Adam Polaski

NYT's American Family Association Profile Draws Criticism

Filed By Adam Polaski | August 04, 2011 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: AFA, American Family Association, Erik Eckholm, journalism, LGBT journalism, New Civil Rights Movement, New York Times

NewYorkTimes.jpgThis morning, The New York Times published a two-page profile by Erik Eckholm on the American Family Association, the "pro-family" organization that communicates an "outspoken, resolute, Christian voice throughout America."

Some LGBT advocates are taking issues with the Times piece, with The New Civil Rights Movement calling it a "glowing tribute" and writing that "the piece is extremely one-sided and does not meet their rigorous standards of journalistic excellence."

Although The New York Times does many things wrong (including their Islamophobic fumbling of the Oslo killing spree), this profile of the AFA is not one of them. The piece is an interesting portrait of an organization that has significant power among the religious right - power that may turn out to be politically significant with a "Day of Prayer" rally that they're hosting this weekend with Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Acknowledging that potential power and allowing readers to understand the danger of the organization is important.

The New Civil Rights Movement takes particular issue with the fact that Eckholm never denotes the AFA as an officially-declared hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The oversight of the official declaration is disappointing, yes, but it's not like Eckholm ignores criticisms of the AFA's hateful methods entirely.

"To its liberal critics, it is a shrill, even hateful voice of intolerance," the piece begins, and later, Eckholm quotes Peter Montgomery of People for the American Way, who again points out the power of the AFA as a megaphone for conservative voices. Montgomery told the Times:

Clearly a lot of Republican politicians want to reach the people who are listening to the American Family Association. Many Republican candidates see no shame in lending credibility to the extremism and bigotry on its radio shows.

If anything, the article makes a joke out of the AFA and its founder and former chairman, Donald E. Wildmon. One paragraph reads:

But the association has sharpened its edge over the years, moving from its well-known crusades for public "decency" to harshly opposing what it calls an anti-Christian "homosexual agenda" -- not only same-sex marriage and the acceptance of gay troops in the military, but any suggestion that homosexual "behavior is normal." The association also campaigns against antibullying programs that teach tolerance and corporations (like Home Depot, a current target) that support gay pride parades.

The writer specifically explains that anti-bullying programs teach tolerance and that the AFA is opposing something as simple as an anti-bullying program. Eckholm also points out the economic power behind the AFA ($19 million each year, raised "mainly from small donors" who have become convinced that their support of the AFA can help preserve Biblical morality).

Perhaps most cuttingly, Eckholm ends his article with a look at Wildmon that exposes the psyche of people who make their decisions based almost exclusively on faith.

Will a day of concentrated prayer, by tens of thousands of believers in Houston and untold numbers more who may participate from afar, turn the tide? "That remains to be seen," Mr. Wildmon said. "Anyone who wants to pray to Jesus to save our county is welcome."

"God didn't call me to be successful," he added, sounding more resigned than strident. "He called me to be faithful."

Just because a journalistic outlet takes interest in an organization or public figure that opposes the rights of LGBT people doesn't make the writer or the journalistic outlet anti-LGBT. This profile of the AFA was not an editorial, so Erik Eckholm was "not allowed" to outwardly dismiss the organization for its radically conservative take on everything from swearing to diversity to religious freedom. Instead, he has both emphasized that the AFA has a strong potential for political influence and, by including references to the organization's anti-Muslim, anti-tolerance, and anti-gay agenda, subtly revealed the danger of this potential for political influence.

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Adam, you don't find it distressing and problematic that the article said only that "liberal critics" call AFA a hate group, marginalizing the very serious and well-regarded work done by the Southern Poverty Law Center in studying, analyzing and labeling the AFA? Or that the writer calls Fischer's rantings that Hitler was gay and that the Nazis were "homosexual thugs" only a "disputed theory" rather than the completely discredited lie historians and the SPLC have documented?

On my first point, you did indeed say that the oversight was "disappointing", and I apologize for overlooking that in my comment. I would still maintain that such an omission represents very sloppy reporting, at a minimum, if not a clear bias by the author.

I agree, Thom, that "disputed" should have been replaced with "refuted," and the link should have directed readers to documentation refuting Fischer's rants. But I just don't see this article as a totally one-sided piece that bolsters the AFA's claims. Rather, I read it as one that works to present the AFA's propaganda and ultimately dismiss it as an organization built solely around faith and religion.