An open letter to KETK
To Bob Brackeen and Callie Wall of KETK-NBC in Tyler:
A friend of mine, a fellow journalism professor in Texas, just pointed me toward a clip of your “news” segment, “Will Homosexuality Be the Downfall of America?” I will be sharing this clip with my journalism class as an example clueless, baseless, inaccurate, stereotypical bigotry. After reading my students a satirical gay-bashing piece from The Onion, I will show them your segment as an example of what not to do.
I am writing to you from a journalistic perspective about why your show is appalling and anathema to everything journalists should strive to do and be. Ms. Wall begins the segment by noting that the issue of “gays” being appointed in the Obama administration is “not really gettin’ any coverage.” That’s because it’s not news.
News is based in something we call “facts,” which we define as true and verifiable. Also, news is based in something we call “research” — and it is supposed to be objective. Further, news should adhere to ethical tenets. Your segment failed in every one of these, as well as a few others.
Not the least of your errors is the fallacy involving your numbers, which begins when Ms. Wall breathlessly exclaims about the “record number” of “gay appointments” Obama has made. From an editor’s standpoint, I ask you: How do we know this is a record? Do you really believe there weren’t gay and lesbian government officials prior to 2010? Are you willing to entertain the possibility that people, even going as far back as President Abraham Lincoln, were not counted because they were closeted? A responsible reporter would at least mention this historical angle and the concept of social change.
When the radio shock jock begins his segment by saying Obama appointed “a transgender” as a tech adviser in the commerce department, it almost sounds as though he is expressing concern that person will implement gay-friendly technology for commerce issues. Can you see how ridiculous this is?
I’m not going to waste my words dissecting Garth’s so-called contribution, except to say that it made me question the literacy rate in Tyler, Texas. How in the name of factual, objective reporting could you put this on a news show? Real journalists have named, identified, knowledgeable sources in their news stories, not anonymous callers.
Ms. Wall’s segue of “Some great comments this morning Garth, a good topic as always,” was a dim-witted endorsement of the false question of whether “homosexuality will be the downfall of America.” That is not an objective question. That is homophobic propaganda with a question mark at the end. I might as well ask, “Will Bob and Callie’s idiocy be the downfall of journalism?” Thankfully, I know enough real journalists that this is not a concern.
Good journalists talk to people, not simply about people. I would like to direct your attention to some of the tenets of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics:
• Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
• Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
• Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
• Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
• Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
• Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
• Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
• Examine your own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
In closing, I would like to help educate you so that you no longer fill valuable air time (this was nearly eight minutes) with what amounts to ignorant bullying.
Your station’s slogan is “News you won’t see anywhere else.” I certainly hope that is true.
Carolyn Nielsen, assistant professor,
Department of Journalism
Western Washington University
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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.