Robert Stacy McCain, a homophobe, doesn’t even understand what he calls “a basic rule of journalism.”
I appear to have hurt Robert Stacy McCain’s feelings when I deliberately ignored the fact that he meant title of his recent post (“Homophobic Bigotry Update“) sarcastically. McCain’s response to my post is a masterpiece of overcompensation worthy of a careful rebuttal. Keep in mind that I accused him of cherry-picking stories to “scor[e] political points by exploiting statistically insignificant horrors.” He begins:
There is a basic rule of journalism—a rule that has nothing to do with politics whatsoever—that if a dog bites a man, that’s not news. News is when a man bites a dog. That is to say, newsworthy events are by definition unusual.
While it’s true that journalists sometimes mutter the phrase “Man Bites Dog,” it’s not a “rule” of journalism, much less a “basic” one. When journalists mention it, they do so dismissively because it suggests laziness and intellectual dishonesty on the part of a peer. It’s lazy because it requires nothing in the way of reporting: the events deviate from the norm so greatly that the story writes itself. It’s intellectually dishonest because paying attention to unusual events distorts public understanding of what constitutes a “common” occurrence.
Consider the local evening news: it creates the impression of a rising tide of crime, even when actual crime rates have been falling for decades, because it enthusiastically abides by the “Man Bites Dog” principle. Viewers think that men in their local area are always biting dogs and have been for years and probably will be forever. If no local men can be found biting dogs on a given day, affiliates show canned footage of dog-biting across America that convinces viewers that what they’d considered a local problem is actually a national epidemic.
Which is the opposite of the truth.
A journalist who appeals to the “Man Bites Dog” principle in order to justify his coverage of an uncommon event is confessing that he’s not interested in representing the world as it is. He’s confessing that he has a principle of selection unrelated to the truth that dictates which statistically improbable events he calls attention to. So while McCain claims his principle of selection is the inherent newsworthiness of unusual events, his own post puts that argument to lie.
Note that I used the phrase “a deviat[ion] from the norm” to define an “unusual” event above. What constitutes a deviation from the norm depends on what a given journalist considers normal. For example, if a journalist believes that married gay men pose a greater threat to their male charges than straight couples, he wouldn’t think a story about married gay men abusing male charges to be unusual because it accords with his worldview. For the same reason, I’m not surprised when I find a ball of fire appearing over the horizon every morning. Sunrise isn’t a newsworthy event to me because it conforms to my understanding of the world. There’s nothing “unusual” about the sun being where I expect it to be.
This is why McCain’s “Man Bites Dog” excuse falls apart under its own weight: his original post was about another example of gay men abusing male wards, and it includes links to three other cases that McCain characterizes as the “unfair” facts supporters of same-sex adoption refuse to face. It’s not because he thinks such abuse by gay couples is “unusual” that he thought this story newsworthy—he thought this story “newsworthy” because he believes such abuse is utterly commonplace. It conforms with his worldview as much as the daily appearance of the sun conforms with mine, only you don’t see me writing posts about sunrises and claiming they’re newsworthy.
As the sarcastic title and tone of “Homophobic Bigotry Update” indicates, McCain knows that for him and his audience this is a “Dog Bites Man” story. He’s just not honest enough to admit that he wants to call attention to what he believes to be an epidemic of gay child-rearing perfidy, because he knows that expressing his homophobic beliefs will out him as a homophobe and is just this side of smart-enough not to want that to happen.
I know I should address his condescending lecture about literary journalism—a field about which I know nothing because I’ve never taught any of the books he mentions. I should also address the examples of “heterosexual crimes” he’s written about that somehow prove that his interest is in newsworthiness and newsworthiness alone—but then I’d have to point out that the one concerning the girl raped by the illegal alien and the one describing the rape-gang leader named Abid Mohammed Saddique and the one thanking Jerry Brown for the kidnap and rape of a 10-year-old girl don’t convince me that McCain’s a disinterested journalist calling attention to bitten dogs.
Quite the opposite.
I’m even more convinced that he’s trying to “scor[e] political points by exploiting statistically insignificant horrors,” only now I’m almost tempted to feel sorry for him, as he’s either lying to the world about himself or to himself about the world.
UPDATE: I deserve a better class of character assassins. Compared to Campos and Loomis, I’m being attacked by scribblers who can’t even do my many sins justice. It’s not like I have a blog rich and chock full of ammunition against me that McCain consulted to pathetic effect. I suppose it’ll be up to me to do myself the dirt I’ve earned.