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We get plenty of messages in the media. Why?

Piety, Prejudice and the Press

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Recently, on NBC, I saw Katie Couric interview "Dr. Laura" who was promoting her new book and upcoming TV show: another moralizing, conservative voice added to the chorus already droning nationwide.

Although Katie asked Laura Schlessinger challenging (but ignored) questions about the economic improbability of raising a single-income family, I was dismayed that NBC would celebrate this blatant homophobe.

The good doctor is "pro-family" but only if the family doesn't include homosexuals. Why should this bogus doctor of morality get so much airtime to legitimize her prejudice? Proctor & Gamble had the sense to pull its support, but Paramount is going ahead with her show. Our Northern neighbors have more sense. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council recognizes that Schlessinger's "doctor" status is "exaggerated if not manipulative or misleading" and they put the nix on her show because of her "abusive discrimination" against gays and lesbians.

Thank God, the CBSC has high standards when it comes to prejudice on the air — too bad we don't.

There is increasing evidence that homophobia is pathological. Shouldn't this ruin her credibility, or is bigotry acceptable when the source is a published celebrity? Would NBC have David Duke on a show talking about what he thinks of Al Roker and his race? What's the difference?

Maybe that was harsh, but homophobia is harsh for those subjected to verbal abuse, beatings and bombings. If the image of Matthew Shepard draped on that fence in Wyoming doesn't stick in your mind, you might want to check the temperature of your blood. I think it's time to speak out strongly for a more inclusive, rationally based morality and against insidiously marketed, religiously excused prejudice.

I think the most amazing thing about "Dr. Laura" is her selective Jewish awareness. Hitler also condemned homosexuals on "moral" grounds and sent them to concentration camps along with the Jews. Seems like "Dr. Laura" could use a clue. Would Al Roker distribute "Duke for President" fliers? I would hope not.

I am always amused if not slightly disgusted with the smugly selective Biblical pronouncements of our moral monitors. If "Dr. Laura" believes that verses in Leviticus "prove" homosexuality is an "abomination" then she must also support the death penalty for it — it's in the same book.

Adultery is also punishable by death. Unless she's being dishonestly selective about what verses she chooses to emphasize, she had better not be mixing two types of seed in her garden nor should she ever wear any garment with two kinds of material in it. It's The Law.

Why don't the publicly pious ever emphasize Levite verses that warn against oppressing our neighbor or the verses that demand we care for the poor? I guess it's just not as much fun to be publicly pious on behalf of the needy; it's more thrilling to rant against "sinners," especially ones involved in trivial sexual misconduct. For guaranteed press coverage, sexual peccadilloes always increase ratings — social justice is boring. Besides, social justice might involve painful self-analysis or potential sacrifice and who wants that?

One of my favorite ethical metaphors was used by Jesus during his dialogue with the publicly pious Pharisees. If these guys weren't stoning someone for a moral infraction or praying ostentatiously on street corners, they were hassling the new teacher, Jesus. He told them that they "strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel" when it comes to moral issues. The Pharisees emphasized triviality, majoring on minor points of law but ignoring weightier matters. "Dr. Laura" would be right at home with these guys — except they didn't allow women. It's a moral thing, you know.

It seems to me that gnats are the major emphasis of American morality. Then again, maybe the issue is the popular press and what sells. We don't hear nearly as much about closing economic gaps or questioning corporate values as we do about what folks do with their private parts. Sex sells, social justice doesn't.

Of course, "Dr. Laura" isn't the only religiously prejudiced person in the media spotlight. Pat Robertson comes easily to mind as he uses his own massive media empire to promote prejudice. The ugly habit of using religious writings to justify personal bigotry has a long and bloody history. Some Southern whites did this with the Bible to "prove" the "inferiority" of blacks and justify slavery. Did a religious reference make slavery right?

Of course not. Religious references don't make homophobia right either.

If the prejudice of the publicly pious fell on deaf ears, it wouldn't matter what they said. Sadly, this is not the case. Hate crime statistics have consistently proven a link between absolutist messages from an "authority" and violence. Jerry Falwell seems to be the only outspoken moralist lately to understand the righteousness of pursuing tolerance. Let's hope his good example catches on.

Why isn't there a wider variety of moral voices on the air? The religious right is fond of accusing the media of being "liberal," but if you consider popular talk shows, there's an obvious concentration of conservatism. Religious folk are fond of complaining about "persecution" and "censorship" but the airwaves are full-of religiosity 24 hours a day. It's almost a cultural cliché.

Where are the shows advocating tolerance or positive morality? Where is the media hype for progressive social projects? If we're going to moralize, why don't we talk about money and materialism? Maybe this would make media tycoons uncomfortable, and I'm sure "Dr. Laura" won't give up her gold. After all, we're in an economic boom that benefits everyone, so why discuss it — right?

I have drifted off topic — or have I? Those who make a comfortable living broadcasting trivial moral perspectives are not doing this unaided. Corporate-owned media consistently support conservative agendas. Dr. Laura is on instead of Ralph Nader because her message is not a threat to the corporate status quo nor does it address our deepest, most complex moral problems. In spite of their advertising hype, corporate media don't really want us to think "outside the box" and so we get "Dr. Laura" instead of Ralph Nader.

Pious prejudice may sell, but it's just a smokescreen. Let's not allow it to distract us from the moral camels that really threaten to choke us.



Lee Carleton is a free-lance writer who lives in Richmond.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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