ABC and NBC each attacked “Michele Bachmann’s family business” on Tuesday, and strangely, each presented it as their own idea -- “our hidden-camera investigation” (ABC) and “NBC News investigates the controversy” -- even as they both relied on a gay-left advocacy group’s sting operation.
Neither story showed any sign that these liberals would consider talking to anyone claiming to be an "ex-gay," like Janet Boynes, someone the Bachmanns have promoted. Wayne Besen, the head of Truth Wins Out, a group staunchly opposed the concept that anyone can be “cured” or “treated for” homosexuality, has been quite clear about how liberalism is much more sound and scientific than conservatism:
The cornerstone of liberalism is the idea that each person is endowed with the precious gift of liberty and can freely choose his or her own path – for better or worse. . . . Liberalism encourages exploration and education. It reveres science and celebrates the inquisitive mind. Indeed, liberal values are often superior to those held on the right, because they are tenaciously subjected to rigorous examination. Beliefs that are questioned and still prevail are those that stand the test of time. Far from moral relativism, liberalism searches for the ultimate value in which to build a moral foundation: Truth.
Of course, Besen’s group doesn’t use a moral foundation of truth when they’re trying to fool the Bachmanns about their need for counseling. The sting artist, in this case, a man named John Becker, explained his technique to the gay magazine The Advocate:
I decided that the wisest course of action was to make my story fit as closely as possible to my own experience. Of course I’d have to embellish a bit and make a few things up, but it stood to reason that the closer the story I told was to the truth, the easier it would be for me to keep track of what I had said. After all, I was once a deeply-closeted teenage Catholic boy awakening to my own sexual orientation, terrified of what it might mean, too ashamed to tell anyone, and desperate to change it by any means necessary; although those memories are now far behind me, it was surprisingly easy to bring them back and put myself in a similar mental and emotional place. Still, I’d never done anything like this before. As the date of my departure grew nearer, my excitement and nervousness mounted. Could I pull it off? Would the cameras be well-hidden enough? Would they figure out what I was up to? What would we find? I packed my bags, made my social network profiles unsearchable, bid adieu to Michael, my husband of more than five years, and boarded a flight to Minneapolis to find out.
Preparing for my first visit was a surreal experience. I couldn’t pay by check since my checks had my name, my husband’s name, and a Vermont address. This meant I would be paying with cash and opening my wallet before each appointment, so I realized I’d have to go through my wallet and remove or hide anything that would invite suspicion. My Human Rights Campaign credit card had to go, lest anyone recognize that organization’s ubiquitous logo. I left our ACLU membership card behind as well. I also hid my out-of-state debit card and library card, and took the photo of Michael and me out of my wallet along with the copy of our marriage certificate that I always keep close. Despite the hot and humid Minnesota weather, I wore long pants to conceal a tattoo on my ankle of a pink triangle, the badge of gay prisoners in Nazi concentration camps and a symbol of the struggle for LGBT equality. At the last minute, in the parking lot, I remembered that Michael’s picture was set as the background image on my phone, so I hurriedly changed it. Finally, I took a deep breath and slipped off my wedding ring, placing it in a plastic bag inside my satchel, right next to one of the hidden cameras. My identity as a proud, openly gay, happily married LGBT rights activist was totally erased. I was ready.
Notice he doesn't describe himself as an "investigative journalist." And Becker put on a show, complete with phony crying:
I mentioned Marcus Bachmann’s by then well-publicized remarks calling gays “barbarians” who “need to be educated.” “Am I a barbarian?” I said through tears. Rather than contradict his boss’ words, [counselor Tim] Wiertzema opted to doubt the authenticity of the recording I had heard: “It sounds like… something that someone just did. It doesn’t sound accurate.”
ABC's Good Morning America began on Tuesday with George Stephanopoulos promoting a story on "Michele Bachmann's family business under fire. The fast-rising Republican and her husband are facing new questions about a controversial conversion therapy that experts say could do more harm than help. What hidden cameras reveal in our hidden camera investigation."
Does the "our" mean that Truth Wins Out was paid by ABC? Or are they just claiming glory for a sting they're just picking up as an anti-Repubican convenience? A few minutes later, Brian Ross was back for another turn in "exposing" the Bachmanns:
STEPHANOPOULOS: And now to a new twist in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is taking the lead in Iowa and that success is bringing scrutiny. ABC's chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross obtained some undercover video from the Christian counseling center Bachmann owns with her husband. It shows staff there apparently trying to turn a gay person straight. And, Brian, this kind of conversion is something that the Bachmanns deny doing.
