I rarely write these, but I’m compelled by what I’m seeing today. Let’s talk.
Since I took over as editor of OUT FRONT, I vowed to continue making up for every egomaniacal, single-sided, heavy-handed editor I ever had the misfortune to work for. (And yes: I ended that sentence with a preposition. It sounds more human than “… ever had the misfortune for whom to work.” Lookin’ at you, Helen of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution!)
I’ve always treated this publication with the utmost respect for its writers. These are people from mixed backgrounds, races, genders, orientations, religions, political stances, creeds, tax brackets — you name it and we’ve either had or have it on deck. And I will never cease to cull as much diversity as I can.
That includes people of our community who identify with right-wing political views.
By far, the most controversial pieces we’ve published, those that have garnered intense (and understandable) fingerwags on our social media platforms, have involved the opinion of someone who is critical of certain aspects of left-wing liberalism inside the LGBT+ movement. More than they’ve criticized the authors of the pieces, they’ve criticized me for publishing them. I totally get that; I’m the editor, the “gatekeeper,” the one who “filters out the noise” to bring people what they’d rather be reading.
This, dear reader, is something I’ve found problematic of media — especially media in the age of bloggers and Facebook algorithms that suss out points of view you may not appreciate to hide them from you.
Then there’s the “unfriend me if ___” or “I’ll unfriend you if ___” that tilts the floor beneath you even more. This kind of slant in your media creates, as you see today, a bubble … a vacuum, perhaps, where everyone thinks almost exactly like you do. Uncanny, right? Not at all. It’s by design.
Fake news is a big deal. When the 24-hour news cycle came to be, producers and journalists clamored for more info to pump into the needy veins of news junkies. Fox News entered its hat into the ring, and sensationalism with a hard-right slant whipped the right into a frenzy. Their Chicken Little reporting (“The sky is falling!”) churned out terrifying stories and batshit allegations while ignoring some of the brighter legislation that would nicely balance out the manufactured anguish.
The left, of course, was furious. How can an entire news channel be so biased? Most of us tried in vain to have decent political conversations with family who’d just been briefed on how to feel about a certain topic, and they were sticking to it. There was no room for discourse, and the scales were tipped to the right. There was a great and terrible imbalance.
But make no mistake: The right doesn’t have a monopoly on what we call “yellow journalism.” We, indeed, have plenty of Chicken Littles over here, and the public is in hysterics.
Please hear me out:
As media, those in this business possess a great deal of power, I’ll be frank with you. As with all things powerful (money, the church, politicians, etc.), special attention must be paid not to let that power be corrupted. Consider fairy tales and entertainment involving magic. When it’s used for good, it’s respectable and pleasant. When it’s used for bad, darkness and terror soon follow. In this industry, many of us have pledged to follow the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics (please google it), but have sadly left it in our feverish wake in favor of casting journalistic black magic. Morale in our community has taken a huge hit over doomsday headlines and opinions with no factual basis.
I want everyone out there, right/left/middle/neither/all/whatever, to know: If a story tells you how to feel, it’s not real news; it’s someone’s opinion. There might be a news bit in there, but please be wary of what this author is doing with that information. I’m seeing so many of my friends and family emotionally huddled in the corner at the shameful, abysmal posts that seem to come from an army of left-leaning outlets that now employ Fox News-esque scare tactics about concentration camps that (to be completely blunt) sound as ridiculous as “Obama death panels” did when coming from the right. Please don’t let them into your psyche. We’ve got work to do and we won’t be able to suit up if we’re wringing our hands.
While I no doubt forecast more dark days ahead, there’s nothing to be gained by listening to journalism sellouts who strive for clicks more than they strive for professional integrity. That’s point one.
Point two is about balance. I’ve long predicted that the inability to listen to another viewpoint will create a backlash from people we’re demonizing for (on many occasions) no good reason. As I read criticisms of me on both social media and from my inbox, I’ve been told I’m “internalizing [my] homophobia.” I’ve been called “transphobic.” I’ve been called “privileged.” We had an issue called I’M OFFENDED that intended to bring a point/counterpoint to some hot-button issues that truly needed sorting. For one of the pieces within, I was called “racist,” and certain spots refused to let us in. (They’re back now, btw. Whew.)
But can you imagine how strangely that falls onto the ears of a disgustingly empathetic lesbian born to an impoverished, illiterate, Thai immigrant in the (massively racially f*cked) Deep South? I really don’t get this cannibalization in our community and have sounded the warning bells that name-calling and lashing out at people with the “-phobia” and “-ism” and “-ist” business over the slightest perceived offense will dissolve our strength. Some hideous trend formed within the last few years that simply wouldn’t allow us to tolerate the idea of civil disagreement. It got really ugly and (worse) took away our relatability.
And you can write to me your anger. I can take it — I’m the editor. But I fear that what we’re seeing now is part of the pain we’ve inflicted upon perfectly reasonable people who just didn’t know our latest terminology and declarations only to be called horrific things because of it.
How could they vote our way when we’ve done such a brilliant job of alienating them? Am I saying we’re responsible for the Rise of the Right? Not entirely — but our anger at people who would’ve loved to continue being allies didn’t help. But we can undo it, and it starts by taking a breath and actually listening to a different opinion. Not all people who are right-wingers are these hideous things our media demands we allege. Often, there is value in civil debates for all parties involved.
In summation, watch for a manipulation of your media and don’t be afraid to (in spite of their calls for apoplexy) reach outside of the bubble. As our publisher would say, “Seek to understand.” Either that or we keep losing come midterms. (And remember: This is only my two cents; it’s an opinion. Take it as you like — or leave it as you don’t.)