Can the LGBT Press be Objective Covering the Prop 8 Trial

That’s the intriguing question being asked at a Los Angeles Press Club event next week.  If you are in LA, it sounds like a great panel.  It includes Andrew Harmon, senior editor for The Advocate, advocate.com; Ted Johnson, managing editor of Variety and blogger at wilshireandwashington.com; and Karen Ocamb, editor for Frontiers In LA and blogger at LGBT POV and the Huffington Post. The panel will be moderated by Jon Beaupre, veteran radio reporter and anchor for NPR affiliate KPCC and a journalism professor at Cal State Los Angeles.

Here’s how they are framing the conversation:

“The Proposition 8 trial underway in San Francisco presents a special problem for gay and lesbian reporters. How do they cover the trial objectively? And frankly, given that many write for the gay community, which has strong feelings on the issue, should they? We’re assembled some of the top reporters in town to discuss this and other aspects of one of the nation’s most significant trials in the new century.”

While the answer may seem self-evident, the question of objectivity in covering same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia has been raised by a local columnist and gadfly. Ocamb had a great post about the upcoming event and I appreciated a number of her thoughts.

I realize the topic of the discussion might seem self-evident and perhaps even insulting to LGBT folks – after all, would you question African American reporters about covering the racially divisive OJ Simpson trial or a divorced reporter about covering any of the myriad of famous divorce trials happening in Hollywood? I remember talking with one black reporter about his early days covering news for the local CBS News affiliate (KNXT at the time) and he told me how his bosses refused to send him to cover the Watts riots fearing he wouldn’t be “objective.” Today, he’d be one of the first dispatched to the scene to work his sources and report on the nuances unseen by other reporters just parachuting in.

Something akin to that is true for Ted, Andrew and me since we covered the whole Prop 8 campaign and already knew Chad Griffin and Bruce Cohen, two co-founders of AFER.

Ocamb notes a couple of LA reporters have identified that they got married before Prop 8 struck down marriage–including Variety’s Johnson–and that they made different decisions about whether they should continue to cover developments.

Over at Queerty, they’ve also taken note of the upcoming panel and also chimed in on whether LGBT journalists are able to be objective in covering the trial.

So too, then, might the gay media — and any media — report on the Perry trial with objectivity while still reporting actual facts. Namely, that the defendants at Protect Marriage/Yes On 8 are pro-discrimination. Yes, say it aloud, and in print. These people, in the year 2010, favor discriminating against an entire class of Americans. That is an objective statement. It is not rooted some sexuality-derived bias. It is a fact, plain as day.

Indeed, the gay media can and should remain objective, because that is their job. They should also identify hatred, heterosexism, and bigotry when they see it, because that is also their job.

These are good conversations to have and it’s healthy for LGBT journalists to continue to think about conflicts and how we are perceived. I look forward to hearing about the event.

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