Saturday, January 31, 2009


Reading the editorial page of the Los Angeles Times frequently raises my blood pressure, even when I essentially agree with much of what the editorial board (that august "center left" body) has to say. Too often the last part of the editorial completely dilutes the fairly sensible argument of the first half. Today was one of those days.

The subject was the attempt by Proposition 8 supporters to keep secret the names and addresses of those who contributed to the campaign to suppress gay marriage. This week a federal judge held that the information had to be revealed. Here's the first half of the editorial:

The Political Reform Act of 1974, passed overwhelmingly by California voters during the Watergate era, was meant in part to end secret donations to political campaigns. Californians had reason to worry about such things after oil companies secretly donated $85,000 (which was a lot of campaign money back in the day) to defeat a 1970 public-transit measure.

The intent of the reform act -- to give the voting public full knowledge about who is behind the ever more confusing array of ballot initiatives -- is too important to weaken with special exemptions, even considering the rightful anger of Proposition 8 proponents who say they have been harassed and threatened by opponents since their donations to the same-sex marriage ban were made public. U.S. District Judge Morrison England summed up the matter neatly in his ruling against the proponents, saying: "If there ever needs to be sunshine on a particular issue, it's a ballot measure."

The Proposition 8 committee had sought to forestall the scheduled disclosure of donors who gave from $100 to $999 to the campaign in the last weeks before the vote. It now intends to appeal its case in search of a ruling that might, for example, keep donors' addresses confidential in this and future campaigns. This attempted incursion into open government should be stopped at every legal pass.

It's pretty hard to fault that, well, except for the "rightful anger of Propsition 8 proponents". That phrase really sets up the balance of the editorial in which the editorial board does a rather swift 180.

The committee complains that pro-Proposition 8 businesses were subjected to boycotts and picketing, and that individuals and organizations were threatened by mail and telephone and saw their buildings vandalized.

There are two types of revenge here, and they have to be separated. Boycotts and pickets are venerable aspects of a lively if sometimes messy democratic process; we may not always like them, but they deserve protection. Threats and vandalism are another matter, repugnant and illegal. Advocates of same-sex marriage should be aware that such actions hurt their cause and gain them no new allies. Sadly, some of them are too angry to care about what the public at large thinks of their tactics.

But law enforcement should care. Ordinarily, a threatening phone call is considered a minor offense, but when it is intended to silence speech, it should be seen not as simple harassment but as political intimidation. Those who have been subjected to illegal acts of revenge should contact authorities, who should in turn investigate and, when possible, prosecute. The best way to stop the harassment is not to curb legitimate forms of protest speech or roll back important disclosure requirements, but to show would-be perpetrators that there are consequences to thinking their anger excuses all behaviors.

Those poor, poor donors. All they did was exercise their right to contribute to a campaign they believed in and now they are victims, VICTIMS of harrassment by those evil gay people hellbent for revenge.

Oh, please.

While the editorial does distinguish between protected forms of "revenge" (interesting word choice, yes?), and unlawful forms, the reader is left with the sense that the good guys in the matter are those homophobic bigots who wanted to keep gays where they belong: way, way down on the social ladder with as few rights as possible. That gays might object to that by picketing businesses isn't fair. Free speech is free speech, but only when engaged by the "right" kind of people.

But wait, there's more.

The editorial accepts at face value the claims of personal threats, and suggests police intervention. Fine, make the bigots prove it. Produce phone records or police reports. Hell, call the FBI; chances are they taped some of those calls. If such evidence was produced at the federal district court hearing, then mention it in the editorial. If it wasn't, then mention that. That should take only a minimal amount of leg work. That's what reporters do for the front page.

And newspapers wonder why they're losing subscribers and readers.


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Anonymous Woody said...

I hope that you have communicated your obvious displeasure to the Times?

Though any paper that would hire Little Lord Lodenpantz without apology or embarrassment is probably gonna be immune to your issues...

5:31 AM  
Anonymous Woody said...

FYI: The problem is pervasive and multifaceted. The typical military chaplain isn't a friendly Father Mulcahy, there with a reassuring hand on anyone's shoulder; the chaplaincy has become dominated by those who see their role as winning converts to evangelical Christianity. U.S. military installations around the world have chapters of the Officers' Christian Fellowship, whose goals could fairly be described as turning the U.S. military into the Army of God. In Iraq and Afghanistan, soldiers are not just trying to convert their fellow warriors to a particular brand of Christianity, they're aiming their evangelism at the local population (including handing out translated copies of the New Testament). For his work exposing and combating religious influence in the military, Weinstein has had his windows shot at and swastikas written on the side of his house. He says he gets eight to 12 death threats a week.

6:09 AM  

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