In the United States a debate is raging about how gay issues are reported in the mainstream media. It is almost the mirror image of the debate we are having in this country.
While here we complain about the anti-gay bias that tabloid newspapers have traditionally displayed, in the US it’s the other way round. Accusations are flying that the national newspaper and TV outlets have become so politically correct that all negative and critical coverage of homosexuality is filtered out.
It came to a head last month when two gay men, Joshua Brown, 23, and Davis Carpenter, 39, were found guilty by an Arkansas jury of the rape and murder of a 13 year old boy called Jesse Dirkhising. The two men, who were lovers and ran a hair salon together, befriended Jesse’s mother and allowed the boy to work at the salon. They took him to their home, strapped him to a bed, drugged him and raped him repeatedly. The boy eventually suffocated when his tormentors went to get something to eat.
The case was almost entirely ignored by the American media, a fact that whipped up the right-wing opponents of gay rights. They pointed out that when Matthew Shepard, a gay man who lived in Wyoming, was murdered by homophobic bigots, it had become a national scandal. The Shepard case was eventually used as justification for the inclusion of homosexuality in federal hate crimes legislation.
Writing in The Washington Times, a right-wing newspaper with connections to the Moonies, Linda Bowles reported: “The Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD) is an influential organization that lobbies from the outside to influence how the media portrays homosexuality. GLAAD is aided and abetted by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, which works inside to accomplish the same thing. In an address to these gay journalists last year, Richard Berke, New York Times national political correspondent, boasted that ‘literally three quarters of the people deciding what is on the front page are not-so-closeted homosexuals.’”
From this, Ms Bowles concluded: “the way news is selected and reported exposes liberal media biases not only about race and homosexuality, but about politics, religion, immigration, abortion, education and environment, and gun ownership. Many liberal decision-makers are clearly in the business of censoring out news they do not want the people to see or hear, while amplifying news that advances their undisclosed agendas.”
This, of course, is only one way of looking at these events – and we shouldn’t forget that The Washington Times and its journalists have “agendas” of their own which they are keen to exploit.
Responding in the letters column to the controversy, Chuck Anziulewicz pointed out that the Dirkhising case “is no more a ‘homosexual crime’ than Ted Bundy was a ‘heterosexual rapist/murderer’. If the news media are paying little attention to the fact that the men responsible for this crime were gay, it’s because they didn’t target Jesse Dirkhising because he was gay or straight. The facts surrounding this case indicate that sexual orientation – whether of the perpetrators or the victim – was not a factor… In all the newspaper stories I have read involving men raping and/or murdering women, never once have I seen the word ‘heterosexual’ used. Similarly if the men accused of raping and murdering Jesse Dirkhising were instead accused of raping and murdering a teenage girl, I’m sure you would not be making such a cause célèbre out of it.”
Meanwhile in The Weekly Standard, a sophisticated platform for the religious Right, Mary Eberstadt (a sort of cross between Mary Kenny and Valerie Riches) wrote two long articles alleging that paedophilia is an increasingly prominent part of gay life and is condoned by gay leaders. “The better-known gay organisations,” she wrote, “all of whom stand dead against any conflation of homosexuality and paedophilia, are nonetheless sending out mixed messages about what is and is not off-limits for the under-aged. Most of them, for instance, now have ‘youth sections’ on their websites… the justification for this is to ameliorate the angst of gay teenagers. At the risk of stating the obvious, though, it is hard to see how this purpose is served by encouraging boys to act and think sexually at ever younger ages, which is the unavoidable side effect of the type of ‘outreach’ these sites engage in.”
The even further-to-the-right Jewish World Review agreed, and commented: “The defence of gay paedophilia has metastasised deep and far into the national conscience.”
Over in the New Republic, Andrew Sullivan, who is a gay man himself, branded all this as “ugly nonsense”. He admitted that “paedophilia has always been a vile undercurrent in some gay circles (as in some straight circles)” but “the vast majority of homosexuals are rightly horrified by the sexual abuse of children.”
All the same, Sullivan cannot completely refute the Right’s argument that there was bias involved in the reporting of the Shepard and Dirkhising cases. Checking the media website Nexus, he found that it had recorded 3,007 stories about the death of Matthew Shepard, while there had been only 46 about Dirkhising. “The discrepancy,” he says, “isn’t just real. It’s staggering.”
He comes to the conclusion that there may be some truth in the Right’s complaints of media bias. “The Shepard case was hyped for political reasons: to build support for inclusion of homosexuals in hate-crime law. The Dirkhising case was ignored for political reasons: squeamishness about reporting a story that could feed anti-gay prejudice, and lack of any pending interest-group legislation to hang a story on.”
Which brings us now to the reporting of a case in this country involving a gay man who raped and murdered younger men. Royal Navy Petty Officer Allan Grimson, 42, was convicted last month of bludgeoning to death 18 year old Nicholas Wright and 20 year old Sion Jenkins. There is a strong suspicion that he may have committed several similar crimes that have yet to be uncovered. The British press reported it “straight” as simply as an unusual and lurid court case, although references to his sexuality appeared in most of the headlines (“Gay Slayer”- Sun; “Homosexual sailor killed for kicks” – Telegraph; “Gay sailor given life for serial killings” – Express).
However, there was no added sensationalism in the reporting and no attempt to attach any wider significance to the murders. There were no titillating background features exploring the “twilight world” of homosexuals or any condemnatory editorials telling us that such horrors are an inevitable consequence of our lifestyles. Previous gay serial killers such as Dennis Nilsen and Michael Lupo drove the papers into fits of horror and moral outrage. But not this time.
So does this tell us that the political correctness that allegedly restrains the US press has now found its way into British newspapers? Or is it simply that our newspapers have grown up and no longer see the need to demonise all gay people because of the activities of a few psychopaths and nutcases?
Of course, it could be said that it was, indeed, Allan Grimson’s sexuality that motivated his grotesque deeds. After all, it was some sort of sex he wanted from the young men he eventually battered to death. But, of course, the same argument could be applied to the thousands of women who are annually raped and killed by straight men. And their sexual orientation is never mentioned.
But if the American Right has used these arguments about pro-gay bias with any success, you can be sure that the reactionaries in this country will soon be picking them up and attempting to import them here.
It would be difficult to sustain charges of over-liberality against British newspapers, though – the balance here has always been tipped towards the reactionary. No, the pressure is more likely to be on the broadcast media (particularly the BBC) with renewed charges that its liberalism and ‘political correctness’ are distorting the news agenda.
As the push for hate-crime legislation gathers pace in Britain, and the case for including homosexuals in it is made, we will hear more about the “skewed reporting” of homosexual matters. There will be demands that TV producers (who, according to the likes of Garry Bushell, already represent a Pink Mafia that controls the airwaves) give a more ‘balanced’ portrayal of gay life – i.e. a more negative one.
We saw a small prelude to it when Scotland Yard arrested 56 people in dawn raids throughout London. According to The Daily Telegraph these people were suspected of “hate crimes” such as homophobic harassment and publishing racist and homophobic materials.
In The Daily Mail, Simon Heffer was quickly on the attack: “What about a co-ordinated series of raids to arrest muggers, drug dealers, car thieves and others who prey on everybody and not just on fashionable minorities? Or wouldn’t that play so well with the Metropolitan Police’s cringe-making attempts to ingratiate itself with a government obsessed with political correctness.”
Stand by for blasting.