I am several years removed now from being a “professional journalist.” Granted, my stint among the ranks of the fourth estate was relatively short and certainly didn’t cause any regimes to crumble, but I did write stories for a newspaper and I did get paid for it, so I’m not inaccurate in applying those two words to myself. And even though my experience took place in a small-town newspaper, I would still like to think I picked up a few things about how to conduct yourself as a journalist.
The term “journalist” is becoming harder and harder to define, as these days it can refer to anything from a television reporter to a newspaper writer to some dude who writes a blog out of his basement. As a result, journalistic standards have, to put it mildly, tanked in the last few years. The really disappointing aspect of this is how major news networks have stooped to employing tactics which should not only be beneath them but should generally be off limits to anyone purporting to report the news. This can range from sensationalism to shoddy fact checking to glaring bias to … well, you get the point.
One of my personal pet peeves is when a journalist does not have his or her references in order. In print, this is easy to spot. Anytime I see the words “studies show” or “many believe” or any implication of hard data, I demand (in my head anyway) to see some validation of those phrases, whether that’s in the form of a survey or a random sample or something to prove the information wasn’t just plucked out of the air based on hearsay. With video, though, the problem becomes even worse, as the opportunity for exposition is stunted by the time constraints of staying on a television schedule. A television reporter or anchor may be legitimately unprepared to make an argument based on actual data, but they can often mask this fact by controlling how the news is presented.
A prime example of what I’m talking about occurred yesterday (Or, at least, I think it was yesterday. That’s the dateline I keep finding on this story. None of the entries I’ve read has the date this occurred anywhere in the stories themselves. Grrrr…) as CNN anchor Carol Costello decided to abruptly end an on-air interview with American Family Association spokesperson Bryan Fischer. Fischer was on the network via telephone to discuss why the AFA objected to Mix It Up at Lunch Day (which you can read more about here).
Fischer and the AFA contend Mix It Up at Lunch Day is designed to promote acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle through the public school system. The discussion quickly veered into Fischer’s own beliefs concerning homosexuality (which include some interesting thoughts on Hitler), with Costello very obviously establishing her disagreement with her guest. The interview came to a sudden stop, however, when Fischer attempted to discuss the “known health risks” of a homosexual lifestyle.
“I’m going to end this interview right here, because that’s just not true,” Costello said. “I’m sorry, that’s just not true. Mr. Fischer, thanks for sharing your views, I guess.”
Costello made instant headlines with her actions, being portrayed for the most part as a courageous journalist who stood up to an unreasonable interview subject. Only one problem, though: She wasn’t correct.
I am not out to begin a debate on whether or not the homosexual lifestyle is “right” or not. What I want to focus on here is whether or not what Fischer stated was “just not true” or if it had some validity to it. Costello did not cite any sources or data when she cut Fischer off, and Fischer was not allowed to give any detail on what these “known health risks” are, so we are presented with a situation where a journalist left her viewers in the lurch concerning the facts of the situation.
Here are just a few quotes I found on the Internet concerning homosexual relations and health risks:
- “Homosexual men are at significantly increased risk of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, anal cancer, gonorrhea and gastrointestinal infections as a result of their sexual practices. Women who have sex with women are at significantly increased risk of bacterial vaginosis, breast cancer and ovarian cancer than are heterosexual women.” – Medical Institute for Sexual Health
- According to the homosexual newspaper The Washington Blade: “A San Francisco study of Gay and bisexual men revealed that HPV infection was almost universal among HIV-positive men, and that 60 percent of HIV-negative men carried HPV.”
- At the recent Fourth International AIDS Malignancy Conference at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Andrew Grulich announced that “most instances of anal cancer are caused by a cancer-causing strain of HPV through receptive anal intercourse. HPV infects over 90 percent of HIV-positive gay men and 65 percent of HIV-negative gay men, according to a number of recent studies.”
- “As with most forms of sexual interaction, anal sex participants risk contracting sexually transmitted diseases; anal sex is considered a high-risk sexual practice because of the vulnerability of the anus and rectum. The anal and rectal tissues are delicate and do not provide natural lubrication, so they can easily tear and permit disease transmission, especially if lubricant is not used. Unprotected anal sex is considered the riskiest form of sexual intercourse…” – Wikipedia
I’m not going to go on and on about this. The point is there exists significant data stating that homosexual sex can indeed have health ramifications. Now, perhaps Costello assumed Fischer meant homosexual sex could have an impact on the society at large and objected to that theory. Maybe she was trying to make the point that only certain types of homosexual sex carry risk. If she did have a legitimate argument with Fischer’s statement, however, she failed to make it, favoring instead to simply cut him off in mid-sentence.
Again, I’m trying to focus more on the job being done here than the issue at large. In my opinion, this is very sloppy journalism not only on the part of Costello, but also on the part of CNN. It’s obvious from the word go Costello did not agree with what Fischer was going to say. If the AFA’s position was so offensive, why did she agree to the interview in the first place? If you’re going to give someone a platform, they should be treated with some level of objectivity, which clearly didn’t happen here. It almost seemed as if the whole interview had been set up just to present Costello with the chance to hang up on Fischer.
The sad thing is, because of the intense public feelings on this issue, Costello is being hailed today as some type of journalistic hero by outlets such as The Huffington Post. Whatever you may think of her politics, she certainly put the new school of journalism on display. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t true.