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How the Father Figures

Why does the press ignore the story of John Walker Lindh's dad?

Jan 28, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 19 • By HARRY STEIN
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As for his parents' divorce, that was portrayed by one group as a non-event, which in that milieu it surely is, and by the other, in contrast to the other details, as hardly worth dwelling on.

But this latest piece of information potentially casts things in a radically different light. It is far from unreasonable to speculate that a 16-year-old boy might have been thrown into psychological turmoil by such a thing. In fact, the Enquirer prints e-mails Walker wrote at the time indicating as much. In one, he attacked Disneyland, asking, "Isn't that the theme park that sponsored 'gay day' earlier this year?" In another, he referred to J. Edgar Hoover as "a gay fascist."

Nor does it seem coincidental that, just around the time of his parents' split, Walker dropped his father's name for his mother's. That he should embrace, in short order, a faith unremittingly hostile to homosexuality (and a sect that decrees adultery and homosexual behavior punishable by gruesome forms of execution) should, at the very least, provoke interest in further inquiry.

To anyone with critical sense, this is beyond obvious; and one would imagine that those attuned to psychological nuance, like, say, therapy-friendly reporter-types at big city journals, would be especially eager to pursue such a lead.

As a matter of fact, it doesn't take too deep a read between the lines to see that the New York Times was on to this angle almost from the start: "'I would gladly have him for my own son,' said Bill Jones, a family friend, whom Mr. Lindh lived with in San Rafael for two years after his separation from Ms. Walker" (written by the Times's Evelyn Nieves on December 4). But there it was tactfully left, as if this were 1965 and we were dealing with Oscar and Felix.

As the writer and gay activist Michelangelo Signorile observes, "If Lindh had left his wife for another woman and his son were traumatized, it would certainly be discussed by the media. So if Lindh did leave his wife for a man and it affected Walker, it should similarly be reported on."

Indeed, the Examiner's Corkery points out it was the local gay community's taking the story in stride that undercut initial charges by liberals that the assertion was homophobic.

By now there is a long history of news with perceived negative implications on favored victim groups (or even cultural allies) being handled by big-time media with a brand of "sensitivity" that can run from obfuscation to outright distortion.

Thus it was, to cite an especially noteworthy instance, that even as AIDS began to assume epidemic proportions in urban gay communities, almost no reporter covering the scourge (with the heroic exception of the San Francisco Chronicle's Randy Shilts, himself gay and HIV-positive) dared examine the sexual practices that hastened its spread.

Thus it was, too, that at the height of the Clinton impeachment saga, only a modest proportion of Americans were familiar with the name Juanita Broaddrick, despite the fact that she offered highly credible evidence, with no hope of personal gain, that she'd been raped by the future president. In seeming self-parody, the New York Times mentioned her only once, in a media piece on the dilemma of how to cover the story. The network newscasts, which routinely take their cues from the "paper of record," did not mention her at all.

In the end, such a course is as foolish as it is intellectually dishonest. Ultimately the result is not just an underinformed public, but ever-shrinking credibility, as the lies of omission and the hectoring about "diversity" and "sensitivity" continue to feed the perception that the media are more concerned with promoting a politically correct worldview than with truth.

Harry Stein is a contributing editor to City Journal and author of "How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (And Found Inner Peace)."