Hard News by Russell Brown

Bovine TV

So we have another media blog. Excellent. Welcome aboard, MediaCow, although I note that the author has taken the rather burdensome path of adopting a third-party persona, and worse, a non-gendered one.

I can never quite understand why people do that. When you write about what you think, isn't it easier to use the first-person pronoun, rather than labouring through "MediaCow thinks"? And what am I supposed to call the author. He? She? It? The last, I guess, even though it feels like I'm arguing with a quadraped.

Anyway, it's quite good, and ought to get better once the chip-on-shoulder stuff eases up. And I agree about the Anita McNaught stuff: I really like Eating Media Lunch, but her devotional behaviour in the presence of Michael Moore was embarrassing.

It even has a crack at me, for an interview on Mediawatch with my "chum" Lauren Quaintance, which was "fawning", "missed a good opportunity to find out more about the direction of the Sunday Star Times" and, in particular, didn't cover a Quaintance story that has since become controversial: Going Straight, which looks at claims that homosexual orientation can be changed by therapy.

I should point out that Lauren Quaintance is not my "chum". I'd never met her until the interview, and I'm not exactly a keen past reader of North and South. MediaCow should stick to things it knows. But Quaintance has written some significant journalism, and she's a magnet for awards and scholarships. It was a profile interview arranged before the story went to press, and her experience on the [British] Sunday Times was interesting. Having been at the Star Times all of two weeks, she was understandably not willing to pronounce about it, or on its behalf. I wouldn't either in her position.

The Going Straight story isn't all bad. After all, if this sort of thing is going on in New Zealand, I want to read about it. It does note the strong opposition to reassignment therapy expressed by the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapy, and quotes a psychotherapist who works with gay men.

But it falls disastrously short of explaining the context of the research. Spitzer questioned only men and women who had already been through religiously-oriented "sexual conversion" therapy, most of them referred to him by either conservative Christian organisations, or a fringe psychotherapeutic group called NARTH, which is "dedicated to the research, therapy and prevention of homosexuality." He admitted to having struggled to find 200 subjects (from the thousands supposedly cured every year) who claimed to have been reoriented.

The study was conducted exclusively through phone interviews. He had no means of establishing whether his subjects had been exclusively homosexual (or just bisexual) before they entered the therapy, and he relied on their own verbal reports for his diagnosis of change. It seems reasonable to speculate that subjects in a censorious hardline Christian environment might say one thing and do, or feel, another. Even so, he reported that 86% of men and 63% of all subjects emerged from the therapy still having feelings of attraction to the opposite sex. The claim that they had been converted by the therapy into bisexuals seems quite dubious. A more detailed analysis of Spitzer's study is available here.

None of this was in the Quaintance story and it damn well should have been. I don't think the story was written with homophobic intent, but look where it ended up - used with permission - on the front page of the wildly homophobic (it freely equates homosexuality with paedophilia) web site, Catholic Educator's Resource Centre.

In theory, people who are genuinely unhappy in their sexuality, who truly feel that they have taken the wrong path, ought to be offered the same help we extend to people who want to change their bodies to fit their perceived gender. In practice, the work is almost exclusively done by religious zealots who use self-loathing as a tool. Read this report from an Exodus International conference, which would be really funny if it wasn't so sad.

I know happy, mature people of either gender who don't have the active sexual identification they did when they were younger - it happens - but I've never met anyone who has graduated from reorientation. I have known married men who present as heterosexual but carry on clandestine same-sex relations. And I have good friends whose lives have blossomed when they have finally felt able to come out (I have been assured that watching rugby is even more fun when you're gay). The oppressive creed applied by the reorientation crowd would seem to militate against that.

So anyway, MediaCow also explains how it came to invent itself:

Media criticism and analysis is underdeveloped in New Zealand.

Neo-socialist commentators like Russell Brown, Alistair Thompson, Judy Comrie and Tom Frewen easily drown out the few pro-market media analysts like David Cohen.

This is not a 'poor us' whine from the political right. We may not have the weight of a university department behind us, or the luxury of a weekly, national radio or television programme, but there's no point moaning.

Right. Well stop then. I must say I do feel for poor David Cohen, who seems to carry the burden of expectation of every put-upon political conservative in the country. Why doesn't he have a broadcasting gig? I dunno - has he ever applied for one?

But neo-socialist? Moi? Christ. First, Christiaan Briggs tells I "may be one of a long line of people throughout authoritarian-human history who belong to a kind of 'coordinator' class whose job it is to placate the masses in the face of [corporate] profiteering," and now I'm a freakin' neo-socialist! How confusing. (I might point out that I write for the country's leading business magazine, where I use big words like "profit" and "brand strategy".) Mind you, 'coordinator class' sounds like it might have a few more perks. Do you reckon they do free drinks? How many points do you need for an upgrade?