BRIAN ROSS: That's right, George. But, these new undercover tapes are calling into question what's been happening at the Christian Therapy Clinic in Minneapolis that is owned by Michele Bachmann and her husband Marcus.
It is the family's principal source of income and gay advocates say the clinic is practicing a discredited therapy that can supposedly turn homosexuals into heterosexuals. It's called Bachmann & Associates. The tapes were made inside the clinic by a member of a gay advocacy group who was treated by a therapist after asking for help to stop his feeling for men.
UNIDENTIFIED THERAPIST: I think it's possible to be totally free from them.
ROSS: He could cure your homosexuality? Is that what he said?
JOHN BECKER (Truth Wins Out): Yes. Yes, he said it several times. He said change is possible. He said he's seen it. He believes that full change from homosexual to heterosexual is possible.
ROSS: The treatment, he says he was told, includes turning to the Bible and prayer when homosexual urges struck.
THERAPIST: In terms of how God created us, we're all heterosexual.
ROSS: In fact, the American Psychological Society says such theory is not only infective but potentially harmful
CLINTON ANDERSON (American Psychological Association): Changing that deep part of them about who they're attracted to which emerges spontaneously in adolescence without choice, we have not seen any evidence that such therapies or such religious practices change that.
The APA has traveled a long scientific (or ideological?) way since the 1960s, when homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder in 1973 after a storm of political activism. Two years ago, the APA, complete with a "LGBT concerns office," officially condemned any therapy to "treat" homosexuality. Clinton Anderson is the head of that "LGBT concerns office," but somehow that title didn't make the TV screen.
Reparative therapy is certainly controversial -- and is virulently opposed by gay activists -- but when networks say "experts" condemn it, viewers ought to understand there's a lot of political lobbying involved, not just a pristine scientific inquiry. There's also an actual journalistic point here if the Bachmanns have misled the public about what goes on inside the clinic. The question then is whether there's a liberal double standard on who will be investigated, or "stung." The ABC story continued:
MICHELE BACHMANN: My husband, Dr. Marcus Bachmann.
ROSS: Bachmann's husband, Dr. Marcus Bachmann who once referred to homosexuals as barbarians, has denied that his clinic tries to convert gays to straight, what's called reparative therapy. But, gay advocates say the undercover tape reveals the truth.
WAYNE BESEN (Truth Wins Out): I think this tape shows, irrefutably, that at Bachmann and Associates, they do reparative therapy, which is trying, basically, to pray away the gay, using a little bit of the prayer and a little bit of therapy.
BACHMANN: Thank you, everyone.
ROSS: Asked about our ABC News report at a campaign event in Iowa, Michele Bachmann said it was not something Americans were interested.
BACHMANN: Well, I'm here to talk about my run for the presidency for the United States. We're very proud of our business and we're proud of all job creator in the United States.
ROSS: In a further statement the campaign said the Bachmann's clinic provide a variety of services but because of patient confidentiality, they cannot comment on any specific treatment, including this gay-to-straight treatment, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, Brian. And the patient did say that he thought the therapist was a caring therapist.
ROSS: A caring therapist, yes. But did want to change him.
ABC's calling Becker "the patient"? Instead of the "actor"? So what happens when a "patient" wants surgery to change themselves, to remove breasts or genitals? Is that "controversial"? Is that "scientific"? Or do liberal politics cause a completely different reaction to "transgender" operations and whether that does harm to people?
NBC ran their segment in the second half-hour of Today, but promoted it insistently:
MATT LAUER, 7:01 AM: Also ahead, NBC News investigates a controversy involving GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann. A secret videotape recorded inside a Christian counseling center that she owns with her husband is raising some questions about that clinic's treatment for homosexuals. We'll have details on that coming up.
ANN CURRY, 7:25 AM: Just ahead, the secret video recorded inside a clinic owned by Michele Bachmann and her husband raising questions about whether they tried to convert gay men.
LAUER, 7:30 AM: Just ahead in this half hour, did a clinic owned by GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann and her husband try to treat homosexuality? Coming up, the controversy that's being generated by an undercover video.
