NPR defends gay 'conversion therapy' report: Hundreds of angry responses offered 'context' [video]

Posted by JD Uy
August 8, 2011 2:39 PM |

Last week, Alix Spiegel, a reporter for NPRaired a 9-minute piece about beliefs that "therapists" can change gay men and lesbians into heterosexuals.

Spiegel's Morning Edition report offended some listeners because it failed to convey that an overwhelming number of health professionals, from both medical and psychological associations, have denounced the practice of "ex-gay therapy" due to its ineffectiveness and potentially long-lasting psychological harm.

NPR's Ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, wrote today about "hundreds of angry responses" that the radio network received. He said that reporter Spiegel and her editor, Anne Gudenkauf, wrote to him saying they had not intended to convey that there was a balanced debate about "ex-gay" therapy; adding that, in retrospect, they should have moved mentions about the huge disparity to the beginning of their report:

''Some have suggested that we are implying that half of gay men have negative experiences with conversion therapy and half have positive experiences. That is not what we are suggesting....

''We did not label Mr. Wyler as the minority experience and Mr. Toscano as the majority until late in the piece. That was because we believed that our listeners are well informed about (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues and thus would not need to have this spelled out at the start of the story. But after hearing some of the reaction we got, we feel like placing this information in the beginning of the piece rather than the end, would have better served our listeners because it would have given them more context to understand what they were hearing....

''We did not mean by this to suggest that the two sides are even in numbers. We did mean to suggest that the proponents on both sides feel strongly about the disagreement.''

He also conveyed a separate letter from NPR's senior vice president for news, Margaret Low Smith:

''We stand by our decision to report on the issue of conversion therapy and the experience of those who undergo it. It is a newsworthy story.... But as Alix and Anne suggest, the story needed much more context. We should have put the whole idea of conversion therapy into perspective. Not doing so meant the listener had no data to understand how common this practice is and how many people seek it out. The absence of context undercut the value of our reporting.''

Ombudsman Schumacher-Matos does not, in his long response, refer to the political motivations or financial gain involved in "reparative therapy." It's been reported that the alleged ex-gay, Rich Wyler, runs an organization called People Can Change which charges hundreds of dollars for seminars like:

  • Journey Into Manhood -- $650: "... designed specifically for men who are self-motivated and serious about resolving unwanted homosexual attractions" that involves "safe healing touch and intensive emotional-release work" where ''you'll stand eye to eye with another man while we help you process whatever feelings might arise.''
  • A Wife's Healing Journey -- $585: ''...designed especially for wives of men who struggle with same-sex attraction'' which is "staffed by women and men whose marriages have survived and even (ultimately) thrived as the husband addressed the root causes of his SSA."

Schumacher-Matos does acknowledge that religion and other personal factors play into a person's view of their sexual orientation, but then claims that "gay rights advocates" are "discriminatory" in denouncing religiously-based anti-gay rhetoric:

''To dismissively say that these individuals should just find another religion is to be discriminatory and ignores the profound importance of a given religion in many people's lives.''

NPR gave Wyler a national platform while never giving the "context" that he benefits from his unproven claims and practices. Perhaps the Ombudsman and others at NPR should convey the contents of Wyler's videos which seem to portray that the way for gay men to experience a heterosexual orientation is through silly ceremonies, "shame" journals and, of course, lots of "masculine" touching and holding of the other male attendees:

Last November, ABC News' Nightline followed Preston, an enthusiastic married man from Utah, as he returned  to visit one of Wyler's Journey Into Manhood gatherings. Preston told the reporter that, despite repeated visits, he still felt attracted to men, but added that he was finally attracted to the woman he married. She also appeared enthusiastic on camera, and claimed they had a great sex life; then she smiled through the fact that she still catches her husband checking out men.

Two separate attendees of past events had a different tale. They said they were bothered by the high amounts of touching they had witnessed, and one said that the room full of men were directed to take all of their clothes off. They both said they are now gay and open about it.


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