Todd Starnes's Fox News piece Thursday on UT's first annual "Sex Week" and its founder Brianna Rader was one of the most flagrantly irresponsible pieces of journalism I have ever laid my eyes on.
Journalists have opinions; that's unavoidable. The problem comes from journalists who deliberately use their writing to substitute agenda for truth. This sneaky promotion of rhetoric at the expense of reality can be achieved by sensationalizing, hand-picking facts, and including sources sympathetic to only one viewpoint. Mr. Starnes has managed to achieve all three in this "news" article.
Every journalist knows a great story starts with a great headline, and Mr. Starnes (or his copy editors) seems to understand that a terrifying hook like "UT to host lesbian bondage expert" really draws the reader in. Unfortunately, he must have skipped the class on headlines at Lee University . His words easily catch the eye, but at the end of the day the purpose of headline is to offer a relevant summary of the story below. In this case, it might have been appropriate to mention the name of the event, or maybe its purpose, which is to have "an academically informed discussion about sexual issues."
From that misguided beginning, Mr. Starnes leads the reader along the crooked edge of a cliff and nudges them towards the edge of misunderstanding. Instead of focusing on Brianna's intent behind the event, he first mentions its cost to the university. As funding for Sex Week has been appropriated out of university grants (which he lists first, so I will as well) and student tuition payments, I am unsure how this is any of his concern. Academic department heads and university administrators, by virtue of their positions, are appointed to distribute that money for relevant student academic initiatives. But, at that point in the story, he still hasn't bothered to state the week's purpose, so the reader might well wonder why those administrators would want to pay $20,000 for a lesbian bondage expert to hold a workshop. Mr. Starnes doesn't clear up that confusion until he let's the source speak for herself. More than ten paragraphs down the page, Brianna states that the expert will lead a workshop on sexuality in poetry.
Most of "Sex Week"'s events with non-inflammatory headlines are conveniently left out of Mr. Starnes piece as well. As one commentator on his website states, Starnes makes no mention of the events like "Concepts on Virginity," "Religion and Sexuality," "The Birds, the Bees, and the Bible," and "How UT Can Stop Sexual Assault."
Comments included in the story present a highly one-sided perspective on the situation. It is certainly fair to include feedback from alumni who are unhappy about Sex Week programing, but as the message boards indicate, views on this issue are wide-ranging. Thorough journalism looks at a story from different angles, because its seeks to unearth truth. The intent here seems to have been to create one.
Instead of accurately reflecting Sex Week's goal, Mr. Starnes completely ignores its holistic approach to a topic that is specifically relevant in a college setting until the very last paragraph of the article. UT Media Relations director Karen Simsen clearly states that the week's content will have a broad scope. At least, I'm assuming he means Karen Simsen, instead of the Simpson he refers to.
It's hard to find an accurate copy desk these days.