In a book review written last month, writer Jesse Monteagudo compared two gay activists: famous conservative Andrew Sullivan and not-so-famous liberal Wayne Besen, who is a longtime critic of the exgay movement.
Monteagudo asked why Sullivan is famous while Besen is “ghettoized” to alternative media.
The major difference between Besen and Sullivan: Besen is a liberal while Sullivan is a gay conservative. In fact, Besen’s unabashed liberalism is probably why he does not have the status of an Andrew Sullivan, whose “conservative soul” makes him more acceptable to the mainstream, corporate media.
I agree that Besen is disadvantaged, but I disagree on the reasons why. It has been my observation, after working for 15 years in the Washington media, that U.S. news media are generally biased against both liberals and conservatives. Working under constant and competitive deadline pressure, Washington and New York editors prefer to air the accessible, glossy, and easily digested groupthink of established Beltway think tanks and lobbyists. Ideas and programs that require explanation or careful thought are a poor fit for media whose profits are determined by maximizing the ad-friendliness of content and maximizing the number of ads viewed by consumers per page or per unit of time.
Sullivan has long capitalized upon some comforting and unchallenged assumptions of American culture, and his writing is concise, often witty. He soothes readers and he picks opponents carefully. Unfortunately, Sullivan’s soothing, his assumptions, got him — and most of the media establishment — into deep trouble in 2003 when they plunged into ill-considered endorsements of the Iraq war.
Where Sullivan’s strengths are wit and an affirmation of conventional wisdom, Besen’s approach is similar to that of Oliver Stone: He nails a controversial point of view with a sledgehammer and does so in a manner that makes several demands of the consumer: patience, an appreciation for context, time and resources to investigate the backstory, and a willingness to rethink assumptions.
Like conservatives such as GOP libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul, Besen struggles to achieve a media audience in an industry that suffers from attention-deficit disorder, an industry that sidelines those who rethink fundamental assumptions of who we are and how we should behave. Like Oliver Stone and Michael Moore, Besen unleashes his opinions in a take-no-hostages style that offends some people, but which has a historic role in effective activism.
Perhaps that’s one difference between Wayne Besen and Ex-Gay Watch:
We take hostages. 😀