Bil Browning

Indy Star trips over own feet: Finds Dungy story

Filed By Bil Browning | March 10, 2007 10:11 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living, Marriage Equality, The Movement, You Gotta See This
Tags: football game, Indiana Equality Education Fund, Indianapolis Colts, Indy Star, Kathy Sarris, media bias, OutSports, Robert King, Tony Dungy

Well, whattaya know? The Indianapolis Star has realized that there is a story in the whole Tony Dungy controversy - a month and a half after everyone else did. You can tell that they're taking it seriously though - after all, they put their Religion and Values reporter on the scent instead of, say, a sports reporter. As the editor of the blog that broke the story, I'd like to reply.

The article's title proclaims "Gay-rights groups upset with Dungy: Colts coach to attend event by organization fighting gay marriages" What "Gay-rights groups" have come out against this? No organization, local or otherwise, has released a press release or public statement on this before. Just us bloggers... If you Google "Tony Dungy homophobic," you'll get almost 29,000 links to blog posts and stories about Dungy's appearance but no organizational statements - until now. Shoot, the second quote in the article comes from OutSports.com, one of the websites that covered the story! They could only find one "group" to respond - one that had not commented on the story before since it would fall well outside of their mission of civil rights and opposing SJR-7.

This is probably why the focus of the article seems to be on "gay marriage." We didn't criticize his appearance based on "gay marriage." Our criticism was that the Indiana Family Institute is affiliated with Focus on the Family which the Southern Poverty Law Center has said regularly engages in "hate speech." In fact, several web filtering software packages block the Focus on the Family website for hate speech. The IFI website claimed that Jesus himself would discriminate against the LGBT community after local church Jesus MCC put up billboards around Indianapolis asking "Would Jesus Discriminate?" They often link homosexuality with pedophilia, group sex, and bestiality. They opposed the hate crimes bill and also oppose domestic partner benefits and hospital visitation rights. We criticized the Colts for publicly supporting an organization known for their multiple homophobic positions.

With SJR-7 working it's way through the legislature, we decided to let the matter drop. We'd made our point. We have other more important things to worry about right now. For the Indy Star to bring up the story now (after it had already ran across the nation - from CBS news to the Philadelphia Inquirer) and assign it to a religion reporter seems rather odd. Especially since the left side-bar is nothing short of an advertisement for the event - even down to how much a ticket would cost you! It also conveniently gives the URL for the IFI, their mission, and even an RSVP date. You can't buy advertising that good!

Unfortunately, while other mainstream media outlets focused on the IFI's history of intolerance and wondered why Dungy would associate himself with such a controversial group, the Star chose to issue an info-tisement on IFI's behalf and used a local group's desire for media attention to force the discussion back onto "gay marriage." It's just unfortunate all around.


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Boy, don't get between Kathy Sarris and a news story, huh? What business does Sarris have commenting on this story anyway? Is this a case of the Star not doing its homework or Sarris pulling the wool over the Star's eyes to make them think that this has always been her issue? Where's the press release or public statement from this Indiana Equality Education Fund on this before now? Why did the Star choose an organization no one has heard of and has had no comment on this story before to comment now?

Who the hell takes this woman seriously anymore anyway? Hasn't she done enough damage to the Indiana GLBT community? The Star would do well to take her out of their Rolodex where's she's filed under M for "media whore"

Leave it to the Star to puff the IFI sickos, stir up the anti-gay marriage zealots, and lend credibility to a washed up hack all in one useless piece of journo-detritus.

Give me a break, anon. A Star reporter called Kathy Sarris in the middle of her restaurant's lunch hour, and she took the phone call. Get off her back, or reveal your identity. To attack from a veil of anonymity is cowardly.

I would respectfully submit then that Kathy would have been better served to simply say, "We have no position on this. You should contact the bloggers that broke the story." After all, she knows our phone numbers... Kathy's more media-savvy than this. It was a stupid mistake - but, in the grand scheme of things it's a tempest in a teapot.

Jerame Davis | March 10, 2007 2:00 PM

The attacks on (and defenses of) Kathy don't really get to the heart of the issue here. We all know there are a lot of Kathy haters out there, but let's not stray from the real issue here...

The first BIG issue is the Star's lazy reporting. It took them two months to find this story - a story that's made national news, mind you - and then they still couldn't be bothered to actually go to the source. Instead, they called Kathy Sarris, who has not had any part in this whatsoever until now.

Further pointing to problems with the the Star's coverage is that they assign this to the Religion reporter. Come on! Bobby King is as biased as they come. When Indiana Action Network disrupted the Eric Miller rally two years ago, Bobby King latched onto Seth Kreigh (one of the IAN disruptors) and invited him to lunch and generally harangued him trying to get him to come to church and see the light of his evil and perverted ways. Bobby King is bought in to the religious right doctrine lock, stock, and barrel.

