Pleading For Tolerance Of The Intolerant Is Not Balanced Journalism

Both sideism and false equivalency only normalizes fallacy and bigotry

People carry a flag during the Utah Pride parade in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City police are looking for leads after a man was allegedly attacked while trying to defend two gay men being chased after the Utah Pride Festival. Sunday, June 3, 2018 (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

People carry a flag during the Utah Pride parade in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City police are looking for leads after a man was allegedly attacked while trying to defend two gay men being chased after the Utah Pride Festival. Sunday, June 3, 2018 (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

One of the main things we worry about at Rantt Media is the media’s constant fear of calling out the spread of hatred and bigotry for fear of being labeled “biased” or, worse, smoothing out the rough edges of intolerance in order to be labeled “balanced.”

This has happened too many a time during Trump’s presidency and candidacy. On the campaign trail, the media reported Trump’s hateful and false rantings of criminals pouring in across the border and Muslims being terrorists at face value, without any overt insistence on the facts. When Trump came to power and brought along white supremacists and the alt-right into the fore, every major news outlet – The New York Times, The LA Times, Politico, Mother Jones, to name a few- took turns gushing over them like teens over a new dance move. For every hateful aspect of Trumpism – his racism or his misogyny, for example – the media decided it needed to reach for a liberal equivalent, as if to say “you know, they’re not so different, those progressives and alt-righters.”

Last week, it was Yahoo Sports columnist Eric Adelson’s turn to get in on the both-sideist shtick. He wrote an article defending North Carolina Courage defender Jaelene Hinkle, who refused to play for the women’s national team because of the team’s Pride Month jersey, citing her religious views. In it, he compared her actions to those of Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco quarterback who spoke out against police brutality and was then blackballed by the NFL for his views.

To say that his piece is less than deserving of a Pulitzer would be a vast understatement. And he wasn’t alone in his praise of Ms. Hinkle. Kevin Williamson of the Weekly Standard harrumphed at how the criticism leveled at Ms. Hinkle is just another example of liberal “kulturkampf brigades” demanding conformity and excluding religious people.

Williamson writes for a right-wing outfit, while Adelson for one that is supposedly centrist. Reading the latter’s piece – his waxing poetic of how much Ms. Hinkle’s religion means to her because of her “miracle” recovery from a blood clot, how she prayed three long days to reach her decision not to join the USWNT – it was hard to tell. Not even Mr. Williamson went as far as juxtaposing the actions of Ms. Hinkle with those of Mr. Kaepernick.

Intolerance By Any Other Name…

Addressing the faulty logic of people like Adelson has become the rock to this paper’s Sisyphus, a burden we seemingly must always push on with. And push on we will, so here goes:

First of all, Kaepernick spoke out for the lives of black men being killed by America’s justice system. Ms. Hinkle didn’t want to wear a shirt with a rainbow on it because she thinks her God hates gay people. Mr. Adelson, and others like him, seem unable to understand that the two are not the same. It is a false equivalency and a textbook case of one.

Adelson also writes of Ms. Hinkle’s decision as “a personal choice out of faith that doesn’t negatively affect anyone else,” but this is a flat-out false statement. Not accepting someone for their identity is negatively affecting them. Especially when you are doing so as a prominent athlete, who may have teammates and fans that are LGBTQI. There is nothing about a rainbow on a jersey that prohibits Ms. Hinkle from being herself, a soccer player who is Christian. However, the reasoning behind her actions is one which has historically prohibited and continues to prohibit, others from being accepted as who they are.

And that’s why it’s wrong.

It’s true, Ms. Hinkle didn’t explicitly express any outright hatred of LGBTQI people. Her refusal to accept a call-up to the national team doesn’t necessarily mean she has a MAGA hat and a tiki torch in her closet. But this is intolerance all the same. This is not a choice that should be celebrated. She does not get brownie points for being bigoted quietly. She deserves no praise and deserves the appropriate amount of criticism.

