Letters • 11.05.10

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

………………………

TO SEND A LETTER  | We welcome letters from readers. Shorter letters and those addressing a single issue are more likely to be printed. Letters are subject to editing for length and clarity, but we attempt to maintain the writer’s substance and tone. Include  your home address and a daytime telephone number for verification. Send letters to the senior editor, preferably by e-mail (nash@dallasvoice.com). Letters also may be faxed (214-969-7271) or sent via the U.S. Postal Service (Dallas Voice, 4145 Travis St., Third Floor, Dallas TX 75204). All letters become the property of Dallas Voice.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

UPDATED: Log Cabin responds to Congressman Pete Sessions’ decision not to attend dinner

Pete Sessions: Silver fox or just sly like one?

Roll Call is reporting that Dallas Republican Congressman Pete Sessions has backed out of a scheduled appearance Wednesday night at a fundraiser for Log Cabin Republicans, saying he needs to attend a House GOP caucus meeting instead.

Well isn’t that a convenient excuse? We’re sure Sessions’ no-show has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that he and Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, also slated to appear at the Log Cabin dinner, are being villified on right-wing websites for accepting the invitation. As we reported, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins sent Cornyn a letter last week demanding that he skip the dinner. And FRC said on its blog Tuesday that Cornyn shouldn’t have accepted the invitation in part because Log Cabin derives its name from the idea that President Abraham Lincoln was gay, a theory FRC seems hell-bent on dismissing. Meanwhile, American Family Association President Tom Wildmon told CSN News that by attending the fundraiser Cornyn is actively promoting “men having sex with men.”

We called Sessions’ D.C. office to get further explanation about his decision to back out — such as whether the Republican caucus meeting was scheduled before or after the Log Cabin dinner, whether they are in fact at the same time, and if they are, whether he can’t afford to miss a few minutes of the caucus meeting to make a cameo at the LCR dinner. But not surprisingly, Sessions spokeswoman Emily Davis mysteriously became unavailable after we identified ourselves as being from the gay paper, and she hasn’t gotten back to us.

We’re sure some gay Republicans will defend Sessions’ decision, pointing to his appearance at the annual dinner of the Dallas chapter of Log Cabin two years ago. But we’d like to point out that the 2008 dinner came immediately AFTER the November elections, not six weeks before them. Let’s face it, folks, Republicans like Sessions are scared shitless of the Tea Party right now. And while tea-baggers like to say they’re concerned primarily with fiscal issues, many of us recognize them as the same right-wing nutjobs who were peddling social issues five years ago.

In case you’re wondering, Sessions faces Democrat Grier Raggio in November.

UPDATE: Melissa Kennedy, a spokeswoman for National Log Cabin Republicans, contacted Instant Tea to say that our previous headline, which suggested the Sessions had gotten cold feet about the dinner due to pressure from social conservatives, was inaccurate. Kennedy said we should have contacted Log Cabin before posting it. She said Republican House leaders have called a mandatory meeting for tonight and so Sessions’ reason for not attending the dinner is legitimate. She said if Sessions was worried about how the Log Cabin appearance would look, he wouldn’t have accepted their invitation in the first place.

Sessions is sending a senior staff member to pick up his award from Log Cabin, and he’s videotaped a message that will be played during the dinner, Kennedy said.

“We don’t feel like someone left us at the altar,” she said.

Asked whether Log Cabin has any qualms about hosting Cornyn after he supported Tuesday’s filibuster of the bill containing language to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell,” Kennedy said absolutely not. Kennedy said Log Cabin supported Senate Republicans’ decision to filibuster the bill based on Majority Leader Harry Reid’s refusal to allow them to propose amendments.

“We’re not saying they’ve been our best buds and we’re going to have sleepovers, but we’re working on it and we appreciate the fact that they said yes,” Kennedy said of Cornyn and Sessions and their decision to accept the group’s invitation to the dinner.

—  John Wright