“Undercover Gays” Tilting Coverage of Same-Sex Marriage in DC?

Washington, D.C. is a city full of conspiracy theories.  The newest one, ferreted out by Amanda Hess at the Washington City Paper, is that the media coverage of the same-sex marriage debate in D.C. is biased because undercover gay journalists are slanting the coverage. According to the theory, gay journalists are refusing to admit they are gay when covering the marriage debate but purposely tilting the coverage.

The theory is being suggested by Jonetta Rose Barras, a longtime journalist in the city who currently writes for the conservative Washington Examiner. She’s a bit of a gadfly analyst–who has also written for the Washington Times and worked for NPR-affiliate WAMU–known for being highly critical of the city’s ruling class.  She’s also been critical of the same-sex marriage efforts in DC.

So, back to the conspiracy.  Here’s her argument:

Opponents believe they have received the raw deal in the media because the deck was stacked against them. Several of the individuals who reported on the legislation are themselves gay. None revealed their status in the gay community, which surely created in TBR’s mind a bias. TBR doesn’t want to out anyone. They know who they are.

Standard practice in journalism is for reporters to publicly announce, whether in print, on the radio, on television, on the Internet, when there is a conflict of interest. But not one of the reporters made such an announcement. And that is a disgrace.

To recap: Reporters who are secretly gay are busy covering the marriage debate in DC for various media and they have an obligation to out themselves because they have a conflict of interest in covering the dispute.

Here’s how Hess sums up Barras.

If gay reporters are expected to publicly announce on television that they’re gay whenever they’re involved in reporting out a story that concerns gay marriage in D.C., I’d hope that Barras would pepper every absurd column she writes about undercover gay media conspiracies with unneccessary disclaimers concerning her sexual orientation, and any other possible conflict of interest.

There’s a lot to unpack here. First, there’s the assumption that the press–by featuring the spokesman for the group spearheading opposition to same-sex marriage–is biased because they point out he doesn’t live in DC. She says the press hasn’t reached out to find out what opponents of same-sex marriage believe, notwithstanding two glowing profiles of same-sex marriage opponents in the Washington Post and no comparable coverage of “marriage equality” activists.

She also suggests that gay reporters have an obligation to out themselves when covering LGBT issues because they are so obviously biased they need to declare their conflict of interest.  Really?

It has always been NLGJA’s position that we want to support LGBT journalists and foster fair and accurate coverage of LGBT issues. We believe that being gay (or lesbian or bi or trans) doesn’t prevent a journalist from showing all sides of an issue, even one that relates to the LGBT community.  There’s no inherent conflict of interest for an LGBT reporter–open or “undercover”–in covering LGBT issues and no duty to disclose ones sexual orientation or gender identity when covering such issues.

Let’s imagine how this would apply to other journalists.  Would an African American reporter need to disclose their race during a phone interview when covering affirmative action?  Would a Democrat need to disclose their political position when covering politics?  Would a Catholic reporter need to disclose their religion when writing about Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage? Are these conflicts of interest?  Are there undercover reporters everywhere tilting the news?

3 Responses

  1. Michael, thanks for sharing this and bringing to our attention. The Barras Report should be called the “embarrassing” report masked as journalism.

    It is embarrassing for someone who labels herself a journalist to simply smear and make a blanket charge against gay journalists covering marriage equality in Washington DC. Sounds like professional malpractice to me.

    This suggests that radio journalists or online journalists (whose identities we cannot visually observe) should reveal their race when covering racial conflict and topics; or that religious stories should require journalists to disclose their faith whenever they write or report.

    How about political affiliations, or any other personal traits or characteristics?

    Bias is an issue that all newsrooms deal with — perceived and real. Editors and their reporters know and understand their human limits, and choose when and how and who should cover all stories to achieve fair, accurate and truly balanced coverage.

    To single out LGBT professionals as a class of biased journalists is contemptible. Her commentary discovers a media conspiracy where there is none, and instead, harms both individuals and the profession of journalism practiced in Washington DC that makes her opinions baseless.

  2. I would imagine that a closeted gay journalist would not want anyone to know his or her sexual orientation. Therefore, that reporter would go to great lengths to NOT appear “pro-gay” (or pro-gay marriage) — which would please Barras no end.

    Makes about as much sense as her charge, anyway.

  3. I recall reading my local Sunday paper and have never known reporters to claim their marriage status during the debate let alone their sexual preference. Clearly this woman it being absurd.

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