By Laura Herzog
Nation and World Editor
Never in my life have I felt so afraid to write something. Yet, I feel so conflicted I suppose I need to write something. I’m writing in regards to the recent controversy with The Perspective and Mike Huckabee. It’s one of those instances that has unequivocally proven that we live in a very different world today, where no words go un-scrutinized and no individual’s reporting is less valid than another’s. As the Huffington Post said, commenting on the situation, “the (journalism) world is flat.” Yet I suppose the irony, in regards the omnipresence of the media today (in every shape and form), is that in some respects, rather than encouraging responsible public figures and transparent behavior, it has often produced the opposite effect.
Public figures are becoming phonier, less open and less sincere, so great is their fear that something they say will kill their reputations. (As Huckabee so ironically quipped before giving his talk at the College: “You’ll ask your questions and I’ll do my best not to say anything that might be a career-ender. It’s called Q&A: Questions and Avoidance.”) However, the degree to which this merciless media glare is merited is debatable—and it has been debated, extensively. Perhaps for the average man, who doesn’t set policy and have a stake in creating political barriers to gay marriage, this kind of reporting over a stupid comment, indicative of his generational and religious views, would be unfair. But perhaps Mike Huckabee does deserve to be called out, even if the controversy was undeniably courted.
And I know that it was, because—in part two of my revelation, and the cause for my fear in writing this and my personal shame — I was present at that interview, as the reporter for The Signal (a publication of a decidedly more quote-on-quote “neutral” personality). And, what’s more, I knew that Mike Tracey would ask those questions, so I purposefully avoided the controversy, instead asking questions that I felt would be more appropriately geared toward the nature of Huckabee’s coming to our campus.
To be honest, at first I felt slightly indignant when I heard about what Mike had done. I thought: “he got what he came for.” Furthermore, he possibly destroyed the reputation and political career of a man who –I will go ahead and admit — I liked. I honestly believe that Mike Huckabee is a good man, and this is despite the fact that I do believe he has some undeniably bigoted views. He said many good things during the course of his talk as well — which were ignored in The Perspective’s article — and I decided to forgive him for the bad. Why? Simply put, I guess that for better or for worse, I have a respect for authority and experience that I suppose a lot of kids my age don’t. I will think “what can this man teach me?” As opposed to: “where does his ignorance lie?”
However, I now find myself at a crossroads: On one hand, I feel ashamed, of course. I wonder if I too am symptomatic of my institutions and what has long been one of the greatest shortcomings of the mainstream media: I called myself a supporter of gay rights and yet I ignored an opportunity to call-out a public figure for his homophobic views. I cried in my dorm room when I considered the gay-rights ramifications of so many people like me committing the same “innocent” inaction.
Nonetheless, on the other hand, I still cannot condemn myself entirely — I still see the rationality behind my mindset in that press conference.
For one thing, I knew that anyone who did their research could know Huckabee’s views on gay rights—views which are symptomatic of both his Biblical Evangelical Christian upbringing and his generation. I wanted to ask him about less political issues that the mainstream media had not already hit him on a hundred times. With this in mind, interview or not, I would not have voted for Huckabee because I am a supporter of gay rights — his responses in the interview only corroborated what I already knew.
However, there is a broader social context here that the mainstream media discourse has largely ignored. No mainstream politician has supported gay marriage unequivocally — they have just not said something as offensive as Huckabee and/or been exposed for it. To me, this lack of open political support for gay rights is an issue that roots from two main things: the many interest groups that guide our so-called “democracy” and an ignorance that is pervasive. In my mind, there is no justification for being against gay marriage that any politician could give that would not, like Huckabee’s now-infamous words, be offensive and based in ignorance. Thus, getting rid of one man from the political circuit does not change these things.
I have always felt that these kinds of individual-focused discourses hurt all parties involved by creating a conflict that distracts from more constructive social action. To me, a journalist who is a supporter of gay rights would better spend his or her time covering the gay community in its own terms. It has been proven that increasing exposure and awareness decreases bigotry. Thus, I would rather hear the voices of gay individuals and their supporters explain why homophobia is ridiculous than read an endless array of articles declaring Mike Huckabee a homophobe.
To be fair, the blogs have definitely generated some constructive dialogue. But it is dubious whether politicians see these condemnations as representative of a voter base and not just the “liberal left minority.” If these condemnations change their policy, The Perspective has, in part, done a truly commendable thing. But—will NOT supporting gay rights soon become the new “political suicide”? One can hope, but only time will tell how this kind of pro-gay rights discourse, which is recurrent in the media, is interpreted in the political sphere. As Huckabee himself stated, “politicians don’t care about people, they care about voters.”
To that end, all of this discourse and controversy generated by The Perspective’s story will be for naught if we, as gay rights supporters, do not get out there and vote our opinion. This is my belief and the reason why I would rather act constructively than reproach destructively any day. In some people’s minds this might make me an ironic coward; in my mind, this makes me the antithesis of a cutthroat reporter and I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing, necessarily. To each his own, I suppose. We all need to be true to who we are.
If this event illustrates anything it is that words are more dangerous now than ever. In fact, I shudder to think how these words will be (mis?)interpreted in this climate. Yet, as a person who has always felt actions speak louder than words, I now am vaguely disgusted not only with myself, but also with the entire cutthroat culture of modern journalism.
If not as a reporter per se, I plan on spending my life building bridges and educating people — and forgiving them for ignorance until they are educated. Ignorance is a cultural affliction. As Mike Huckabee stated, cultural afflictions take “time” and “spreading awareness and creating incentives” (“not dictating behavior or penalizing it”) to eradicate. Homophobia, like any cultural affliction, will not be eradicated by taking down one perpetrator. And it is not fair to mercilessly vilify a person who is ignorant in one facet of his life, even if it is a glaring one and an important issue that has the potential to become the claim-to-fame of our generation in particular, just as civil rights was our parents’.
Still, we are all guilty of ignorance. To that end, I believe Mike Huckabee was fair at the very least in stating that “the burden of proof is with those who wish to change the definition.” Mike Huckabee himself challenged us to take action to support gay rights and we should. But the way to support gay rights is not by pinpointing and criminalizing ignorance, but by eradicating it through education.