Dan Gainor, Vice President of Business and Culture for the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog group (think of them as a bizarro-world version of Media Matters), accused me of being unethical in my reporting for Rolling Stone. According to their website, Media Research Center's "sole mission is to expose and neutralize the propaganda arm of the Left: the national news media." Welp.
In case you missed it, I reported on the efforts to repeal a California law designed to protect transgender students in grades K-12. It was first published on Nov. 1 on RollingStone.com. I interviewed several people on the topic: Matthew McReynolds of the Pacific Justice Institute (one of the groups pushing for repeal), Masen Davis of the Transgender Law Center (one of the groups defending the law), California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (author of the original legislation), and Ashton Lee (a transgender 16-year-old student in California). Additionally, I put in interview requests with two more organizations pushing for the law's repeal: the National Organization for Marriage and Privacy for All Students. Neither group responded to my request.
Overall, I feel like I provided an objective look at the concerns that groups like PJI, NOM and PAS have, as well as the reasons that groups like TLC feel that the law is necessary to ensure the safety of all students (including trans students). I stuck to a few pieces of primary source data:
- Text of the legislation itself. You can find that here.
I didn't, for example, point to reports that the Pacific Justice Institute had falsely accused a transgender student in Colorado of harassing girls in a restroom. I didn't point out the amount of out-of-state money that was being shoveled into the repeal effort by the likes of wealthy individuals like the chairman of the board of Jelly Belly. (Alas, my favorite jelly beans are now tainted!) I didn't point to reports that signature gatherers pushing for repeal have allegedly (well, it is caught on tape) been lying to people in order to get them to sign the petition. I didn't point to the fact that PJI has been running ads that portray all transgender people as big, burly "men in dresses" (you stay classy). I didn't even mention that the Pacific Justice Institute had been classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a "hate group."
Why? Because reporting on other reports leads you down a path toward bias. I wanted to put out a straight news piece that could both highlight an important issue that has been under-reported and highlight my skills as a journalist.
Still, this wasn't good enough for Dan Gainor.
@MissParkerMarie @RollingStone You write on the California trans law without any acknowledgment of your own situation? How is that ethical?
@MissParkerMarie I think we'd agree that an activist from an aggrieved minority group writing on that issue should at least merit a tagline.
@MissParkerMarie You have already done so. You are an activist. You can't then step back and pretend to be a neutral journo on this.
@MissParkerMarie SPJ Code: --Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.and -- Disclose unavoidable conflicts. http://t.co/03tYPep0Wj
@r4v5 @MissParkerMarie Not by existing, by writing about it and taking an activist stance.
@MissParkerMarie @r4v5 @RollingStone Of course it's a conflict. And I'm surprised to see you advocate for such a disingenuous position.
@MissParkerMarie What person on the right OR left will see you as neutral? Given http://t.co/GmuQOpt6xJ
@gavgabb@MissParkerMarie@RollingStone It's not ethical to be an activist and write a "neutral" piece. You flat out can't.
-- Dan Gainor (@dangainor) November 2, 2013
While I see where Dan's coming from, there was absolutely nothing in that piece that could have been seen as being from an activist's viewpoint. I didn't have a chance to look at the link that demonstrated why he believes I'm an "activist" until much later, but once I saw the piece he referenced, I went from feeling disagreeable to feeling angry.
Here's the piece he chose: "Coming Out to My Parents as Trans: An E-mail Exchange."
He referenced the email, something personal that I once decided to share with the world, as an example of me "being an activist." Please. Read that post. The only thing I'm advocating for in that piece is my own existence and the love of my parents. That post, in and of itself, means that I should be forced to out myself to the 10 million-plus monthly visitors to RollingStone.com? Really? The post only had to do with who I am as a human being. The post didn't make mention of political affiliation, my stance on legislation, my support of an organization. In it I talked about myself.
Because I'm transgender, because I'm someone who has deep knowledge of what it's like to feel as lost and scared as many of those kids in California, that should disqualify me from reporting on trans issues? Is that honestly what Gainor believes?
I am a professional, Dan. My reporting doesn't require an asterisk or a disclaimer (which would only be used to delegitimize what I've written). I don't see cisgender journalists having to include disclaimers that they're cisgender when dealing with issues affecting them. If a white man reported on Mitt Romney during the election last year, by this logic, shouldn't he have had to disclose that he, like Romney, is also white and male?
There are other things I've written where you could say that I take stances on items. Sure. This wasn't one of them, and shame on you, Dan, for saying that it was. My identity doesn't make me an activist. My existence doesn't make me unfit to be a journalist.
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