Lisa Ling's "Ex-Gay" Puff Piece
BY Wayne Besen
March 17 2011 1:30 PM ET
COMMENTARY: If a con artist were selling Florida swampland to vulnerable senior citizens, would the media give a sympathetic portrayal of the swindler? If a doctor were selling bogus cancer cures to desperate patients, would a television show try to help the quack by offering an image makeover?
Of course not.
Unfortunately, when it comes to coverage of the "ex-gay" issue, reporters routinely minimize the experiences of the "ex-gay" industry's victims and provide kindhearted depictions of the cruel and fraudulent victimizers.
The most recent example of such incompetent reporting came from the Oprah Winfrey Network's Lisa Ling, who produced a segment called "Pray the Gay Away?" for Our America With Lisa Ling. In her zest to appear "balanced," Ling forfeited the higher journalistic value of accuracy. By doing so, the reporter inadvertently made an infomercial for the "ex-gay" group Exodus International, essentially slapping this group's many victims in their faces.
Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus, was so happy with the puff piece that he euphorically gushed about Ling on his group's blog.
"I would like to extend my thanks to Lisa Ling for the courtesy, sensitivity and respect she demonstrated during our interviews and the filming at our 35th annual conference," wrote Chambers.
Several weeks prior to the airing of this show, I personally offered to fact-check Ling's segment. She declined by saying that there was nothing to worry about because she had gay friends.
The truth is, Ling had an agenda and not one that was necessarily antigay. What the reporter wanted to do was humanize a group of activists dedicated to dehumanizing LGBT people in an effort to soothe the sensitivities of religious viewers. To accomplish this, Ling had to whitewash the facts and sweep the devastation caused by Exodus under the rug. Better to produce a tearjerker for Oprah than shine a spotlight on the antigay jerks causing tears for their victims.
The goal of a reporter should be to tell a story as accurately as possible and paint a realistic portrait. Facts should be vigorously checked and follow-up questions asked. Unfortunately, the Oprah Winfrey Network's Our America With Lisa Ling produced an indulgent, shallow piece that included embarrassing factual inaccuracies resulting from a lack of research and lazy reporting.