Saturday, December 22, 2007

The difference between real and fake journalism

Ever noticed how the bobbleheads in the mainstream news media really have it in for bloggers? It's an especially virulent hatred on the part of right-wing media figures. Bill O'Reilly has called anyone associated with Daily Kos (including its readers) "devil worshipers," and raving closeted homophobe Michael Savage is driven to near-homicidal mania by the very thought of Media Matters.

Perhaps the mainstream media is just pissed off that bloggers have an ability to do proper journalism — that which isn't vetted by corporate masters and their armies of lawyers loyal to one political faction or another — they simply lack. Not that the crew of Fox or CNN would do proper journalism if they had the chance. That's the thing about guys like Murdoch taking over every media outlet they can buy. They tend to hire on-air personalities cut from the same ideological cloth.

CNN's latest exercise in egregiously stupid non-reportage came in this simple-minded puff piece about the Light the Highway movement, that exercise in fundamentalist absurdity in which the faith-heads have been laying "purity sieges" to Interstate 35 and any businesses that happen to be stationed along it they don't like. I snarked all over it a few days back, and it has been widely covered on other godless blogs as well, to much amusement.

The CNN piece really is pitiful. Note how the writer, some nincompoop named Gary Tuchman, calls the fundie obsession with I-35 an "interesting belief." Well, I suppose it's "interesting" in the same way some madman raving on a street corner in a bathrobe and a lampshade on his head about how the CIA and the Illuminati are trying to kidnap him and haul him off to Area 51 for a round of alien anal-probage is "interesting." And note Tuchman's flaccid gesture towards the concept of "objectivity." It's the sort of equivocating gibberish that has led to the kind of "he said, she said" pandering that conveniently allows the reporter himself off the hook when it comes to actually digging up hard facts: "Now, it's only fair to say most people, the religious and the non-religious alike, don't buy any of this..." Yeah, no shit, Sherlock. Someone also told me the sun rises in the east. Who knew? "But on the side of the road, the prayerful aren't going to change their minds." Yes, that tends to be the mentality of lunatics who congregate to do their business on the sides of roads. Remind me how any of this is news?

Well, none of it is news in the way CNN has approached it: as the sort of pure padding on a slow news day newspeople call a "human interest" story. But here's a little something about the Light the Highway movement that is interesting and even a little newsy. And naturally, one has to have gone online to find it.

When this story originally surfaced in the blogosphere, it was accompanied by a YouTube clip of jaw-droppingly lunatic 700 Club "news" broadcast extolling the virtues of this amazing evangelical enterprise. Part of this report featured the stunning story of James Stabile, a "19-year-old homosexual atheist" (two, two, two horrible sins in one!) who was apparently on his way to his local gay bar one night to smoke a little pole when he encountered some prayer warriors laying purity siege to said bar. After a brief exchange with Joe Oden, the purity siege organizer, Joe "laid hands" on James (no, not like that!) and instantaneously "cured" him of teh gay through the power of Jebus!

This account was met with what you might call skepticism, mostly by those who identify themselves as skeptics. Who knew that you could transform a gay man into an all-around red-blooded American heterosexual stallion simply by letting a moronic religious bigot scream "Fire!" at him? You'd think if it were that easy the country would have rid itself of the gay community ages ago and the Rupert Everett/Jodie Foster wedding would have been the talk of the tabloids for 2007. Many bloggers and commenters cried "Staged!" and "Plant!" But it took a couple of online writers, blogger Warren Throckmorton and gay journalist John Wright, to get to the bottom of what was going on with this James Stabile character. And it was far more intriguingly complex than just the usual routine of fundie lying. How did they get their information? Why, by doing what guys like Gary Tuchman are supposed to do: investigate, follow up leads, dig beneath the surface to get to the truth. You know...journalism.

The short version: it turns out that James Stabile suffers from bipolar disorder and often goes off his meds, at which point he is described by his family and those who know him as a pathological liar who loves attention and will say what he has to to get it. After James was "cured" by Oden, James enrolled in a "residential treatment program" in Kentucky run by Pure Life Ministries, but was ejected by them for being what they called a "compulsive liar." That's an interesting charge coming from a camp run by Mike Johnston, an HIV+ man who was the face of the Christian "ex-gay" movement for years, until it was revealed that he was still cruising for unsafe gay sex all the while.

Anyway, after James left Pure Life he moved in with some folks from Oden's church, where his problems with dishonesty, doubtless a symptom of his bipolar condition, continued to manifest.

By the time CBN's 700 Club crew came to Texas to shoot their segment, Joe Oden already knew about James' mental health issues. He had spoken to James' father, Joseph, a Methodist minister who is reportedly "fully accepting of his son’s sexual orientation and believes being gay is neither a choice nor a sin." Oden claims he told CBN about all this, and they didn't care. They wanted James for their piece. Still, Oden doesn't get off the hook here. He is interviewed in the same CBN piece, and joyously boasts of de-homosexualizing James. So he's just as much an exploitive, lying shit as any of them.

Word is now that James has finally returned home to his family and is receiving "appropriate medical care." So the long and short of it is, on the one hand, a young man with mental health and sexuality issues lying to people in order to feel accepted and validated, and a group of religious fundamentalists only too happy to exploit him to promote their crusade. A sad story all around, but one that appears to be ending more or less happily for the Stabiles. The problem with James isn't that he's gay, it's that his brain chemistry is all out of whack. It's a shame he left his tolerant family for acceptance by a bunch of raving bigots. But the appeal of fundamentalist groupthink is that, with its revivals and mobs of singing, cheering worshipers, it can seem to a lost and confused person to have something meaningful and fulfilling to offer in a directionless life. When all you really need in life are those people who know you and love you for who you are, not who their ideology dictates you have to be. (And with that loving environment, in the case of a real mental disorder, the proper medical care. You can't pray away mental illness any more than you can pray away the gay. When it comes to dealing with real problems, count on science every time.)

For in depth coverage of James' story, read Wright's story here, and Throckmorton's blog here. Especially if you're Gary Tuchman. These writers ought to give you some tips on how to do your job.


  1. Wow, quite a contrast in journalism indeed! Great post.

  2. I was checking out Pure Life Ministries for an interested friend. At their site I read, "Mike Johnston serves as Director of Donor and Media Relations." Not quite director of program.


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