The Boston Globe, Peter LaBarbera, and the "Other Side"

Now that it's the New Year, and the media is just about done with its annual menu of top ten lists and "looking back" stories, reporters are starting to look forward. One story that caught my attention this weekend was this piece by writer Donovan Slack of the Boston Globe. There are serious questions about the way forward for supporters of LGBT equality now that a major avenue (Congress) appears to be blocked off.  She does a truly commendable job of recapping some recent progress and the methods used to achieve it, laying out the current political environment, and discussing the fact that on a federal level, it looks like any major changes may have to come through the court system. Slack also quotes a myriad of true experts on the topic of the future and importance of the LGBT equality movement, including Brian Moulton, chief legislative counsel for the Human Rights Campaign, R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is challenging the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, married Jamaica Plain couple Betty Jo Green and Jo Ann Whitehead, who are plaintiffs in a DOMA challenge, Lee Swislow, executive director of GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders), Jennifer Duffy, senior analyst at the Cook Political Report, and Richard Socarides, president of Equality Matters. That's one full roster. But apparently the Globe felt it wasn't quite full enough. So, shoehorned into the middle of this article, for absolutely no narrative purpose whatsoever, is Peter LaBarbera. Peter's quote is pretty benign (especially for him). After calling the progress of LGBT rights legislation "taxpayer-funded homosexuality," he says "My hunch is the Republicans will try to avoid these issues; they won’t allow them to progress." So basically, the same "hunch" that anyone else she interviewed would have had.  Honestly, it's the "hunch" that anyone with even the most basic knowledge of American politics would have. So why wedge Peter into this story? We all know the answer to this one. Once again, it's the media - this time the Boston Globe - feeling the need to represent "the other side." But here's the problem. There is no "other side." This is not an opinion piece. This is not a debate piece. This is not a discussion on whether America should offer equality to everyone.  With the exception of Peter LaBarbera's inclusion, this was a meticulously-reported and well-structured FACT piece: "Here is a movement in American politics, here is a roadblock that movement will face, and here is both why and how that movement says it will try to get around that roadblock."  There is no need for an "other side" in a discussion of fact.  The other people Slack includes in the piece are nowhere near the "other side" of Peter LaBarbera. The "other side" of Peter LaBarbera would be someone who sneaks into heterosexual events to videotape them, and claims truly bizarre things about the secret "agenda" of straight people.  If the Globe can find someone who does that stuff and wants to interview them about the political realities facing the LGBT rights movement, then sure - Peter makes perfect sense as a foil. But until that happens, it's like the Globe running a piece on the future of agricultural subsidies in the face of a growing international marketplace while balancing sustainability and the need to regulate the supply of such commodities and oh hey, let's also talk to this guy who hates farmers. Peter LaBarbera did not provide "balance" to this story. By including Peter LaBarbera in this piece, all the Globe accomplished was to lend him its credibility. This New Year, I would love to see the media start to actually think about whether a story gains anything from the inclusion of anti-gay activists before reporters and bookers pick up the phone.  And, in the coming year, you can expect to hear a lot more from us on this topic.