Recently I saw that the Washington Post was running a story about drag queens, so I began reading it until I realized it was sheer puffery on behalf of the author and undisguised bigotry against some unnamed religious protestors.
Then I looked up the name of the reporter who’d written this piece and I saw she was the same one who wrote a lyrical ode to a woman who was organizing demonstrations outside the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavannaugh.
We typically don’t criticize reporters by name here at GetReligion unless the offense is truly bad and there are consistent patterns. We focus on the stilted point of view; the things left unsaid; the side that got ignored. But when the reporter does the same thing over and over again, it’s time to say enough.
I’ve reached that point with Post reporter Ellie Silverman, who covers protests and activism. Both these topics involve conflict; both sides of a conflict have real live people in their midst and these people deserve a hearing, no matter how much the reporter may personally feel about a matter.
Silverman doesn’t appear to get that concept.
We all have covered movements and public events that require us to interview participants with which we disagree. The mark of a professional is be adept enough at covering the matter, neither side knows how you feel about the topic.
This isn’t the case with Silverman’s stories. In her latest, she focuses on drag queens and, obviously, her inability to understand why religious folks have a problem with drag-queen performances for children:
Lily Pastor knew who she was and wanted to celebrate it. So, last month, she joined about 50 other volunteers to turn a Capitol Hill sidewalk into a rainbow-filled dance party outside Crazy Aunt Helen’s, a restaurant that was hosting a story time event with a drag queen.
Anti-trans protesters had gathered across the street and were deriding hormone therapy, a treatment that provided Pastor a way to feel more like herself. But Pastor said standing alongside the people she met — a trans man, a queer teacher, straight allies — was empowering.
“It is a reminder there’s a whole bunch of odds, but we’re in this together,” said Pastor, 37, of Baltimore. “We can come together and feel awesome.”
At this point — were the story turned around and it was a protestor’s voice in the lead paragraphs — a conflicting point of view would be immediately shoehorned in.
Is it here? Nope. And by the way, Crazy Aunt Helen’s isn’t just any restaurant. The reporter should have been more honest as to its true nature as a drag-queen community center.
This role — as defenders of drag queens, as blockers of hate — felt personal. But underneath all of that, Pastor said it was hard to ignore the frightening reasons they all felt compelled to crowd the pavement.
So those who voice their disapproval are immediately the haters? This is, once again, not a conflict with two sides.
Drag story hours are events where toddlers listen as a drag queen reads books that teach them to be kind and inclusive and to love themselves, no matter how different they may feel from others. Republican legislators, conservative commentators and far-right agitators have protested and criticized the story hours as part of a broader backlash to expanded LGBTQ rights, including false and dangerous claims that gay and transgender people are “grooming” children.
There is so much wrong with the above paragraph — as basic, old-school journalism — that it’s hard to know where to start.
First, who was editing this paean to drag queens? Drag queen story hours have a ton of hidden messages in them. It’s dishonest to say they don’t. They’re all about relaxing gender roles (or “gender restrictions” as some say) in the minds of small children. No matter which way you cut it, you’re introducing these kids to sexual themes. This is not a normal drag-queen show for a normal, adult, drag-queen audience.
As this City Journal piece explained it,, the story hours are all about the deconstruction of sexuality and a reconstruction of child sexuality. Drag queen story hours are softening the ground for adolescent gender fluidity in a few years. Check out this material from Portland (Ore.) public schools addressing this topic, if you don’t believe me.
You wonder why a lot of parents have a problem with that?
But I digress. The opposing point of view in this piece is held by an anonymous group simply called “the protestors.” We’re not told how many there are; who they are or why they felt it was important to be there. If the reporter had bothered to cross the street to talk with these folks — which is what I always did when covering protests — she might have learned something. There may even have been some cultural diversity in the crowd; in fact if you watch the video atop this post, the most vocal demonstrator is black.
Again, she refers over and over to all the “hate” hanging in the air like napalm. Many paragraphs down, we are told:
Across the street, a protester used a microphone to tell them: “You are going to hell. But if you repent you can receive salvation.”
OK, so these bad people are religious protestors.
From where? Which church? The reporter never bothered to find out.
When I saw who wrote the story, the name sounded familiar, so I looked up the story on the protests outside the Kavanaugh home last spring. It was a story that lionized the woman organizing the protests without mentioning that it’s a federal crime to picket or parade near a residence of a federal judge for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a judicial proceeding.
As demonstrations in front of the homes of conservative justices increased, Supreme Court Marshal Gail Curley notified Maryland and Virginia governors, as well as executives of Montgomery County, Md., and Fairfax County, Va., to enforce federal law. Has anyone checked to see if they’ve done so or are reporters too busy finding people who want to punish the high court for zeroing out Roe vs Wade?
The fact that a gunman actually showed up at Kavanaugh’s home to kill him and that the demonstrations may have fostered a climate of hate encouraging such a demented personality didn’t seem to register on this reporter’s radar. That wasn’t the story, you see.
For a better read on what has been going on outside the homes of other conservative justices such as Amy Coney Barrett and Clarence Thomas, see this New York Post story. How would you like these folks outside your home?
We have here what tmatt has long referred to as Kellerism — named after retired New York Times editor Bill Keller. It’s the philosophy that when it comes to covering culture issues like abortion and the Sexual Revolution in general, little things like fairness and accuracy go out the window — because only one side has a legitimate argument. The other side’s POV isn’t worth repeating.
Both stories I’ve mentioned are saying we don’t care what the other side thinks; the truth is so obvious to thinking people –- of COURSE the Supreme Court was wrong; of COURSE drag queens are on the side of the angels –- so we just don’t bother talking with the crazies who oppose them.
Look, I have been out there myself covering a ton of protests — as does any reporter who works in Washington, D.C. During the first few months of 2003, I was assigned to the anti-war beat, as U.S. involvement in Iraq was heating up. I remember one particular protest, in January it might have been, in 16-degree weather, and I was out with vast crowds on the National Mall interviewing people on both sides.
I was in favor of the invasion, as I had Kurdish friends who knew Iraq better than any of the protestors did and who kept telling me Saddam Hussein had to go, but readers would not have known my views from the contents of my coverage.
That’s the way it should always be done. Instead, too many journalists treat those nameless protestors (against abortion, drag queens, etc.) as the nameless Other who deserve to be made into a caricature. Or they assume the protestors all belong to the Proud Boys. (Yes, I know the Proud Boys have targeted Crazy Aunt Helen’s, but the folks in this story didn’t appear to be part of that group. The reporter should have approached them and asked.)
When reporters turn in one-sided tirades, why don’t their editors throw their drafts back at them and tell them to include fair-minded material about the other side of the story? That used to happen back when I was starting out in this occupation.
Of course I am shouting in the wind and there is a kind of reporter — usually on the younger end — who is more activist than journalist. I’ve run into them at conferences to the point where I worry about the future of my profession.
When the last barrier to authoritarianism is the media — and the media doesn’t care to tell the truth — we’re in big trouble, folks.
FIRST IMAGE: Promotional photo from the Denver Public Library website.