On February 25, the Los Angeles Press Club will host a talk on the media’s coverage of the Perry v. Schwarzenegger federal trial. The title of the talk is “Covering the Prop. 8 Trial: Can the Gay Press Maintain Objectivity (and Should It?).” This is a stupid question, and an even stupider way to phrase an important debate.
The issue of whether journalists can truly be objective about anything is a matter for a 20,000-word essay for another website. But to question whether a journalist, because she is gay, might insert bias into her report (which the institution of journalism would immediately label inappropriate) about what Judge Vaughn Walker is up to, or whether Olson/Boies’ legal strategy was effective, is the very type of distracting and damaging idea floated by ignorant critics of the black media covering Barack Obama‘s campaign and presidency.
That black reporters cannot adequately cover a black candidate is a farce. It suggests that only white (or Latino, or Asian) reporters can satisfactorily cover a black candidate. It also suggests that white reporters are, somehow, the standard of objectivity to be compared against, when history tells us that is actually something so ridiculous, it deserves a laugh.
For the same reason we’ve ignored the argument that Judge Walker is somehow less qualified to oversee the Prop 8 trial because he is gay, we must also ignore the L.A. Press Club’s question mark; immutable characteristics such as race and sexuality do not make a person better or worse at performing a job of objectivity.
Of course, with the L.A. Press Club’s event stacked with gay media types — Advocate editor Andrew Harmon, Variety managing editor Ted Johnson, and Frontiers In LA editor Karen Ocamb — the premise will be answered within five seconds of opening remarks. “Can the Gay Press Maintain Objectivity (and Should It?)” Yes, the gay press can maintain objectivity. And yes, it should.
But objectivity is not the same thing as “hearing from all sides.” Not all sides to a debate have an equal stake or right to involvement in the larger conversation. When reporting on health care, far too often we hear more from lobbyists than actual Americans affected by health care reform. Giving more emphasis to citizens doesn’t make a report biased; it makes more even-handed. Moreover, calling out health care providers and pharmaceutical giants for unfair policy making decisions, profit-seeking moves, and attempts to influence lawmakers doesn’t make the report biased; it makes it responsible. And to go to the polar extreme, when discussing voter redistricting or the New Haven firefighters lawsuit, we do not ask our local white supremacists what they think is the best call.
So too, then, might the gay media — and any media — report on the Perry trial with objectivity while still reporting actual facts. Namely, that the defendants at Protect Marriage/Yes On 8 are pro-discrimination. Yes, say it aloud, and in print. These people, in the year 2010, favor discriminating against an entire class of Americans. That is an objective statement. It is not rooted some sexuality-derived bias. It is a fact, plain as day.
Indeed, the gay media can and should remain objective, because that is their job. They should also identify hatred, heterosexism, and bigotry when they see it, because that is also their job.
All that said, the L.A. Press Club event is not a stupid one. Attendees will be treated to a lively discussion about the media, the Perry trial, and objectivity. And the name of the event suggests less about what panel members will argue than the tried-and-true tactic about posing questions to generate interest. This website does it all the time, so really, we’re the last ones to criticize.