppose good old fashioned journalism is a quaint and anachronistic notion. These days, the networks often take the easy way out, even at the expense of an accurate portrayal of their subject matter.
The ABC piece was also biased, in that it gave an enormous amount of time to the JIM propagandists, while giving mere soundbites to victims Chaim Levin and Ben Unger, who were featured in a Truth Wins Out video. These men bared their souls and took big risks coming forward, and all they got was short shrift and shafted. Ben and Chaim did a marvelous job (as did star psychiatrist Jack Drescher), but their valid criticism of JIM was a mere afterthought.
Nevertheless, propaganda can only go so far. ABC does get credit for asking the right questions in terms of whether the so-called “ex-gays” are still attracted to the same sex. After hesitating, JIM’s spokesmodel, “Preston”, admits that he still thinks guys are hot. And, in a startling admission, his wife admits that they cruise men together. I’m sure church might even be fun with that couple! (Speaking of wives, why didn’t ABC interview anyone from survivor groups like the Straight Spouse Network, to show how these “ex-gay” marriages usually lead to divorce in the long run?)
Is it not astounding that the handpicked poster boy of JIM’s propaganda campaign looks at dudes with his wife? The moral of the story, thus, is the best this organization can offer is repression of sexual desires, rather than a genuine change in sexual orientation. Do people really need to spend $650 to suppress their desires?
Today, I am going to challenge ABC to do another segment — and do it correctly. The network has a moral obligation to tell the real story and do so from the victim’s perspective — not the victimizers. There are good people at Nightline who can get this right, and as top tier journalists with network budgets, they have the ability to do so. It is imperative for the sake of journalistic integrity that they take this story further and objectively search for truth. When they do so, I can guarantee the final product will be quite repellent to mainstream America and look much different than the slick PR dish served up last night.