The "Promise Keepers" rally in Washington, D.C., was, if nothing else, a victory of public relations over professional journalism. Media coverage was decidedly skewed toward the shallow end of the press pool. At best, both print and broadcast journalists glossed over the Keepers' homophobic agenda. At worst, they supported it.
Promise Keepers was founded nearly a decade ago by former University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney. A notorious homophobe, McCartney championed Colorado's Amendment Two—a 1992 measure that, had it not been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, would have denied basic civil rights to lesbian, gay and bisexual citizens.
In published reports, McCartney has further declared that "homosexuality is an abomination against almighty God." (Denver Post, 2/11/92) He called gay people "stark raving mad" and contented that lesbians and gays are "a group of people who don't reproduce, yet want to be compared to people who do reproduce." (Freedom Writer, 9/96) Similarly, in an early interview with the Denver Post (quoted in Church and State, 5/95), Promise Keepers co-founder Dave Wardell announced that he was drawing "a line in the sand"—- to stop homosexuals, "Act Up people" and "the foreign religions coming in here."
Under the guise of the Promise Keepers' "spiritual" gatherings, featured speakers echo this phobic party line. At a Promise Keepers rally in Dallas, for example, evangelist Tony Evans defined homosexuality as "immorality in the name of hell." The official Promise Keepers position on homosexuality is that it "violates God's creative design for a husband and a wife and that it is a sin." (Official Promise Keepers Statement, 12/97)
Not surprisingly, a major focus of the Washington rally was "sexual purity" (i.e., monogamous heterosexual marriage)—and, by extension, sexual "impurity" (i.e., everything else). In his keynote, McCartney again affirmed the Promise Keepers' conviction that "the sin of homosexuality cannot be excused." (C-SPAN, 10/4/97)
In covering the rally, major wire services at least acknowledged the group's opposition to homosexuality—though almost in passing. In a 22-paragraph Associated Press story (10/2/97), for example, paragraph 16 finally reports that "religious leaders and academics held a news conference to voice concerns about the Promise Keepers' message, a message some say denigrates women and condemns homosexuals." Homosexuals say nothing in this article, however, as none are quoted—and the issue is examined no further.
What "some say" is not really the point, in any case. What McCartney and his fellow homophobes have said is evidence enough of denigration and condemnation—but that evidence is missing from AP's story.
Similarly, in a 27-paragraph article from Reuters (10/4/97), the 24th paragraph first mentions that "the movement has aroused fear and suspicion among some women, gays and political moderates who say that McCartney and his followers have a hidden political agenda that is profoundly right-wing." Once again, no gays—suspicious, fearful or otherwise—are quoted in the article. The matter is dropped almost as soon as it is raised.
No one needs to "suspect" the existence of McCartney's homophobic agenda, for it is perfectly clear. That background material was left out of this and most other articles, however, leaving an impression that lesbian and gay critics of the Promise Keepers are somehow overreacting— responding not to the reality, but to a mere rumor of a threat.
Commentators generally failed to provide the context missing from news accounts. For instance, a NewsHour segment purporting to "focus" on the Promise Keepers one day after the rally (10/6/97) offered little depth and even less diversity.
The report opened with a video review of the Promise Keepers rally, which did (briefly) mention the group's "opposition to... homosexuality." This was followed by a live discussion amongst a panel of five "regional commentators," representing prominent newspapers across the country. Not one commentator condemned the Promise Keepers' homophobia-— and each found reasons to praise the group.
Patrick McGuigan of the Daily Oklahoman argued that the Promise Keepers "are definitely a force for the good." Robert Kittle of the San Diego Tribune agreed, suggesting that the group is "part of the spiritual renewal that's going on in this country... a very encouraging trend." "It doesn't offend me a lot," Kittle said. "This group is reaching out to all male Americans."
Never mind gay Americans, Kittle might have added, unless of course they can be "saved" or "converted." The Promise Keepers are indeed "reaching out" to homosexuals—in the hope of eliminating them.
Lee Cullum of the Dallas Morning News echoed the sentiment. "You certainly can't fault them for trying to be good fathers," she said. "That's a good thing." Cullum failed to ask how many of those fathers, wittingly or not, brought a tormented gay son to this anti-gay rally. Homophobes promise to be bad parents—- especially of lesbian, gay and bisexual children.
Promising to combat the "sin" of homosexuality (as the Keepers do) is effectively to embrace the real evil of homophobia. This dedication to bigotry is incompatible with becoming a "better human being." The pundits seem unable or unwilling to grasp this simple point.
Al Kielwasser publishes MediAction, an on-line resource for combating media homophobia.