Finally, Kathy Sarris is certainly savvy enough to realize that bringing this issue up NOW is not going to help our cause with SJR-7. She's also savvy enough to point a news reporter to the CORRECT source rather than commenting herself. It's just odd to me that she chose to comment rather than refer the reporter to the correct source.

Tying this story to IE or IEEF ties it to gay marriage in the public's eye and makes it look like those gay marriage queers are just going after whatever they can to get some publicity. That hurts our cause in the short term but really won't have any effect at all in the long term. Let's keep that part in perspective.

What hurts us in the long term is the insistence of the Indianapolis Star to continue to rely on the same 1 or 2 people for quotes from the LGBT community and to consistently and repeatedly do slipshod, half-assed reporting. Until the Star can start doing balanced stories that don't always revolve around marriage, we are going to be pigeon-holed as a community.

This story is about a hate group that is being legitimized by one of the most visible and well-liked individuals in our state. It has little to nothing to do with marriage.

(this comment cross-posted to Advance Indiana)

Okay, I've looked it up. Five minutes ago if you asked me who "broke" this story (Don Sherfick), I would have been hard pressed to say. Or who specifically are you suggesting Kathy should have referred the reporter to?

I remember years ago being responsible for a quote from Dan Quayle that appeared subsequently in editorials in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. It was a startling sensation reading a New York Times editorial over my coffee in the morning and seeing my conversation of several weeks prior with Dan Quayle relayed... without reference to me. (I had called into the Diane Rheem show when he was running for president, asked him a pointed question, obtained the tape by mail, transcribed it to a manuscript, and sent it in to the National office of the Log Cabin Republicans. They disseminated the quote of Quayle in which he said he would embrace his son and love him even if he came out of the closet as gay. He is not, to my knowledge.) Seeing my name in the paper was of exactly zero importance to me. Seeing the point we needed made get the coverage it deserved was the only object of all that activity.

It should come as no surprise that there have been all sorts of topics in the paper... letters to the editors, etc.... from all sorts of people and all sorts of organizations... that have resulted from conversations among principals about who the best person would be to make whatever point needs to be made. Walter Bodich of Stop the Amendment appeared on Indiana Lawmakers a week ago after I referred the producer on, who wanted to put me on the show.

So Kathy Sarris took a phone call from a Reporter on a topic that has been on everybody's lips, and would have been even if Don hadn't been the first to spot it. I return to my initial position: She did the best she could, and didn't do badly, considering. I notice Don hasn't posted demanding that the reporters be referred to him on this topic; knowing Don, it would have surprised me if he had.

By the way, even as one who blogs, I think I've about had it with who "broke" stories that require no investigative reporting or who should take "credit" for what. It's like "calling" the front seat. The front seat is already there, and somebody is destined to sit in it. Gary Welsh uncovering Advance America's finances... that was breaking news for which Gary deserves credit. Who was the first to see that Dungy would be at IFI? Discussion of that appearance was inevitable, and who saw it "first" is trivial.

I believe the first person to draw parallels between Klan's takeover of the state and the current state of affairs was me.... in some gayindy.org e-mails followed by my testimony before the Indiana Senate years ago, which testimony spread after Laura McFee covered it for Nuvo. Laura in her latest piece with regard to the Klan comparison aspect was writing consistent with her earlier coverage, (not stealing from Gary, who also did a great job of developing the theme.)

This is all to say to any of us who demand credit for thought waves... get over it! As the environment evolves, we are all contributing and drawing thoughts from a general... er.. milieu... if that's not too ridiculous a word.

the real reason | March 10, 2007 4:57 PM

we all know that kathy sarris wouldn't send anyone to bill. he gave ie the one thing she never could...... a success.

yay to don for reporting on this!

Chris, clearly you still don't get it.

This is a taking to task of the Star, mostly, for their laziness and continued bungled reporting. The Star has not done their homework, they don't really know anything about the story on which they were reporting, and they bungled it not only in their linking to gay marriage, but in contacting Kathy for a quote.

My only criticism of Kathy is that she didn't do as she should have and referred the comment to someone who was actually engaged in the Dungy/IFI issue. She has not, to my knowledge, engaged in ANY of the writing, any of the reporting, or any other part of this story yet she felt as if she could comment on the story as if she were a participant in the discussion all along. Not that she did a bad job, not that what she said wasn't poignant. Just that instead of telling the reporter she's not the best source for a quote since she's not involved, she gave a quote. Those who have been engaged in the issue at hand are always the best ones to quote on the issue. Period.

Instead of doggedly defending Kathy every time anything remotely negative is expressed about her, perhaps you should put on your thinking cap and try not to look so biased toward a particular individual.

