NPR Responds to Criticism of Conversion Therapy Story

In the wake of criticism of an NPR story on conversion therapy, NPR’s ombudsman and a top news official have responded to the critiques.

Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos, wading into what is likely the first of many controversies involving LGBT issues as the new Ombudsman, said the story was well-done, but that critics had reason to complain:

To be fair, to lay it all out is far too complicated in a single, 9-minute radio segment. Spiegel and Gudenkauf were trying to give an insight, a compelling slice of two lives that was fascinating story-telling that hinted at some of the answers. They say they may dive deeper in future stories.

But listeners are right to demand that even this story somehow should have addressed the substance of the divisions over conversion therapy. The one attempt to provide that context in the story – an interview with a psychologist – failed to do so.

and this is how he concluded:

Spiegel and Gudenkauf clearly worked hard on this story. They simply made some wrong assumptions about what most of us know about sexuality and conversion. I can understand why they did so. On many stories, in defiance of standard journalism practices, I am often the first to say that reporters should assume more about the what the audience knows. The good thing about this subject is that Spiegel and Gudenkauf will have many more opportunities to return to it.

This is an interesting observation. It also says something about the issue itself. While many of the criticisms of the story surrounded the question of whether there was even a “debate,” in fact may listeners may not have even understood the issue at all to put that in context.

Schumacher-Matos also hit on a criticism about not explaining the financial and professional interest of the subjects who were interviewed.

Responding to another criticism from listeners, Spiegel and Gudenkauf acknowledge that they should have reported on air that Wyler founded an organization that claims to help men who have same-sex attraction to change. But they said that Toscano, too, profits from his experience, writing a play and giving speeches about it.

Margaret Low Smith, the acting Senior Vice President for news, also responded to the criticism:

Nonetheless, we could have done a better job on this story. Though we stated at the end of the piece that conversion therapy harms gay people and people who find it beneficial are very rare, we should have addressed those questions earlier and in greater detail so that listeners could hear the stories of Rich Wyler and Peterson Toscano with that context in mind.

We also unintentionally left the impression with some listeners that the establishment psychological community only began to discount conversion therapy in the last few years. Though some therapists disagree with that mainstream view, it has been widely held for many years.

Finally, we should have mentioned in the story that both of the men profiled – in the wake of their therapy – organized their professional lives around their respective experiences and profit from their activities.

One Response

  1. Once again bias, by the statements made about the interview as well as the interview. Wouldn’t it be a big surprise to see a liberal view point here again? Of course not. It is echoed from one ignorant labeling individual to another, well fine, some people are hurt by the therapy, but how can we assume any number for either side is greater than the other for those who succeed, have partial success, or as observed sometimes have none at all. Just as every one who has none will not state so, those with partial, or full success might not state they accomplished what they did either through the therapy. With the intense disdain the mainstream media is expressing through their anti-conversion therapy messages it seems a new type of intolerance and missunderstanding is taking place. It is one that says You cannot change! You are who we and all others who believe as we do says you are!

    What if an individual can never fully given him or herself over to the idea of a homosexual partner? What if the reason is they are in love, and can only fall in love with the opposite sex, but have mostly sexual attraction toward their own? Can you really speak for that person? Without understanding him or her in a fuller context can you really say you know what is right for that person? No, because only that person can make that decision. There are many factors that form each individual, and there is no proof of genes being sole factors in that of orientation, so we then must again note those many factors which come into play, things we cannot just assume but must understand such as those which shaped that person to the sexual orientation he or she feels at a given time.

    There is a lot of assuming going on in our society, and whether someone is attracted to his or her own gender or only in part, but wants to cling to a different ideal is not another person’s business to decide. Free to choose. How about that? Yes they are, but maybe tone down this unceasing rhetoric of “You were born this way” etc. and just let each individual decide for his or for her own self. Yes all have this freedom to choose, but while they make a decision which may not be accepted by society, once again we see the old ways coming about in a new form, but this time it’s people pressuring gays and lezbians not to change but just stay that way, where in the past they were both pressured to keep queiete and many times change when they were found to be so. Seems like mainstream society and media have to go to one extream or the other. So we hear love everyone for who they are being a consistant message, but I see just as little love being given for the lack of support given by many to those who have yet to define who they are for themselves. So, we trade one hate for another it seems? Boy oh boy the message is mixed. Such an advanced society we have become (sarcasm added). Not impressed.

    By the way, choosing those who profit by it to be included in your interview was an easy cop out, and rather pathetic one to add to your ant-conversion therapy stance. This could be done in many different interviews and all it does is prove nothing. Very disappointed here.

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