CURRY, 7:40AM: Coming up next, did a clinic owned by Michele Bachmann and her husband try to convert gay men? NBC News investigates right after this.
At 7:43, investigative reporter Michael Isikoff unfurled the "NBC" findings:
LAUER: Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has made fighting same-sex marriage one of the defining issues of her political career. Now there are new questions about the approach she and her therapist husband take with homosexuals at a clinic they own together. NBC News national investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff has more on this story. Michael, good morning.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Good morning, Matt. In a recent fundraising letter, presidential candidate Michele Bachmann touted her role helping to run a family counseling center. But a secret videotape which raises questions about how the center treats patients who might be gay is creating new controversy for Bachmann.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: NBC News Investigates; Did Bachmann Clinic Try to "Treat" Homosexuality?]
26-year-old John Becker says he sought help last month from the therapists at Bachmann & Associates, the Christian counseling center owned by Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and her psychologist husband Marcus Bachmann.
JOHN BECKER: I told them that I wanted to be rid of my same-sex attractions, to be rid of homosexuality.
ISIKOFF: In five one-hour sessions that he secretly taped on behalf of a gay rights group, Becker says a clinic therapist advised him how he could become straight, through counseling, prayer and scripture.
BECKER: Anytime I felt the temptation of – you know, to act out homosexually or had homosexual thoughts, to pray about it, to take it to the Bible.
ISIKOFF: Becker says he wanted to prove that the Bachmann clinic uses a controversial technique called reparative therapy, to cure gays and lesbians of their homosexuality.
THERAPIST: The truth is God, God has designed our eyes to be attracted to the woman's body.
THERAPIST: To be attracted to, you know, everything. You know? To be attracted to her breasts.
ISIKOFF: The gay cure therapy has been repudiated by the American Psychological Association. And in the past, Marcus Bachmann has denied that his clinic uses such practices. But the Becker video could raise new questions about the clinic and candidate Michele Bachmann's views on homosexuality. From her first days as a state senator in Minnesota, Bachmann led the charge for a ban on same-sex marriage.
BACHMANN: If this actually goes on the ballot it will pass overwhelmingly.
ISIKOFF: And in a controversial 2004 speech she compared what she called the 'gay lifestyle' to slavery.
BACHMANN: If you're involved in the gay and lesbian lifestyle, it's bondage. It is personal bondage, personal despair, and personal enslavement. And that's why this is so dangerous.
NBC News and Isikoff and being disingenous here, or just blind to metaphor. Anyone who's been inside a church in the last several decades would realize that Bachmann is talking about bondage to sin, or enslavement to a sexual attraction condemned by the Bible. She didn't compare it to "slavery" in the way most Americans hear that -- the slavery of blacks. It would be just as ridiculous for Isikoff to assert that Bachmann was saying that all homosexuals are into "bondage." The NBC story would somehow not be complete without outraged gay Log Cabin Republicans:
ISIKOFF: Comments such as these have alarmed some GOP strategists and many gay Republicans.
R. CLARKE COOPER [EXECUTIVE DIR., LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS]: Congresswoman Bachmann's viewpoints on gay and lesbian Americans is actually on the fringe, more and more Americans believe and accept that their gay neighbors, family, friends, colleagues, are just who they are.
ISIKOFF: But analysts say her uncompromising views on homosexuality are also one of the big reasons she is gaining traction in Iowa. Just last week she reinforced her message by becoming the first GOP presidential candidate to sign a controversial marriage vow that pledges 'vigorous opposition' to same-sex marriage. She also vowed to push for a federal marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
We asked the Bachmann campaign for comment on this story. A spokeswoman says that Bachmann & Associates is a Christian counseling center that provides services to patients with a variety of counseling and mental health issues. She refused to discuss the specifics of this or any other case, citing patient confidentiality. But she did say quote, 'The clinic honors and respects all people for whatever issue they come in for and if there is a conflict, they refer elsewhere. Matt?
Neither ABC nor NBC included any Christian Republicans to rebut the Clarke Coopers and the Wayne Besens, and Isikoff wasn't going to spend any time on the "alarm" that Republicans had when the Log Cabin activists failed to endorse President Bush's re-election in 2004, which defined that they were gay activists first, and the Republican part was very conditional. Perhaps with therapy, they can stop denying their real identity and realize they're not Republicans.