‘Parade of horribles’

As the National Organization for Marriage said in a recent blog post on its website regarding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the recent hype and hysteria would be “comical if it weren’t so tragic.” The blog went on to say: “It’s absurd. The ‘parade of horribles’ being spun by gay rights groups is completely made up. There is no record anywhere of people using religious freedom to discriminate against gays and lesbians. But there is an overwhelming record of cases where people of faith have been discriminated against for acting in concert with their faith and punished by government for doing so.”

And, yet, the parade of horribles continues with one of the biggest tragedies — in addition to the false accusations being lobbied once again at Catholics, Christians and other concerned citizens supporting RFRA — being the loss of any sense of balance or objectivity in so many of our local and national newsrooms. Everyone suffers when the truth is not presented, and with the exception of a handful of media outlets, when it comes to the RFRA, the press basically took the sensational and blatantly false talking points and not only ran them up the old flag pole but waived the anti-RFRA flag all over the place, ignoring the history of the measures, leaving behind Journalism 101 and assuming in their articles and their broadcasts that the worst was not only going to happen but had indeed happened and in droves. And they did all of this without ever being able to provide a single case where the fears actually became reality.

To give you an idea of just how horrible the coverage has been, let me share with you a series of questions that was thrown my way after I agreed to do an interview with a local TV station regarding the RFRA.

“Why do we need a bill if gay people don’t have protection now anyway?”

“Right now, gay people can be discriminated against can’t they? Gay people have no rights.”

And my favorite of the bunch: “Would Jesus sell to gay people?”

These presuppositional questions were just part of the 10 minute recorded interview. Most of my responses landed not on the local news but on the cutting room floor. Having served as a TV/radio reporter for many years myself, I get that not every interview will see air time. However, in this case, this media outlet contacted me; the reporter explaining he was on a very tight deadline and really needed to get “the other side of the story” in his attempt to be “balanced.”

It took a rather heated tete-a-tete to get an apology as well as another chance to truly represent a different point of view regarding the reasoning behind the RFRA in a follow-up interview. And that is where we come back to this “parade of horribles.” The interview wasn’t exactly easy or fair. But because of my background and familiarity with the local media, I was able to get the reporter and his producer back on the phone to examine what had just happened. But what about the average viewer or listener? Would they have any recourse if they were treated to a similarly hostile line of questioning via a man-on-the-street type story? How many other similar interviews were conducted, promoted, aired and eventually taken as truth by the general public?

A great deal of damage has been done on an issue important to all Americans, regardless of their beliefs: the issue of religious freedom. The press and its “parade of horribles” haven’t just passed through your town and mine, they have once again set up shop and, unfortunately, most likely are here to stay.

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.