Lastly, Mr. Adelson also perpetuates another harmful stereotype: that being Christian equates to being anti-LGBTQI. This is wrong on both moral and theological grounds, not to mention offensive to many Christians who identify as LGBTQI. It normalizes a Christianity that picks and chooses what it condemns and allows based on human, rather than divine, whims. This is a Christianity that emphasizes parts of the Bible calling non-cis identities an abomination but ignores others that might be otherwise uncomfortable to follow (Ms. Hinkle cited the jersey’s rainbow design as offensive to her religious beliefs, but somehow it being made out of polyester, a banned substance in the Bible, was just fine.) Worst of all, the Christianity Mr. Adelson paints with his paint roller of an article is one that forgets Jesus’ most important tenet: “Love one another.”

Hinkle and Kaepernick

Hinkle and Kaepernick

St. Jaelene Hinkle, Patron Saint of Bigotry

Mr. Adelson saved the worst for last, ending his article with an “ok so Jaelene Hinkle doesn’t like gay people, but people don’t like her for that, can’t we all just get along” equivocation that is emblematic of why media both-sideism is so harmful:

“Whether you side with Hinkle or with Best [an author who wrote Hinkle an open letter criticizing her views], it’s hard to feel like we’re paying attention to the right things.

One way to address that is to try to figure out what life is like for someone living in doubt or fear. Some fear is mortal fear, some is fear of ridicule, some is fear that society at large refuses to accommodate your views. It’s all a variation of fear, and it’s all isolating for those who bear it.”

For those keeping score at home, Adelson just equated the fear of dying – a fear that pervades the psyche of black, brown, native, queer, undocumented and people of other minority statuses every day because of how this country’s oppressive systems treat them – with Hinkle’s fear that her non acceptance of gay people will not be accommodated. Irresponsible journalism doesn’t begin to describe how bad this is.

Adelson is not just devaluing the experiences of minorities with his take. He does something much worse. By equating their fears of discrimination with those of Ms. Hinkle’s not being accepted, he is elevating her to the level of martyr for the intolerant (whether she wants to be or not.) Casting the criticism, she is facing as the cross she must bear for her anti-LGBT views inherently implies her views must be acceptable on some level.

From there, Fox News, alt-right trolls, and other right-wing talking heads will happily run with it and call Hinkle’s views patriotic, moral, even American. They will talk about how calling out intolerance of the LGBT community is actually an attack on Christianity. How freedom of speech is being eroded by liberals. How the “gay mafia” is in cahoots with BLM, ISIS, the Jews, Kaepernick, Hillary Clinton, and Robert Mueller to destroy the lives of honest, hard-working, white Americans who simply have a distaste for those not like them. And Christmas.

Ms. Hinkle is the latest sacrificial lamb, sacrificed at the altar of intolerance by right-wing media, for the propagation of hatred in Trump’s America. Mr. Adelson should know he handed them the knife, and that he will receive no thanks for it.

#BeBetterTomorrow

Ms. Hinkle’s story is not the most pressing example of bigotry today, by any stretch. But it does illustrate how subtle acceptance of intolerant views can have serious implications.

We are living in a time where the president calls minorities rapists, terrorists, sons of bitches, etc. With Trump in the White House, bigotry is already too much of a norm. The rise of Trumpism is already hurtling this country down a slippery slope. One in which facts don’t matter; where supporting white supremacy is just freedom of expression; where upholding hateful views is morally acceptable, as long as it’s in Jesus’ name.

Instead of calling this out, the media helps to compound the problem with “well, maybe the bigots have a point” takes like Mr. Adelson’s. Not calling out falsehoods and bigotry does not make these outfits unbiased; it makes them bad at their job. They should also not expect any praise from the right wing for being “balanced.” The likes of Fox News and Breitbart don’t care about balance and fairness; they want to destroy the notion of journalism as we know it.

Journalists should stop helping them.

This article was not written to attack Mr. Adelson personally, but rather to present his article as part of a bigger problem with media coverage today. We depend on journalists as an institution dedicated to safeguarding democracy by providing facts; exposing fallacy; and holding people, especially those in power, to account. Reporting and, worse, creating false equivalencies, is not how you do this.

The message anyone in media should take away is the same one Lebron James gave to journalists in his press conference last week:

Be better tomorrow. Our country depends on it.

Special thanks to the Rantt Media staff and Evan Nemoff for their contributions and inspiration for this piece.

Opinion // Human Rights / Journalism / LGBTQ / Media Criticism