No one is demanding credit - that's absurd and you're just injecting a red herring into the argument. What I am saying is that Kathy has no standing in this issue and she should have deferred to those who do. Period. She's not a blogger and she's not the only LGBT expert in this city. The Star was being lazy and she helped them in doing so.

It's not credit but credibility that I'm concerned with in this regard. Kathy never reads blogs (by her own admission). Kathy is directly tied (fairly or not) with the marriage issue. By her commenting on this story, she has tied this whole thing in with the marriage battle. Don didn't do that. Neither did any of the follow up posts on other blogs. Instead, two sentences from Kathy now makes the headline, "Gay rights groups upset with Dungy". No "gay rights group" has had one thing to say about this until that moment.

She injected herself into a conversation that she wasn't taking part of until the Star decided to call her for a quote. That's just self-promotion. This issue should have never been tied to Indiana Equality or any arm thereof, especially this long after the fact and this close to hearings on SJR-7.

Personally, my beef is still with the Star for coming to the game a month and a half late and still getting it wrong. Kathy is a side note to the broader issue of the generally piss-poor coverage of our issues by the newspaper of record for our capital city.

the star's trackback comments for this article are more disturbing than usual. i have to wonder whether there would be quite so many negative comments there had the article more clearly explained why GLBT groups object to the IFI.

Gary Welsh | March 10, 2007 5:11 PM

I don't know why you chose to bring up the Nuvo article Chris, but you did. The issue isn't the Klan comparison in general, the issue if wholesale lifting of paragraphs and even quotes from my blog without any attribution. When I borrowed historical passages from Justin Walsh's "The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly", I apppropriately sourced them. McPhee did not. When both Bil and I brought up a story which originally ran in the Logansport Pharos-Tribune in 2002 about Brandt Hershman and his ex-wife, we both attributed the story to its original story. McPhee did not. There are numerous other examples I could cite as well. This is actually not the first time McPhee has done it to me in particular. I like the fact she's writing about it, but professional respect and ethics are equally as important. As to who is speaking on our behalf, I know that as long as the current crop of IE folks are running things, I will always be shut out. Forget the fact that I can articulate the legal and factual nuances better than most and go toe-to-toe with the best of debaters, that makes me a threat to these underperforming people who've been professing to speak on our behalf. Because I'm a threat, they will do everything humanly possible to shut me down. Get a load of it, Chris. I ain't going away. And I will continue to run circles around the the circle jerk that is IE.

Whoa there, folks. I'd like to point out that this has nothing to do with "Kathy vs Bil" or any other concocted conspiracy. Let's be respectful and debate the issues without resorting to spurious personal attacks.

While I'm irritated Kathy didn't just send the reporter on to someone who was involved with the story (and the slightly bad spin built around her involvement), I think that the issue lies more in the Star's reporting than Kathy's comment. As Chris points out, no one knows what Kathy actually said to the reporter - she could have referred him on to Don or I. And Don hasn't commented to say whether or not he was contacted. I wasn't, but perhaps he was. Until the facts are in, it's just speculation.

And speculation plus personal attacks are the domain of FOX news - not bilerico readers. Let's rise above that fight folks. Let me be clear, in no way do I think Kathy was out to do damage to myself (or Don). This looks more like careless reporting and a throw-away comment. Tempest in a teapot.

Okay, folks, you are all as guilty of careless assumptions and careless reporting as the you accuse the Star of being. Over on Advance Indiana I mentioned three options you have when a reporter calls. (I had not spoken with Kathy Sarris before posting.) Why do I have those instinctive responses? Because for over 10 years now I've had caution drummed into my head by.... Kathy Sarris... ALWAYS when I consult Kathy about a reporter's contacts, she ALWAYS suggests names of people that the reporter should also contact.... It's become second nature to me because of Kathy Sarris, for whom I have the greatest respect. ALWAYS refer a reporter to others who can also shed light.

So I called Kathy today mainly to call her attention to the nearly 400 responses on the Star article, which worried me, as it seemed to me that we had not asked for this story, that IE had sent no press releases, had made no phone calls seeking to call attention to the Dungy story.

Son of a gun if Kathy hadn't referred King to every one of you. She didn't want to be in the article. And I believe her because it has been my experience that no matter how heated the history has been, she is willing to turn around and draft somebody to service who will be useful to the cause. So, Bil, she referred King to you, Gary, she referred King to you. She also referred him to Walter Bodich of Stop the Amendment and even Linda Perdue, with whom so many characterize her as some kind of arch enemy. She referred also, of course, to Mark St. John, IE's lobbyist.

That is not unusual for Kathy Sarris.

But King chose not contact any of you, it appears, for reasons known only to King. And for not having been contacted, you are lambasting Kathy Sarris, who didn't want to be in the article. (She feared saying "no comment" would sound petulant, which she felt would also not be good.)

