By now, almost everyone has heard of Lavender Magazine’s exposé of the preacher of gay hate, Tom Brock, as gay himself. You see, Lavender reporter John Townsend, went “undercover” to attend a pop psychology therapy group that claims to be modeled after the 12 step Alcoholics Anonymous program and which is run by — and I know this will shock you all — a Catholic church. The group’s purpose is to assist “recovering” gays.
Lavender got a tip that our venomous pastor friend — preacher and media star — was an attendee. Townsend used an assumed to attend the group, and Brock was indeed in attendance.
Some Very Serious Persons in the Upper Ranks of Journalism have been tut tutting since the article came out. Some of these Very Serious Persons in the Upper Ranks of Journalism are undoubtedly the same people who think the current crop of preening boobs in the White House Press Corps are the examples of journalists that the hoi polloi at Lavender should be emulating.
According to the linked Star Tribune story:
[C]ritics pointed out that the magazine did not have a direct quote from Brock saying that he had engaged in homosexual acts. The article implied that was the case by quoting him as saying that while on a preaching mission to Slovakia he "fell into temptation," but did not explain what that meant.
Notice that the Strib doesn’t name a source of the criticism. Who’s more believable, John Townsend, who puts his name on an article, or some unnamed critic? Lavender reported what Brock said, not what he did, but frankly it doesn’t leave much to the imagination.
One of the Very Serious Persons in the Upper Ranks of Journalism, Jane Kirtley, a professor — oh, excuse me — Jane Kirtley, the Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota, was on Almanac tonight and she repeated the point she made in the Star Tribune story, linked above:
[She] said the magazine crossed the line.
"I'm a believer that the use of undercover reporting should be reserved only for the most important stories that you can't get any other way," she said.
One of the dangers of undercover reporting is the loss of credibility, she said. "Whenever you go undercover, you raise the question with the public: If you were prepared to misrepresent yourself to get the story, how can we be sure that the story is accurate?"
What utter, sanctimonious hogwash.
Journalists rely on confidential and unnamed sources, and report on what they say, all the time. It is an accepted journalistic practice. And sometimes, the journalists are spectacular dupes. Judith Miller is Exhibit A here.
Compare that with the credibility of a story where the source is the eyewitness reporter, with a byline for the story, and the subject of the story is given a chance to rebut it before it is published, but apparently did not. Gosh, maybe it’s true!
The reckless intimation is Professor Kirtley’s, not John Townsend’s.
The professor also says that undercover reporting should be reserved for the “most important stories that you can’t get any other way.” She doesn’t say how we’re to decide what the “most important stories” are.
It is hard to imagine a more important story for a magazine such as Lavender than exposing a poisonous demagogue like Tom Brock: a person who wears a mantle of (shudder) moral authority, and who uses it at every opportunity to wield it like a sword to do real harm to the community of gay and lesbian persons. To reveal Tom Brock as a rank and bilious hypocrite seems to me to be about the most important thing that Lavender could do for its readers.
Maybe Jane Kirtley will favor us with her idea of an important story. I’d like to hear it.
And Professor, how else would you recommend that Lavender get the story? I’d like to hear that, too.
By her own test, Lavender and Townsend were entirely justified.
In her Almanac appearance, Kirtley sniffed that Lavender was an advocacy magazine; that it was not “objective.” Objective is often another word for useless. You can have your objectivity, Professor. Frankly, I’ll take a little passion once in a while, so long as the passion includes a passion for truth, too. And truth is amply displayed in this story.
Professor Kirtley also wailed on Almanac about the violation of the “expectation of privacy.” A bilious and public hypocrite and demagogue like Tom Brock has no right to think his hypocrisy will not be exposed, save perhaps for what he says in a confessional or to his lawyer. And Brock’s loss of privacy is trivial compared to the loss of dignity and privacy suffered by gays and lesbians every day.
The other attendees’ privacy is of course a concern. But no one else was outed where they? Consider who published the story: Lavender Magazine. It is hard to imagine a publisher more concerned about gays or lesbians, whether they are out or not.
Fie on all the Very Serious Persons in the Upper Ranks of Journalism. Good job, John Townsend and Lavender Magazine. Good on you.
Update: Link to Srib story fixed.