Op-ed: NPR Should Apologize for Parroting “Ex-Gay” Propaganda
In a recent television show discussing “ex-gay” therapy,
renowned author and psychiatrist Jack Drescher put the discredited practice
in its proper perspective: “This is so far outside the mainstream it's
practically on Mars.”
Unfortunately, the media keeps putting on its space suit and
blasting off with “ex-gay” propaganda that places its debunked theories on par
with legitimate therapy backed by the American Psychiatric Association,
American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, and American
Academy of Pediatrics.
We’ve come to expect such farce from the Fox “News” Channel,
run by the reprobate Rupert Murdoch. However, the elevation of “ex-gay” junk
science all too often occurs in the allegedly “liberal media.” (Or is it Lazy
For example, NPR aired a segment this week that inexplicably
claimed, “The debate about the value of conversion therapy, also known as
reparative therapy, has been raging in psychological circles for more than a
In reality, the debate began to ebb in 1973, when the
American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental
disorders. In 2009 the American Psychological Association conducted an
exhaustive study on the efficacy of “ex-gay” therapy. The press release said it
all: “No evidence that sexual orientation change efforts work, says APA,” and
“Practitioners should avoid telling clients that they can change from gay to
What about this vivid APA statement isn’t clear to media
outlets like NPR?
There is absolutely no “debate about the value of conversion
therapy” taking place among real scientists. What we have on one hand are
genuine researchers who believe the issue has long been settled, and on the
other hand a politically motivated marketing campaign by the “ex-gay” industry
with the goal of tricking news outlets into thinking a controversy is actually
It is depressing that NPR, a top-notch news organization,
was so easily hoodwinked and ended up parroting the antigay party line. I can
only imagine the exuberant high fives at the headquarters of the “ex-gay” group
People Can Change when they realized that NPR had bought their baloney.
The erosion of good journalism has much to do with the
“Foxification” of news — where the ethos of accuracy is superseded by the
corrosive value of balance. In this culture of news corruption, extremists with
viewpoints from Mars are placed side by side with experts from Earth. To the
casual viewer, the media platform given to the inane creates a false
equivalency with the respected ideas of the sane. This pollutes the mainstream
and weakens our national identity, which relies on a general consensus regarding
agreed-upon, scientifically valid facts.
The “science” used to bolster the “ex-gay” myth has always
been weak, but in recent years the entire house of cards has collapsed. First,
there is the aforementioned 2009 APA study, which placed the entire weight of
the mental health community squarely against “ex-gay” therapy.
Second, the revelation that the infamous Masters and
Johnson’s 1979 book Homosexuality in Perspective was a hoax badly
undermined “ex-gay” efforts. William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, the
husband-and-wife sex research team, went on Meet the Press Sunday, April 22,
1979, to discuss their findings that claimed they had converted
homosexuals into heterosexuals. However, in his groundbreaking recent book, Masters
of Sex, author Thomas Maier documented through investigative
reporting that the results of Masters and Johnson’s study were entirely
fabricated. Virginia Johnson even acknowledged that the results were fake.
A third blow came with the findings in June by researcher
Jim Burroway and CNN’s AC 360 that undermined one of the most significant
“ex-gay” studies. Prior to getting caught with an escort from RentBoy.com, George Rekers was the “ex-gay” industry’s most prominent therapist. Even after
this tawdry scandal, Rekers's research touting the alleged sexual conversion of a
boy named “Kraig” was still widely cited by “ex-gay” therapists. Burroway and
CNN discovered, however, that “Kraig” had grown up to be a gay man and his
family believed the therapy with Rekers may have led to his suicide.
Anecdotal evidence also undermines the “ex-gay” myth. In
1998, 15 antigay organizations backed a million-dollar campaign featuring
“ex-gay” poster boys John Paulk and Michael Johnston. In 2000, I photographed
Paulk in a Washington, D.C., gay bar. In 2003, Virginia attorney Michael Hamar
and I revealed that Johnston was having intercourse with men he met men online.
Prior to this, the founder of Homosexuals Anonymous, Colin Cook, had to step
down after engaging in sexual acts with his clients. Two of Exodus
International’s cofounders, Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, left their wives
to marry each other.
What we are left with are fantastical tales of
transformation from individuals like People Can Change’s Rich Wyler, who runs
the profitable Journey Into Manhood (JIM), seminar. In this program, grown
men spend $650 for a weekend in the woods, blaming their parents for the fact that they are gay, and hugging and petting other closeted homosexuals in an allegedly
On the NPR segment, Wyler also made the specious and
scientifically bankrupt claim that he turned gay because he wasn’t close to his
father. That defies logic and ignores the countless gay men, such as myself, who are close to their fathers. Why didn’t NPR adequately challenge this phony cause-and-effect drivel
spouted by Wyler?
The media outlet also did not question Wyler on his creepy
form of hugging therapy that allegedly takes place in what journalist Ted Cox,
who reported from inside JIM weekend, called the “Cuddle Room.” Sadly, NPR
reduced what should have been a serious investigation into the real harm caused
by “ex-gay” therapy into a tit-for-tat and did virtually nothing to challenge
the false claims made in the segment.
Substandard reporting on this topic is not unique to NPR.
Earlier this year, the Oprah Winfrey Network’s Our America With Lisa Ling produced what may have been the shallowest program
on this issue in recent memory. She basically took what “ex-gay” activists said
at face value and did nothing to challenge their outrageous claims.
The news media used to be an ally in debunking the “ex-gay”
myth. But these days journalists often don’t do their homework, which inadvertently
allows “ex-gay” activists to promote junk science. This phenomenon is difficult
to stop because the media love a good freak show. and the spectacle of “ex-gays” is perfect for boosting ratings. Some talk show producers are so desperate to
book “ex-gays” that they unethically allow these activists to pick their
on-air opponents and blacklist others so they have an easier time
disseminating misinformation. For instance, I have learned that Exodus
International’s president, Alan Chambers, has told at least four different television
producers that if I were interviewed, no “ex-gays” would appear on their shows.
It is of great significance that the news media and talk
shows get this issue right because hateful antigay propaganda creates a
hostile climate and has consequences. A 2010 Intelligence Report by the
Southern Poverty Law Center puts the problem in perspective: Homosexuals or perceived homosexuals are
by far the group most targeted in America for violent hate crimes, according to
an Intelligence Report analysis
of 14 years of federal hate-crime data. The bottom line: Gay people are more
than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as Jews or blacks;
more than four times as likely as Muslims; and 14 times as likely as Latinos.
It is incredibly disappointing that NPR exacerbated the
situation by allowing falsehoods to flower and fiction to obscure fact. It
owes LGBT people an apology for not adhering to its usually rigorous
standards. When we hear NPR, we don’t expect it to mean Nonsensical Propaganda
from the Right.
Wayne Besen is the founder of Truth Wins Out, which fights the notion of conversion therapy.