Should There Be Limits to 'Diversity' of Speech?

Media Does Nothing to Counter Ahmadinejad's Gay Claim

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I'd like to take a moment away from my regularly scheduled expositions on diversity initiatives in media -- coming soon: "Marriage Equality as a Corporate Buzzword" -- to excoriate the New York Times.

But I won't stop there, oh no.

Jonathon Feit Jonathon Feit
Every mainstream media outlet I've encountered since Tuesday, with the sole exception of (as usual) National Public Radio, was peachy-keen to reprint Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's idiotic proclamation that Iran has no gay folks. In so doing, they proved beyond the shade of equivocation that diversity is not always a good thing. Some thoughts do not deserve to be aired.

Don't believe me? Google the terms "Iran," "president," and "homosexual," and see how many refutations you find.

It's true that the Times lifted its lede off the hook by claiming that Ahmadinejad's thoughts were "bewildering." But can you guess what most media types call the first sentence, of the first paragraph, of the first story, in the first column, of the first page of the New York Times?

Answer: A publicist's fantasy.

Not a single outlet questioned the statement itself.

Instead, they seemed mesmerized by such extreme religionist blather, and the gall of its rhetorician. Our country's greatest newswriters simultaneously put down their pens and said, "Well...can't seem to think of anything to counter that statement." No statistics, no cross-examination, nothing. "Bewildering" was the right word -- it applies equally to the speech and its coverage.

Thus shall this week "live on in infamy," as the week when Ahmadinejad had his way with the American press, gaining access into the hearts and minds of the American people.

Only NPR -- that last bastion of unwavering journalistic integrity -- aired an interview with a gay Iranian. A needle in a haystack, indeed!

What's worse: no rejoinder has come from other news outlets. Since the warring days of Hearst and Pulitzer, newspapers have ever-upped the ante as they spun yarns of editorial power and sensationalist appeal. The silence is eerie and deafening now. Do the papers actually agree?

And if so, on what? Perhaps they think the Iranian president -- paragon of tolerance that he is -- was right to wish that no gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender men and women lived in his country? Perhaps they think his filth should be protected by the First Amendment (as of course their counterarguments would be, too)?

Americans look to the press -- on paper, online, on television, even in high-rise elevators! -- for guidance, reflection, and, one hopes, at least modestly considered thoughts. Today was the time for Lou Dobbs -- today was NOT the time for objectivity. Strive later, when it doesn't much matter. To be objective now, in the face of prejudice and hate, looks stupid. What's more, it smacks of complicity.

The downside of the Internet is, of course, that Ahmadinejad's words are now immortal -- they will never die so long as servers hum and the tech sector stays vibrant. As a liberal media-type who writes on the subject of diversity, part of me wants to sit back, pensively rub my chin, and admit that the man has a right to his opinion, infuriating and ignorant though it may be.

But no. Diversity is a good thing, a great thing even -- hate is not. This is not an "anything goes" world.

It is not okay -- I don't care what the Supreme Court says -- for Nazis to march through a largely Jewish neighborhood for the sole purpose of causing emotional distress. It is not okay to intimidate women or children just to get one's jollies. It is not okay to issue terrorist proclamations via videotape that rouse fear and loathing among otherwise "peaceful" New Yorkers (and every other metropolitan resident).

And it is not okay to take to the podium at one of our country's premier educational institutions with a plan to undermine the unity to which our great country aspires -- even when it fails.

One expects nothing else from Ahmadinejad. But if the American press insisted on given the president of Iran any ink whatsoever -- and I don't think they should have -- then at least they should be ready to flog him in return.
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