Blowback Against NPR Continues With Petition in Reaction to Story

By Lucas Grindley

Originally published on Advocate.com August 12 2011 11:20 AM ET

The blowback continues in reaction to an NPR story that gave equal weight to proponents and critics of conversion therapy, with a petition surpassing 4,000 signatures in three days.

The petition on Change.org calls for NPR to "correct and apologize for parroting 'ex-gay' propaganda." The public radio network has already admitted it handled the story incorrectly. Its ombudsman wrote a lengthy column and gathered statements from the journalists involved, who said they made errors in the way the information was presented.

(RELATED STORY: Listen to the original report)

But Truth Wins Out, which posted the petition, described the ombudsman's column as "disappointing and woefully inadequate."

"NPR Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos released a tepid, long-winded blog post in which he demonstrated a much greater interest in defending his reporter than correcting her errors," the Truth Wins Out petition states.

Then it calls on NPR to meet with the group and with survivors of so-called reparative therapy "so they can be fully informed about the dangers of the 'ex-gay' myth."

The petition has attracted signatures at a speedier clip than another recent effort aimed at public media. A grassroots call for PBS to have Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie get married had little more than 1,000 signatures when the company reacted, saying the Muppets were just friends.







Reaction to the ombudsman's column on NPR's own website includes continued outrage for lending any voice to those who preach the benefits of reparative therapy, but there are others who praise the station for an even-handed report that represents two arguments.

A statement distributed by NPR's acting senior vice president for news, Margaret Low Smith, tried to strike the balance of admitting errors while acknowledging all voices in a news story.

Smith conceded that the NPR report, which aired August 1 on Morning Edition, "unintentionally left the impression with some listeners that the establishment psychological community only began to discount conversion therapy in the last few years. Though some therapists disagree with that mainstream view, it has been widely held for many years."

Ross Murray, the director of religion, faith, and values for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, joined Truth Wins Out in condemning NPR's response as inadequate.

"Both the ombudsman’s post and the statement from the Senior Vice President miss the underlying concerns with the story," Murray wrote on GLAAD's blog. "There is no 'balance' and no 'debate.'"

Murray and Truth Wins Out argue that it's impossible to change a person's sexual orientation, as attested to by numerous psychological research organizations, and that NPR put listeners in danger by giving the "ex-gay" argument any weight in a story.

"The nation’s most knowledgeable medical and mental health authorities have uniformly dismissed the idea that being gay is something that needs to be 'treated,' and recognize that trying to do so can cause serious harm," Murray wrote.

The Advocate has contacted NPR, which indicated that staff is continuing to respond to emails from listeners, who it encourages to consider the entire body of its work covering LGBT issues. But a representative confirmed that no follow-up story is now being planned for Morning Edition.