You might imagine that the Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times journalist would have attempted journalism in writing what is billed as a “definitive account” of the marriage equality movement. And if you mean by journalism, being a stenographer and hagiographer for a handful of interested parties intent on spinning themselves as the new Rosa Parks, you’d be correct. No one doubts the validity and accuracy of the breathless accounts of Chad Griffin, Ted Olson and David Boies that Griffin, Olson and Boies gave directly and exclusively to Becker.
But is it journalism never to seek any alternative views, or objective facts or actual history outside the bubble of access journalism? Is it journalism to make grand and sweeping statements about gay history, thereby revealing that you know nothing about it?
Now of course I am an interested party here, having been part of the movement for twenty-five years, but who, like so many 0thers, got wiped from history in Becker’s ridiculous book. So take my own biases into account here as well. But here’s the reasoned view of Chris Geidner, the best journalist on gay politics in the country, who has meticulously followed and covered the marriage equality movement for years. If you read one article on this book, read Geidner’s. His bottom line:
The small universe of people who constitute Becker’s sourcing for the book — and her apparent unwillingness to explore alternative reasons for or views of the developments those sources discuss — make the book a dangerous draft of history.
Geidner points out that the book is best understood as “a piece in [a] public relations campaign, orchestrated by Griffin, who is now the head of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT rights group.” It is designed to rewrite history to make an organization that was long a frustrating, infuriating laggard in the movement to be the indispensable force for real change. All the manifold facts, events, lawsuits, demonstrations, arguments, articles and books that get in the way of this PR campaign are removed, deleted, or simply ignored.
Case in point: the early, epic scene in Becker’s book in which a lone voice for equality, Dustin Lance Black’s, speaks truth to power. Geidner notes:
“If there was applause, Black didn’t remember any,” Becker writes. “Instead, he recalled an ocean of pursed lips and crossed arms, and that he was literally trembling as he walked off stage. … Tim Gill … denounced Black outright, telling the crowd he was naive and misguided.” Video from the event provided to BuzzFeed, though, shows that the speech was interrupted with applause five times. At the end, at least some members of the audience gave Black a standing ovation, the video shows.
The first words after Black’s speech were from the moderator:
Thank you. Righteous, real energy! That’s what we need! Urgency. Thank you.
If there was video of the event and you were a reporter and had a key passage describing that event, wouldn’t you want to check the video to see if your source’s account is true?
Becker didn’t – because it was irrelevant to the self-serving narratives of her exclusive sources. She also asserts, for good measure, that Black was denounced by Tim Gill – but the truth, as Geidner proves with transcripts, is simply different.
And so her book simply distorts and misleads and delivers excruciating contortions of logic and history again and again. (For even more evidence of this, see Aravosis.) Moreover, all the distortions in the book – about every moment in the movement – have the same effect: making Griffin and Boies and Olson into Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr and Lyndon Johnson rolled into one. That’s why this book is such a travesty of both history and journalism and why the NYT’s publishing an extract from it is something their public editor should look into. It’s also why the movement has to take a long, hard look at its biggest organization, HRC, and ask why its executive director, for the first time in the marriage movement’s history, is trying to make one individual – himself – the alpha and omega of the entire breakthrough.
That has never happened before. And it is in effect an attack on the very movement HRC purports to lead.
(Photo: Jo Becker appears on “Meet the Press” on April 20, 2014. By William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)