On the first day of every Basic Communication college course I teach, I stress that when communicating it is essential to be clear. This may require a definition of certain terms to make sure those involved in the process have the same starting point.
There are two other important points that I accentuate. The first is that we must be discriminating listeners/readers – meaning that we must realize that certain words are used for a specific purpose. The second is that we need to understand the source of the information and the perspective (intentional or unintentional bias) that it originates.
If there ever was a perfect example of these three basic communication principles being ignored, it is with the recent uproar over the interview of the patriarch of television’s Duck Dynasty show, Phil Robertson, conducted by Drew McGary of GQ magazine. Actually, there is very little wrong with the article in GQ. (Link to GQ article: http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson) The travesty and media frenzy that resulted is more from the improper interpretation and shameful reporting of Robertson’s comments on homosexuality and growing up in the South.
Before diving into what Robertson said, and how it was reported, let’s look at the “media.”
The media refers to journalists and reporters working for the news departments of organizations such as the major radio/TV networks like ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NBC along with the major newspapers. As a trained journalist and former reporter myself, I can assure you that things have definitely changed.
Journalists used to be taught to present the news that occurred by reporting the substance of the events or issues that they covered in an unbiased manner…just the facts with little, if any, editorializing.
Today, if you can write a complete sentence, it appears you can become a writer for any type of news source without any need for fact-checking or keeping personal thoughts/feelings /agendas out of the story. In many cases these days, it appears that tilting the story to meet the needs and objectives of the writer or publisher is now more important or relevant than the actual facts of the story.
Robertson Identifies Sinful Acts
Without getting into the graphic language that Robertson used that resulted in many of the headlines, the substance of what he said drew the most criticism. Here is the primary Robertson quote that drew the ire of gay-rights activists and media writers:
“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong,” he says. “Sin becomes fine.”
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.” (sic)
Catholics, and in reality, most Christians, will have a hard time finding any controversy with those statements.
However, note that Robertson first equates homosexual behavior with bestiality and heterosexual promiscuity and philandering and then combines all of those activities with adultery, idolaters, prostitution, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers as sins. He did not categorize these sins by placing any as worse than the other.
In fact, later in the article he states that “We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”
The Incompetent Reporting
Authors of articles (for websites, newspapers, and magazines) are seldom the individuals that write the headlines. This is because the headlines are typically created by editors, managers, or publishers to be more provocative in an effort to encourage those that see/read them to stay with the story and read the article.
Here are excerpts of headlines and text from articles in regards to the Robertson quotes above:
- From Lesley Goldberg of The Hollywood Reporter – “The news comes after Robertson compared homosexuality to bestiality in an interview with the magazine.”
- From TMZ – “As we reported, Phil told GQ about how…homosexuality and bestiality are the same sin.”
- From E! Entertainment’s Kristin Dos Santos – “…in which he grouped homosexuality in with bestiality as deviant behavior.”
- From The Hollywood Reporter and Lesley Goldberg – Subheading: “The news comes after the reality star compared being gay to bestiality…” Within the article – “The news comes after Robertson compared homosexuality to bestiality in an interview…”
- The Wrap, in an article TV network A&E’s decision to suspend Robertson from the network included in its headline “Comparison to bestiality, gay employees’ offense helped lead to decision” and then in its’ text “ultimately decided his comparison of homosexuality to ‘bestiality’ was over-the-line”
Andrea Morabito in a New York Post article printed comments from a GLAAD spokesperson that completely distorted Robertson’s comments within the original GQ article “…Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe,” said GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz. “He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans — and Americans — who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples.”
I’m not sure what lies Robertson said about the entire gay community, but he certainly did not say anything about the legal status of gay and lesbian couples.
As a side note, one of the common mistakes writers/speakers make when they try to come across as unbiased is that they use acronyms and jargon that they assume everyone knows and understand, because they know it. Nowhere in Morabito’s article or in any of the other articles was the “GLAAD” identified or explained. I hate to break it to some of these writers, but many people outside of New York and California do not know what GLAAD is other that they are against what Robertson said.
The Truthful Reality
The above-cited publications are certainly not traditional news sources. Nor are they likely employing top journalists who are experienced at practicing objective reporting. Most of these publications focus on high profile incidents and personality gossip. However, since they are among the top news sources on Hollywood and the entertainment industry, that means they reach an awful lot of unsophisticated people who place way too much importance on that segment of society…which itself is full of debauchery…which also explains why they are the source of these many Robertson mischaracterizations and are eager to criticize organized Christianity.
With that said, there was little difference between these articles and the characterizations made by the established traditional media. They were just a little more savvy in how they presented the story by repeating the same type of claims, but citing the other sources rather than taking ownership of the comments or correcting them.
In my effort to be clear, I will be short and concise. Robertson said it is not his role to judge people, it is to love them and let God take care of judging individuals. Within the context of the original interview and article Robertson said homosexuality (the act of sex, not gay relationships) is a sin. He also said that this sin is no different than heterosexuals that are having casual and multiple sexual relations as well as bestiality, drunkenness, idolatry, and others.
To be honest, there is not anything he said that is controversial to any Catholic, nor to most Christians or Muslims.
I recall for years hearing the saying “love the sinner, hate the sin.” I do not think that Robertson was saying anything more or less than this…other than his most important point of the whole interview which is that our American culture is removing God from daily living and no longer differentiates right from wrong, good from evil, or sinful vices from acceptable activities.
Sidebar Article: While not as prevalent as the articles on Robertson’s supposed gay-bashing, there were also claims that he made racist comments. A great rebuttal to this charge is presented by Ralph Lopez of the Digital Journal (http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/world/duck-dynasty-star-gets-bad-rap-on-alleged-racist-remarks/article/364513)
Links to the articles that were referenced in this article:
Also listed below are links from Time Magazine and The Daily Caller which discuss the silencing of oppositional viewpoints and first amendment infringements in regards to the outcry on Robertson’s comments.
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