There is a growing sentiment on the left, particularly in the gay rights movement, that the media’s determination to appear neutral has led to legitimizing views that have no business being given equal air time. Whenever an issue comes up–tax cuts, the START treaty, DADT, health care–TV news analysts and pundits will invite “experts” onto their shows to debate the merits of each side of an issue.
Some, including moderators at the Daily Kos, support boycotting entire networks–namely Fox News, which is as fair and balanced as the sun is cold. It is so obviously biased toward Republicans a few liberals think there’s no point in Democrats going on their shows and pretending Fox is interested in the truth.
Others, including Bishop John Shelby Spong, have stopped debating specific issues, such as whether civil marriage for gay people is a basic right. His whole post is worth reading here, but in part, he writes:
I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility.
There is no debate, activists say, because marriage should be available to everyone regardless of sexual orientation, so they refuse to get into discussions with people who disagree. They also think anti-civil marriage activists should not have equal time on TV. Would the producers give equal time to people who say the world is flat? Or think women shouldn’t have the right to vote? Or oppose interracial marriage?
Media Matters took on this issue a couple of months ago, asking if the Washington Post really needed to publish homophobic diatribes in order to balance out the opinions of Dan Savage, a sex columnist and founder of the It Gets Better project:
Even if you buy the ludicrous notion that Tony Perkins’ attack on gays was necessary to balance out Dan Savage’s efforts to reduce gay suicide, that doesn’t explain the Post‘s decision to host several other gay-bashing tirades — or to pass them off as the work of “distinguished” panelists as part of an “intelligent” and “respectful” conversation.
Just how many homophobes does the Washington Post think it needs to balance out Dan Savage?
I have fallen afoul of the media’s quest for balance myself. I attended the March for Women’s Lives in 2004 and wrote about the experience for my college newspaper. There was a large group from the community that went, including 15-20 fellow students, so I wasn’t quoting myself when I wrote the article, or expressing my feelings on the subject–which were admittedly fairly obvious since I went to the march myself. After the story was published, the news adviser chided me for not talking to any anti-abortion groups on campus. Did I have an obligation to present their side? There were protesters at the march, but I doubt any of them were from my college, considering the march was in Washington, D.C., and I went to school in the Midwest. We were supposed to have at least two sources for every story. How far did I have to go to make sure one of those sources had an opposing view?
It’s an interesting debate. I do think sometimes the media, which is not liberal, despite what conservatives want you to think, goes too far in their quest to give equal attention to opposing sides. Despite what you may think of it, abortion is a legal medical procedure, yet anti-abortion groups are given equal air time with reproductive rights activists. Would CNN give credence to an anti-appendectomy group? Or an organization that opposes organ transplants? They would be laughed off the air.
I see the problem with denying people the chance to voice their opinions. Part of me would love to stop repeating anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage rhetoric, but even those with unpopular and bigoted beliefs have the right to express them. It’s guaranteed in the First Amendment. So do we have to just grit our teeth and listen to people like Maggie Gallagher, former president of the National Organization for Marriage, who can’t come up with a nonreligious reason to ban gay marriage to save her life?
I think at some point in the not too distant future, our society will go forward from the tenet that gay people have the same right to marriage as everyone else, and women have the right to control what happens to their bodies. Until then, maybe the media should be less eager to give equal attention to every belief out there.