No Times for middle ground on bullying?

Do you beat your wife in the morning or at night? Do you support public schools promoting sexual diversity or do your bigoted religious beliefs require you to advocate the bullying of gay students?

So gentle readers, do you see any problems in the way those questions were framed?

Which leads to the topic of this post, a New York Times story this week that opens like this:

ANOKA, Minn. -- This sprawling suburban school system, much of it within Michele Bachmann’s Congressional district, is caught in the eye of one of the country’s hottest culture wars — how homosexuality should be discussed in the schools.

After years of harsh conflict between advocates for gay students and Christian conservatives, the issue was already highly charged here. Then in July, six students brought a lawsuit contending that school officials have failed to stop relentless antigay bullying and that a district policy requiring teachers to remain “neutral” on issues of sexual orientation has fostered oppressive silence and a corrosive stigma.

Also this summer, parents and students here learned that the federal Department of Justice was deep into a civil rights investigation into complaints about unchecked harassment of gay students in the district. The inquiry is still under way.

Keep reading, and there seem to be two distinct sides to this story: Those who favor that lessons in sexual diversity be taught in the public schools and those who prefer that harassment of gay students go unchecked. There's no middle ground, right?

This 1,000-word report is short on nuance and long on broad statements attributed to vague sources -- not exactly a recipe for quality journalism. We get half a dozen references to various forms of "gay rights advocates" and "conservative Christians." But if the sources actually quoted by name are any indication, the story leans heavily in one direction. You can probably guess which direction, since this is The New York "cheerleading" Times.

Five sources actually are quoted by name. The school's superintendent, Dennis Carlson, takes the middle ground. Then three real people are given a voice: Kyle Rooker, a 14-year-old plaintiff who says he suffered bullying because he was perceived -- rightly or wrongly -- as gay; Jefferson Fietek, adviser to a recently formed Gay-Straight Alliance at his school; and Colleen Cashen, a middle school psychologist and counselor who says the district's policy singles out homosexuality and creates "an air of shame."

The only person quoted in favor of the district's policy appears near the end of the story:

But conservative parents have organized to lobby against change. “Saying that you should accept two moms as a normal family — that would be advocacy,” said Tom Prichard, president of the Minnesota Family Council. “There should be no tolerance of bullying, but these groups are using the issue to try to press a social agenda.”

To be fair, the Times team notes that a group of parents closely allied with the family council declined to be interviewed, as did Bachmann.

But in a school district with 38,000 students, are there no conservative Christian parents who might share their perspective on why they support the district's policy? Are there no pastors or other clergy members with a traditional view of the Bible's teaching on sexuality who might be interviewed? Are there no heterosexual students who attend evangelical churches who might speak to whether they believe in bullying classmates because of their sexual orientation?

In other words, is this an issue in our public square on which there really is no middle ground? Over at his American Conservative blog, Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher notes:

So let me get this right: if the public schools are seen as endorsing any particular form of religion, they’re being unconstitutional and oppressive. But if they refuse to endorse a particular and controversial view of homosexuality, they are being unconstitutional and oppressive. Got it. If these plaintiffs prevail, how sympathetic do you think the courts will be to the argument that the school system’s affirmatively gay policies stigmatize traditional Christian, Jewish, and Muslim kids as bigots, not because they have mistreated gay students, but because they are guilty of the thoughtcrime of believing in their religion?

Remember this when liberals accuse conservatives of provoking a culture war. The school system is trying to stay neutral on this issue, but it’s the cultural left that’s taking them to court to force them to take sides, when taking sides is not necessary to do what the left claims it wants them to do. This is not about protecting gay kids, but about propagandizing all the others, and using the false flag of suicide to wage culture war.

The larger issue here is journalistic: Have Times editors essentially decided that one-sided, advocacy, European-styled journalism coverage is justified? If so, what is the issue being debated? Is there evidence that anyone is actually pro-bullying? Or is this a clash between truth claims based on gay rights and truth claims based on religious liberty?

But enough of all that. Be honest: Do you beat your wife in the morning or at night? And how would you explain your actions to a reporter from the Times?

Image: Screenshot of photo that appeared with New York Times story.

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