Bad Reporting, Bias, Or Both At the Charlotte Observer

Posted: Aug 30, 2011 1:29 PM

The Charlotte Observer’s coverage of the August 27th gay pride event, Pride Charlotte, held this year in the heart of Charlotte’s business district, was marked by significant omissions and misrepresentations, along with some (surely unintended) irony.

First, the irony. There were two articles related to Pride Charlotte, the primary article noting that, “Saturday's event was the first to be held in such a prominent area, a move organizers said was made to promote acceptance.” This push to promote acceptance was confirmed by Pride Charlotte spokesman Matt Comer: “We are just as valid a community group as any other.” Ironically, these two comments immediately followed these lines: “At the Wells Fargo Plaza, drag queens lip-synced to pop music for a cheering crowd. One in a hot pink wig and matching knee-high boots danced to Katy Perry's ‘California Girls.’” Say what?

How many other community groups feature prominent performances by drag queens at their events? Can you imagine crowds at an Hispanic Pride event, or Black Pride event, or Asian Pride event – just to name a few – being entertained by men wearing dresses (or less), with hot pink wigs and matching knee-high boots? And this is part of the LGBT strategy “to promote acceptance”? And how telling that, unmentioned by the Observer, there was a large truck stationed next to the festival offering “Free HIV Testing.” Yes, just another, typical, community event.

But the Observer’s reporting not only highlighted the irony of the day. It also presented a very misleading picture. The main article noted that, “several people holding Bibles and wearing shirts that said ‘Repent or Perish’ stood at intersections and shouted scripture to those passing by. A few festivalgoers stopped to argue with them, but most walked by as the preachers' shouts were drowned out by music.” This was true, but there was another side to the story, left out entirely by the Observer.

There were other Christians at Pride Charlotte too, and they were really quite hard to miss. I’m speaking of the participants of the God Has a Better Way outreach rally which drew together more than 400 evangelical Christians from numerous local churches, all wearing red-shirts emblazoned with the “God Has a Better Way” message.

So significant was their presence in the early afternoon that one gay attendee was overheard commenting to a friend, “There are more straights here than gays!” In fact, at one point it appeared that there were more people of color wearing the red tee-shirts than there were gay, black attendees. Isn’t this worth reporting? It certainly gives a very different impression of what actually happened at the event.

The God Has a Better Way participants walked through the festival, handing out multiplied hundreds of free bottles of water (labeled, “Jesus Loves You”) along with several thousand gospel tracts and invitations to an evening concert. And prior to receiving their red tee-shirts, each signed this pledge: “1) I will speak the truth in love. 2) I will seek to befriend those who oppose me. 3) I will seek to overcome bad attitudes with good attitudes. 4) I will seek to be a living example of Jesus. 5) I will not compromise biblical standards or convictions. 6) I will not violate the law.” (Full disclosure: This is part of a pledge I authored in 2006, and the event organizers, of whom I was one, gladly adopted it this year.) All this, however, was completely overlooked by the Observer, despite the fact that they were sent a press release about our planned activity before the event, a press release that was picked up and posted online by some national news outlets.

But the coverage gets worse. A second Pride Charlotte article reported the arrest of a local Christian leader for violation of the city’s sound ordinance (the article informs us that the violation occurred when he raised his voice while preaching on the wrath of God). And the article stated that there were “dozens of protesters like [him.]. Many wore red shirts that said ‘Repent or Perish.’” This is patently false.

There were hundreds of red-shirted Christians, not dozens, and their message was “God Has a Better Way” rather than “Repent or Perish.” (The issue is not whether Christians should preach “repent or perish.” The issue is accurate reporting.) How could this be missed? So, one article simply ignores the presence of hundreds of Christians who engaged in random acts of kindness, while the other article drastically reduces their numbers and completely changes their message. Is this meant to be serious reporting from a serious newspaper?

To be sure, the Observer did mention one Christian group in a positive light, noting that, “Several churches came to hand out information about their places of worship. ‘We’re open and receptive,’ John Houghton said of his church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte” – in apparent contrast with the other, bigoted Christians.

The lessons, then, are clear: Preach hellfire and brimstone at a gay pride event and the Observer will surely notice you. Affirm homosexuality in Jesus’ name and the Observer will surely laud you. Break with the stereotype, by the hundreds, and the Observer will surely ignore or misrepresent you. Perform as a drag queen and the Observer will surely celebrate you.

But we shouldn’t be too surprised. In 2007, at the annual Carolina’s fund-raising dinner for the Human Rights Campaign (more aptly called the Homosexual Rights Campaign), the Observer boasted that it had featured 187 gay-themed stories the previous year. They can now add these two recent stories to their list. They have certainly done themselves “proud.”

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