When mainstream reporters write in and challenge something that we've published here, we always want to let that happen -- especially if they will do that on the record. We want some of that discussion to happen out here on the "front page," so to speak, rather than back in the comments pages. Well, Paul Vitello of The New York Times has written us in response to the earlier post on the Ugandan legislation. We appreciate that Paul has taken the time to interact in this way. Once again, we're trying to focus on specific articles and whether they meet basic journalistic expectations. In this specific case, we felt the Times did not. We should add that GetReligion has praised his work several times in the past.
Here was a key part of one of Paul's comments:
I find it disturbing that you and so many of your commenters quibble around the edges of the issue and ignore the reality that Gettleman's story quite ably describes: Gays in Uganda may soon face imprisonment and death because they are gay. The fact that evangelical leaders from the United States are cited by supporters of this proposed legislation -- after the Americans visit and give their opinion that gay-ness is not a genetic predisposition but a "cureable" behavior -- is important news. Most Americans did not know about it. I'm aghast that so many of you decided that the problem here is not one of fact (see gayuganda's comment above) but one of some agenda you claim to hear in the voice of the messenger. Where is your outrage at the persecution of a minority population by political thugs? Where is the discussion of the violence that follows so close behind bithe declarations of the kind spewed by these foolish American 'churchmen"? Did the last Christian really die on the cross?
As I mentioned in my earlier post, the proposed legislation does not suggest death for people who are just gay. Among others, it is for those who have homosexual sex with minors, the disabled, while being HIV-positive, serial offenders or if the person is in authority over another. Again, that doesn't change the concerns many evangelicals and others have expressed about the legislation, but the specifics should be included in the article's description of the bill.
Vitello says that the fact that evangelical leaders from the United States are cited by supporters of this proposed legislation is important news -- but why did the Times not offer any quotes from these people? Where's the proof? Wasn't his dateline Kampala?
All of our personal opinions aside, would the Times say that the point of view of evangelicals and Catholics who believe that lesbians and gays can, in some cases, change or modify their behavior is accurately represented in this story? Is there a balanced debate between the two sides in this piece? Would both sides feel that their views were accurately represented.
Numerous American evangelicals and groups have spoken out against this legislation besides Rick Warren, including Exodus International, Charles Colson, and World Vision. Have any American evangelicals endorsed the legislation, in any form? On the record?
The most important point, though, is whether the Times could find any Ugandans to suggest that the evangelicals from this conference in March had anything to do with the proposed legislation. The whole angle of this news story is based on connections that haven't been made by Ugandans.
One outlet that did better coverage was Bloomberg. Its coverage could have been more extensive, but their report included one of the key people in Parliament and told us something new at the time. As I mentioned in my earlier post, the Times article did not include the names of Ugandans in Parliament David Bahati and Nsaba Buturo, and the reporter doesn't appear to have made an effort made to contact them.
The story's dateline says Kampala, so why not quote more Ugandans? As a site that discusses journalism, we have concerns about actual journalism issues in the story, such as sourcing, and balance, not about a particular political agenda. The key here is an accurate portrayal of the views of people on both side of this very complex and tense story.