Study Finds Gay Biases In Time, Newsweek

A study investigating negative perceptions of gays and lesbians reported in two widely-read news magazines--Time and Newsweek--since the 1940s was recently released by Lisa Bennett, a former Shorenstein fellow at the Kennedy School of Government.

Journalists "have the potential to exert an extraordinary influence on public attitudes toward gays and lesbians," Bennett said. "As a result, they also have a special responsibility to get the facts right."

The report, entitled "The Perpetuation of Prejudice in Reporting on Gays and Lesbians," states that it explores the "practice of journalistic standards over the past half-century on one of the most challenging subjects in contemporary America: the rise of gays and lesbians and their demand for civil rights."

The study describes the evolution of the portrayal of gays and lesbians in the two major newsmagazines beginning with the end of World War II.

Additionally, the report asserts that the media has perpetuated stereotypes of gays and lesbians by failing to uphold standards of fair journalism.


According to the report, the earliest coverage of gays and lesbians was marked with intolerance of homosexuality.

During the 1940s and 1950s, "about 60 percent of the articles published described homosexuals as a direct threat to the strength of the U.S. military, the security of the U.S. government and the safety of ordinary Americans," the report states.

The study purports that, even in recent decades, progress in achieving fair and accurate coverage of gays and lesbians has remained minimal.

According to the report, coverage of the beginning of the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s was no exception to the trend of minimal progress in coverage.

The media's inability to disassociate promiscuity among a small group of gay men and the larger gay and lesbian community further perpetuated stereotypes that depict homosexuals in a biased manner, the report states.

Bennett's study proposes that the elimination of bias in journalism and the reestablishment of fairness and accuracy will result when journalists "insist upon evidence, and always give gay or lesbian spokespersons the opportunity to respond directly to [an] allegation."

"Journalists should be wary of permitting powerful sources to go unchallenged, especially when they are speaking about a group that has been 'disparaged and discriminated against,'" the report concludes.

Bennett stressed the increasing importance of questioning all sources.

"As the news media move faster and faster today, quotes from powerful sources

seem to increasingly stand alone as news," Bennett said. "We need to remember--perhaps more than ever--that powerful people have never had a monopoly on the truth, nor are they all primarily motivated by the truth."

Bennett admitted that accurate reporting can be difficult when strong popular opinion might influence the media to perpetuate stereotypes.

"Journalists are not immune to cultural attitudes on this issue, nor are their sources," she said. "The challenge to journalists and their audience is not to settle for mere opinion but to seek the facts. As this study shows, after all, authorities have been wrong before.

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