NOTE: The following is my reaction to this editorial from Mediaite.com's Kevin Gotkin, who takes on the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan after she wrote this December 19, 2009 column titled "The Adam Lambert Problem" regarding the controversy over the shocking performance by the 2009 American Idol runner-up on ABC-TV's live broadcast of the 2009 American Music Awards.
Before reading your column, I read the Peggy Noonan piece at your link. Then I returned and finished reading your reaction, and noted this comment:
This is [a] story of poor journalism.
I agree wholeheartedly. But the poor journalism is not Noonan's, it's yours. (Not that this is new to Mediaite).
First of all, the illustration you chose to accompany your editorial would be fitting if you were taking on Rev. Pat Robertson, Dr. James Dobson, or Phyllis Schafly, whose objections to the expanding influence of the gay rights movement are deeply based in religious belief. Peggy Noonan is not of that sandwich-board ilk, and it's dishonest of you (or the person who chose that image) to imply that she is somehow.
Then, you employ the deceitful device used increasingly by professional opinionators left and right: “code language.” That is, to make the words of someone with whom you disagree seem more objectionable to the uninformed by suggesting the reader shouldn't believe the words that were actually spoken. No, readers should ignore the actual meaning of words, and instead embrace your perception of what their darker inner thoughts must be.
You wrote, “Noonan’s problem is that she hinges on homophobia.” Then, after quoting a paragraph in which Noonan almost apologizes for making Lambert's perverted display the topic of a column (“I don't mean to make too much of it”) you wrote:
“Translation from poorly codified indiscretion: Gay people are ruining America.”
Those are just your warm-up pitches, as you continue:
I can’t ignore disturbing shorthand homophobia. It’s a not-so-subtle way of talking that allows people of like minds to say just about everything except the offensive things they actually want to say.
Of course, Kevin, it never seem to occur to people like you that perhaps the reason why they don't say “the offensive things” is because they actually don't want to say them.
This is eerily reminiscent of another writer who hears things that weren't actually said – The New York Times' Maureen Dowd, who made a fool of herself when she wrote that “Fair or not,” she “heard” Congressman Joe Wilson silently call President Obama “boy” in his “You lie!” outburst in Obama's health care speech. Dowd can be found on that Pulitzer Prize list you linked, and her continued presence on it devalues its prestige.
This is also the main weapon used by the likes of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and other race hustlers (let me interject at this point that I am a black man); they are cocked and ready to accuse people of bias or bigotry without a shred of evidence, sometimes demanding a ransom of millions (in “donations”) to remove the tar they've slathered on their targets.
All such arguments are predicated on the idea that one knows what other people are really thinking if they don't accept (or openly reject) your values. Joe Wilson calls Obama a liar (accurately)? He's a white guy from South Carolina, so he's a bigot – he just doesn't say “boy” out loud. A cartoonist draws up a gag about a mad chimpanzee being the author of the stimulus bill? Obviously, the chimp represents Obama, even though Obama didn't write the bill, and the cartoonist said that wasn't his intent at all. Carrie Prejean doesn't think same-sex marriage should be instituted into law, so that must mean that she secretly despised the gay men that helped her win Miss California USA.
See, there's so much you can learn about people's true motives and feelings by what they don't say. Right?
Your argument against Noonan falls apart like a Jenga puzzle when you start defending gay values. I'm not saying that gays don't have values, I'm saying that in her piece Noonan never accused gays of not having them. Once again, that was your perception of Noonan, fair or not. She was specifically focused on the deliberately provocative performance by Lambert ("faux oral sex" featuring "S&M play," "bondage gear," "same-sex makeouts" and "walking a man and woman around the stage on a leash”) and the fact that it all took place on broadcast – that is to say “free” -- television. As Noonan wrote well before she specifically addressed Lambert:
For years now, without anyone declaring it or even noticing it, we've had a compromise on television. Do you want, or will you allow into your home, dramas and comedies that, however good or bad, are graphically violent, highly sexualized, or reflective of cultural messages that you believe may be destructive? Fine, get cable. Pay for it. Buy your premium package, it's your money, spend it as you like.
But the big broadcast networks are for everyone. They are free, they are available on every television set in the nation, and we watch them with our children. The whole family's watching. Higher, stricter standards must maintain.
You responded by suggesting this was evidence of Noonan's "poor journalism" because of her shaky "reasoning," and that:
Without distrust for the “alternative” lifestyle Adam Lambert now represents, Noonan’s piece comes across as aloof and out of touch. But with it, she rallies the base. Proof? That fact that she didn’t write this article after the Britney and Madonna kiss.
If you knew as much about Peggy Noonan as I do, you would know that she's not a big fan of "rallying the base" -- she did just the opposite a year ago, joining a chorus of urban intellectual conservatives in extolling the potential of Barack Obama to be a great centrist Chief Executive. I knew that wouldn't happen.
I never went to J-school, (I'm presuming that you did, Kevin -- maybe I'm wrong) but I always try to check my facts. Sometimes I fall short, and write something that is technically inaccurate, but I always try to get the big honking hippopotamus facts right. Such as the fact that the Britney-Madonna liplock was NOT on broadcast television, it was ... on cable, specifically the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards.
Another huge error of yours was linking a 1993 Andrew Sullivan NYT editorial about gays serving in the armed services openly as an example of "Gay Values, Truly Conservative." I won't go into the salacious details of Mr. Sullivan's values in practice (all of you who have the stomach for that can Google his name with the phrase "milky loads" or "power glutes"), but I wouldn't cite a man obsessed with Sarah Palin's uterus as a good way to get people OVER homophobia.
But I guess such dead-end rhetorical devices are a part of what you call "journalism that speaks through ingenuity instead of ignorance..." Is that what you believe you've accomplished here, Mr. Gotkin, this collection of prejudicial, presumptive, stereotypical assertions based in a gelatinous foundation? You are mistaken.