Thank you, Chris, for proving my point from earlier:

"As Chris points out, no one knows what Kathy actually said to the reporter - she could have referred him on to Don or I. And Don hasn't commented to say whether or not he was contacted. I wasn't, but perhaps he was. Until the facts are in, it's just speculation."

The point was (and remains!) that the Star's reporting on this story was horrible. They contacted the first person in the rolodex and counted it as their "token" quote. Since IEEF is heavily involved in the amendment, it helped build the story the Star reporter wanted to write. Don's post says "marriage" once when he refers to SJR-7, the Star makes it part of the headline.

As I said earlier, it's the Star that should be taken to task for this bit of bait-and-switch. They're late and they're wrong. Don's critique was a valid one and I stand behind him - and the post. Hell, I guess since there's two of us (Don as author and I as editor) we must be the "local and national groups" that the Star was referring to. It's nice to be part of a club. :)

This article was so bad, it's pitiful. If Robert King had thought out his piece as Don did his, this would be entirely different comment thread. You can e-mail him here. I sent him a link to this post already.

Don Sherfick | March 10, 2007 7:53 PM

Gee Whiz! The one day I don't religiously (no pun) check either Advance Indiana or Bilerico and decide to wash woodwork instead, I boot up the laptop and see they let everybody into the sandbox again.

No, nobody from the Star or anywhere else called me; I'm not miffed that they didn't or wouldn't have been if they had. I would have just told 'em what I said in my January post: That I am a huge fan of Tony and the Colts....that Jerry and I nearly froze our butts off to be in the Dome to get a glimpse of him holding the Lombardi Trophy at the post-Superbowl Rally....but that sometimes even folks you like very much do things that you wish they wouldn't. You point that out and let them know why you feel that way. Then you go do something else, like wash woodwork.

That's all. Now please can I get out of the sandbox and go finish what I was doing? Thank you so very much.

Just like to report that bilerico reached its 3000th comment with Bil's on this thread that started with "Whoa there, folks". Congrats, Bil! You can contact the managing editor of this blog for your prize.

The only hate group I have seen mentioned is the Southern Poverty Law Center. We see them attack free speech and defend conspiracy theories all the time. The SPLC is a joke. I don't know any member of Focus or other family orgs that hate gay people. They might very much disapprove of someone's lifestyle choice, but not hate. The SPLC is the one that stirs up hate and hurts the community when they attack incorrectly.

Allen J. Lopp | March 11, 2007 4:59 PM

So that folks know the legs this story has, I was watching 11 o'clock news Saturday night on WLKY-32 in Louisville, and they had a 30-second blurb that "Gay groups are angry with Tony Dungy for appearing at an event sponsored by a group that opposes gay marriage" --- at least, that's the best paraphrase I can give you. WLKY-32 added that a Colts spokesperson had commented, "Tony Dungy is free to associate with any group he chooses."

=======================

Now, I must counter-comment about D Graham's post regarding the Southern Poverty Law Center. Calling the SPLC a hate group is like calling the Roman Catholic church a satanic cult --- in each case, the main purpose of the group is exactly the opposite of the name it is being called.

The SPLC does not "attack free speech" even though they do discourage and work against "hate speech" --- even while acknowledging the difficult and unresolved question in our society about whether hate speech is protected under the First Amendment. (My personal opinion is that most hate speech is protected, unless it creates an immediate physical threat to someone. Thus: "I hate fags" is a protected expression, but "That man walking this way is gay, let's go beat him up" is not.)

The remark that SPLC might at times "defend conspiracy theories" is possibly true --- and if so, discussing such theories is a part of SPLC's right to free speech. Such theories may be real possibilities and they need to be discussed and examined.

> The SPLC is the one that stirs up hate and
> hurts the community when they attack
> incorrectly."

I infer from this statement that the speaker believes that the SPLC deliberately perceives and describes right-wing groups as being a greater social threat than they actually are. While such mistakes can be made on occasion, I do not believe it convincing that the SPLC does this by design, and thus the notion that SPLC "stirs up hate" is totally false. I will concede that any person or group that "attack(s) incorrectly" also potentially "hurts the community" but in a milieu of attack and distrust, it is certain that such mistakes will happen on both sides.

D Graham, who appears to be defending Focus on Family, IFI, and similar groups, would be more convincing if he could say that such groups at least embrace a "live and let live" attitude. GLBT persons want acceptance, but tolerance is our second choice. Demonizing us and telling false tales about us in order to assasinate our characters in the public eye does not even constitute tolerance --- in fact, I would say those practices do indeed qualify the group to be called a hate group.

All manner of news services are carrying the story now. The New Yourk Times ran a shortened story in the Sports category.

Robert King has responded to me via e-mail. He writes, "Kathy was a local person someone in the newsroom referred me to and she was willing to comment. I was not aware of your website and your interest or I might have contacted you. Perhaps if we do a follow up you would like to comment. Can you send me a phone number?"