Maxwell Reveals The Mind of the Muddled Media
You have to read this blog post by an Orlando Sentinel political columnist named Scott Maxwell to see how sloppy, ill-informed, and muddled the mainstream media can be on the Crist issue. Maxwell begins by writing, insipidly, that he is against outing any politician ever. Then he skitters over to the hypocrisy issue, where he presents a red herring that slides down a slippery slope:
Still, if we're asking whether Crist is gay, why aren't we asking every other candidate for every other office? City councils and county commissions can arguably have just as much impact on gay rights. Maybe you want there to be a "Sexual orientation" box in the bio section of our voters guide, along with education and occupation. I don't. But we'll get to more of that slippery slope after the background.
This, good reader, is a beautiful example of how the half-cocked
decision-makers in heavily bureaucratic, corporate newsrooms cook up reasons to keep their readers in the dark. Maxwell is saying that, good Lord, if we write about Crist we'll have to write about the dogcatcher too! So, because nobody wants to hear about the dogcatcher, the newspaper decides not to write about the next governor of Florida (if recent polls are to be believed).
Ludicrous. In the case of Crist, as evidence surfaces that Republican insiders are knowledgable about his gay relationships, there are two journalistic issues to consider: hypocrisy and lies. Maxwell ignores the latter but brings up the hypocrisy angle. "The problem though when it comes to allegations of homosexual hypocrisy is that it sets up a lopsided set of terms: We'll out you only if you have anti-gay positions. If you support gay rights, your secret's safe."
Look, Scotty, journalists are supposed to cover the world and try to reveal the truth about relevent issues, not irrelevent ones. They are drawn to conflict. If a city commissioner is in the closet and nobody cares about it and he's not some fire-and-brimstone-spitting Christian Right gayhater (and he doesn't get caught doing meth with a male prostitute), then why would a reporter want to make an issue of it? It would make no sense.
To simplify it for the confused Maxwell, think of it this way: A 1950s racist segregationist is running for Senate in Alabama. A reporter learns that the politician is actually hiding the fact that his great grandfather was a black man.
That's a good story. Ditto with the gay issue.
But there is such a thing as scale. Any candidate running for high office -- at minimum the U.S. Senate, governorships, and presidency -- needs to be honest about his sexuality regardless of his political stances. We simply can't have a person who has that much power lying to the people about he is and living in the closet, a psychologically damaging place that poses a whole slew of potential real-world problems for a top politician. And guess what? When any politician reaches that level, plenty of people are going to care and surely deserve to know, so it makes the story legit.
Maxwell's essay then takes a tragically unfortunate turn -- he attacks me and my newspaper. Now I am the first to say that my work is up for criticism and if it's valid, I'll take the medicine. But Maxwell is so imprecise -- aka sloppy -- that he criticizes the strongest point of my Crist stories, i.e. the level of reporting that went into them.
"More recently, a South Florida alternative paper put together an incredibly thinly reported piece — absent of a single first-hand source — and said Crist was gay," he writes. "Such a thinly reported piece — regardless of the topic — would not pass muster at most reputable papers."
I never said Crist was gay. Not a once. I presented evidence; I didn't come to a decision. Maxwell, of course, is free to question the that evidence and attack the stories for lacking absolute proof, but all he could hack up was that it was "thinly reported." Which it isn't. Read the stories, good Pulper, and decide for yourselves if they are "thinly reported." I tracked down sources all over the state and interviewed them. I found Jason Wetherington in his apartment complex parking lot. I got Crist on the phone. I obtained a sworn statement that I promise you there are a lot of powerful people in Tallahassee and elsewhere trying to figure out how in the hell I got it.
Thinly reported? Hell no (journalist and documentarian Gabriel Rotello puts it right in the Huffington Post when he calls the pieces "impressively detailed." I'm not going to go into a full-out defense here; I'll just leave it at this: For a pontificating puffer like Maxwell to criticize my reporting is laughable.
And to imply that the New Times isn't reputable -- well, that's just cheap and stupid, considering the amazing body of work the weeklies have put together during the past few decades. But I'm going to let Maxwell off on that as just being ignorant because he's not in an NT town and has a knack for spewing about things he doesn't know anything about (hey, at least he knew it was a newsweekly -- Lakeland Ledger reporter Joe Follick wrote yesterday that the Crist reports were coming from "blogs and gay publications").
The rest of the post is just a tortured rehash of his original false argument: That you don't write about Crist's sexuality because "then you had better want them told about all candidates." He makes the argument to write about Crist pretty well in fact, but then undercuts himself and his readers -- the way his newspaper, and so many others around the state, so often do.