Emulating Newsweek

pravda-2542008My husband and I went to see Milk, the film about the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, a few months ago. We enjoyed the movie, with some exceptions, and I predicted Sean Penn would win the Oscar for best actor -- he was just that transcendentally good. And the supporting cast was also amazing. But as we were walking out, it occurred to me that what America really needed -- if we wanted greater understanding amongst the various culture warriors -- was a bit less pop culture devoted to presenting homosexuality in the most sympathetic light and more pop culture explorations of these strange creatures who somehow keep voting in favor of traditional marriage.

Considering that they're the majority, it's odd that the media treats traditional marriage proponents as something between objects of scorn and gorillas in the mist.

I thought of this need when reading yet another laughable story in the Los Angeles Times, which is, these days, indistinguishable from an advocacy outlet. Written by Gale Holland, it is a remarkable piece of propaganda. The headline is "Lawsuit over gay-marriage speech at L.A. City College spurs reactions." We first looked at coverage of that lawsuit here. Basically the suit alleges that a public speaking professor got very mad at a student who used a general speech-giving time as an opportunity to speak about religion and gay marriage. He refused to grade the student and told him to ask God for his grade. There was much more to the story but basically the professor didn't win many accolades for how he handled things.

Anyway, for this LA Times story, we learn about the "reactions" to this story. Except the only reactions mentioned are, I kid you not, that some unnamed and unidentified protesters "backed" the student by holding up vicious signs and that someone who shares the professor's name received death threats.

I mean, that's one way to cover a truly troubling academic situation -- pretend that only homophobes and murderers think the student's claims are noteworthy. But it's manipulative, lazy and one-sided. If you're Pravda, this is what you do. If you're the LA Times, not so much.

Check out the framing device used for the story's lede:

Ruben Rivera was dropping off papers to charter a new gay unity club at Los Angeles City College one recent day when he spotted half a dozen middle-aged people milling around the campus quad.

"God Hates Gays," their signs read. Memories came flooding back of fleeing New Jersey after his mother discovered his sexual orientation and threw him out of the family.

"I was almost transported to my adolescence in Vineland, N.J., feeling less than, feeling unworthy, feeling ashamed," said Rivera, 36, of Los Feliz.

The protesters appeared in support of Jonathan Lopez, a Christian student who has sued the Los Angeles Community College District, alleging that an instructor kept him from finishing a classroom speech about his religious beliefs and opposition to same-sex unions. Lopez has said he was discriminated against because of his religious views.

Now this framing device isn't bad in and of itself, but when it's used in the lede and there are no opposing frames presented in the story, it comes off remarkably one-sided. It's a bludgeon. We are given Rivera's emotional account of adolescent pain . . . and that's it. I mean, come on.

Here's my personal favorite paragraph:

The suit, filed Feb. 12, has inspired a wave of blog and media commentary. Lopez's lawyer from the Alliance Defense Fund, co-founded by James Dobson of Focus on the Family, has appeared on the popular Fox News show "The O'Reilly Factor."

Did you get that readers? We're not going to describe the group, what it does, why it exists, or how successful it's been in its work. We will tell you that it was founded by someone the media loves to hate and that a lawyer for the group had the audacity to appear on a despicable show. Seriously, how can you not love that paragraph? Also, I guess I can understand a really ideological reporter writing that but how -- how -- did that get through editing? NEWSWEEK DECEMBER 15 COVER The story is so bad that I'm just skipping over some of the sillier parts. But this part that marginalizes and demeans the original complainant -- who alleges religious discrimination -- is also pretty amazing:

On campus this week, there was little evidence of anti-religious bigotry. At lunchtime, one church group from nearby Koreatown stumped for an upcoming Bible study course. Another handed out plates of rice and salad to students.

Janette Puerto, 18, of Koreatown, one of the diners, said she feels comfortable sharing her religious views on campus. "I'm a Christian. Let the world know," she said.

Unless the lawsuit alleged that the professor or administration were on a zero-tolerance witch hunt for all Christians, this doesn't really have anything to do with the original story. I mean, I seem to recall that even the suing student said in his lawsuit that he felt comfortable sharing his religious views on campus up until the time he was called a fascist bastard and didn't get help from the administration. But again, very manipulative and one-sided reporting.

The kicker for the story returns to the gay unity club framing device and uses Rivera to tell the reader that those mystery protesters were great recruitment for him.

I should note that though this bears all the hallmarks of an opinion column -- or a Newsweek article -- that it appeared in the news pages of the Los Angeles Times. Maybe they're trying to narrow their readership, too?

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