From today’s press release by Wayne Besen:


Puff-Piece Shows That ‘Virginian-Puppet’ Can’t Decide if it’s a Church Bulletin or a Legitimate Newspaper, Says Wayne Besen

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Author Wayne Besen today accused the Virginian-Pilot of suppressing damaging information on a nationally known HIV-positive ex-gay leader who allegedly had unsafe sex with several Virginia Beach-area men.

When The Virginian-Pilot was presented with the allegations made against ex-gay Michael Johnston in August 2003, the newspaper told Besen that they were “not interested in covering the topic.” They also failed to respond to Norfolk attorney Michael Hamar’s numerous e-mails, even though Hamar represented a man who feared he might have been exposed to HIV through sex with Johnston.

However, a year after censoring this legitimate, hard news story, the Pilot yesterday ran a fawning puff-piece promoting the local ex-gay ministry. The newspaper’s explanation that they are “not interested” in covering this topic is clearly inconsistent with this week’s feature that largely extols the virtues of the ex-gay ministries.

“The ‘Virginian-Puppet’ needs to decide if they are a legitimate newspaper or a discredited, church bulletin,” said Wayne Besen, author of Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth. “This tabloid systematically suppressed and censored hard news, while promoting a soft story that was tantamount to free advertising for the ex-gay ministries.”

Today Besen called the Pilot for an explanation to see if the newspaper could reconcile their conflicting claims of non-interest in ex-gay ministries and their huge congratulatory feature. Besen spoke to Stephen G. Vegh, who wrote the story. He also spoke at length to Public Editor Marvin Leon Lake. Both men said they could not offer a justification for the newspaper’s failures. Besen urged both men to launch an investigation into the Johnston scandal, and neither man would commit.

“The inconsistency and incoherency in their explanations shows that the newspaper’s coverage is either guided by laziness or ideology rather than fair, sound news judgment,” said Besen. “I practically begged them today to send a reporter to investigate the Johnston affair, and neither one of them would agree to do so. I hoped for leadership, and all I got was cheerleading for the ex-gay ministries. I urge The Virginian-Pilot to act now and start the investigation they failed to launch one year ago.”

On Aug. 1, 2003, The Southern Voice broke a major story outlining Johnston’s “moral fall.”

For years, Michael Johnston worked with Rev. Jerry Falwell and was called Falwell’s “living proof” that gay people could become heterosexual through prayer and therapy.

As the head of Kerusso Ministries, Johnston was the Chairperson of National Coming Out of Homosexuality Day and starred, along with his mother, in a controversial television ad campaign sponsored by Coral Ridge Ministries that claimed he went from gay to straight through the power of Jesus Christ. He also appeared in a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal, sponsored by several right wing groups, under the headline, “From Innocence to AIDS.”

Johnston has worked with powerful right wing leaders and groups such as Peter LaBarbera, Coral Ridge Ministries and the American Family Association. He was the host and producer of the anti-gay talk radio show “Truth Under Fire” and his life story is chronicled on a video, “On Wings Like Eagles” that was sold by right wing groups. Johnston’s testimony of sexual conversion was also featured in the 1996 Campus Crusade for Christ “Another Way Out” campaign.

“We know the Pilot can do better by their recent opposition to an anti-gay law that was recently passed in Virginia attacking same-sex families,” said Besen. “But these very laws are able to pass because ignorance about gay life is perpetuated when local newspapers don’t do their jobs and investigate the full truth.”

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2004
Contact: Wayne Besen
Mobile: 917-691-5118
Office: 954-525-0321

While Besen and I often disagree about the proper place for sarcasm in exgay analysis, I agree with him that the Virginian-Pilot article is a biased “puff piece.” Barely two paragraphs of the story are devoted to criticism of exgay ministries. The criticism consists of one brief quote by one MCC pastor, whose solitary perspective is subsequently dismissed by the reporter for failing to conform to exgay Brandon Stoy’s stereotypes.

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