Queer: February 2004 Archives

Our friend Jay Blotcher, a freelance writer, has been sacked as a stringer for the New York Times because he was involved with ACT UP over ten years ago.

Blotcher, who has been involved with gay and AIDS groups in the past, joined the newspaper as a stringer––a freelance reporter––in 2001 after he left New York City for the Hudson Valley. For much of his employment he contributed stories or reporting without ever getting a byline in the paper.

In late 2003, Blotcher published two stories and, under a new Times policy, his name appeared on those pieces. One story dealt with the trial of a woman who was accused of killing her three children. The second concerned some vandalism on a college campus.

“I never dealt with gay issues or AIDS issues,” Blotcher said.

Someone, an editor, another reporter, or a reader noted Blotcher’s name and recalled that he was once a member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP.

“There was no complaint,” wrote Susan Edgerley, the Times metropolitan editor, in response to a Gay City News e-mail query. “We recognized the name from his work with ACT UP.”

That was it for Blotcher. On January 12, Lew Serviss, a Times editor, told him the paper would no longer use him in any section. When he appealed to Edgerley she responded, “I am setting the bar high to protect against any appearance of conflict of interest that might result through the hiring of stringers and leg-people. My motivation is expediency as well as ethics––we simply do not spend as much time checking into the backgrounds of independent contractors as we do of fulltime staff people.”


The real problem here is that The Times isn’t committed to its own ethics policy. Let’s look at just two Times reporters.

Lawrence K. Altman is a former employee of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and he regularly reports on that agency. Altman also sits on an advisory board that administers a CDC fellowship program. In other words, his relationship with the CDC continues. That would be an actual conflict of interest.

Bernard Weinraub covers the film industry in Los Angeles and his wife heads Columbia Pictures. A portion of their household income, probably the majority, comes from a major player in the industry Weinraub covers. That would also be an actual conflict of interest.

If The Times believed in its ethics policy then it would defend a Jay Blotcher when he follows that policy, but then the newspaper would have to do something about Weinraub and Altman. Neither man returned a phone call seeking comment.

The Times isn’t serious about ethics. The paper, to use Edgerley’s word, is concerned with “expediency.”

Updated: Atrios has more information on The Times's idea of ethics. Also, I see that this was mentioned in the Washington Post last week in Howard Kurtz's column.

Two of my mother's closest friends in the town where she lives, Conway, Arkansas, are a gay couple named John and Robert.


John Schenck and Robert Loyd

There was an article about them in the local paper recently. I'm not crazy about how it's written, but the fact that it was given such prominence is pretty cool.


Schenck grew up in New York with five brothers. One brother would later hold Schenck's new boyfriend, Loyd, while another pistol whipped him. A football player, Schenck was beaten by several members of the team after rejecting sexual advances from one of the players. In 1969, Schenck participated in the Stonewall riots in New York, he told the class.

Loyd was born in Germany and came to America when he was 3 years old. He grew up in Damascus. His family has a strong military background. Loyd denounced his German citizenship when he was 18 to join the United States Army. He fought in Vietnam.

During an earlier interview, Loyd discussed fighting for his rights. He was naive, Loyd said, and later felt like some of the rights he fought for seemed to be jerked away.

"I was born with those rights," Loyd said to the class.

"My life is about all of us being equal and sharing equally in the burden of life, or the joys of life," Loyd said.

The couple celebrated 29 years together Jan. 19.

My mother just e-mailed me:

My friends are having a wedding ceremony Sunday on the steps of the State Capitol. While I was there this afternoon they got permission to gather there from the Secretary of State's office. There was a problem at first getting permission because the Boy Scouts have a gathering there at same time. They have been talking with ACLU and the Arkansas Diversity Assoc. about being there in support as the news media have been notified.

Aargh. It's bad enough that Bush wants to "protect" marriage:

Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society. Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all. Today I call upon the Congress to promptly pass, and to send to the states for ratification, an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of man and woman as husband and wife. The amendment should fully protect marriage, while leaving the state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage.

America is a free society, which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens. This commitment of freedom, however, does not require the redefinition of one of our most basic social institutions. Our government should respect every person, and protect the institution of marriage. There is no contradiction between these responsibilities. We should also conduct this difficult debate in a manner worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger.

In all that lies ahead, let us match strong convictions with kindness and goodwill and decency.

But we also have to listen to the press lying about what the amendment would do:

Mr. Bush was not specific today about the wording he would like to see Congress adopt in beginning the constitutional-amendment process. He did not, for instance, mention legislation proposed by Representative Marilyn Musgrave, Republican of Colorado.

The amendment that Ms. Musgrave and other lawmakers are backing in the House says: "Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups." The White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said just before the president's announcement that Mr. Bush believed the Musgrave measure "meets his principles."

Most reasonable analyses of the Musgrave language state that it would ban civil unions as well, overturning even existing law. Here is a writeup from Yale Law professor Jack Balkin, and one from FAIR.

Do not trust the mainstream media to tell you the truth about this.

One last thought. The Democrats' (including Kerry and Edwards but not Kucinich) position on this, one of "we don't support gay marriage but we don't support the amendment either" is bullshit. This kind of splitting hairs is revolting when we're talking about civil rights, and they're going to be painted as homo-loving liberals by the GOP no matter what they do. Why not take a principled position rather than some stupid focus group-created one? I will hold my nose and vote for the Democratic candidate, but I can't say I'm excited about it, unless a miracle happens and we get Kucinich.

[A couple of links in this post are via Atrios/Eschaton.]


Betty Bowers on the Governor Perry homo rumors.

Mim Udovith interviews John Waters for the NY Times.

UDOVITCH Do you think it's harder to be transgressive now than it used to be?

WATERS I've never tried to be. Transgressive — does that mean you change how people look at things? That would be the greatest flattery anyone could say to me. But I'm just setting out to do what I always do. First, I do it for myself. And then, maybe when you go to the movies after looking at my pictures, you can make your own movies in your mind. You can watch something and say well, that image could go here. You don't have to like the movie. You can look at the lamps.


UDOVITCH Do you feel you have any mentors?

WATERS Tennessee Williams made me realize that everything they told me in school was a lie and I didn't have to pay attention to it. Warhol certainly influenced me when he so wisely put homosexuality and drugs together, finally, where they belonged. Little Richard, because I wanted to be the white him in the hippie world. That's why I have this mustache. And Jean Genet, of course. I don't even remember that I named Divine after the character in "Our Lady of the Flowers," but I'm sure I did. They made me have the nerve to do what I wanted to do, so that I didn't care that I didn't fit in, that nobody else really liked what I liked when I was growing up.


John Waters
Jackie Copies Divine's Look

We went to the John Waters opening at the New Museum Saturday night. See the Holland Cotter NY Times review here.

It's the last show before it closes and work begins on the new building on the Bowery. I saw him a few times, but I didn't talk with him. I'll go back to watch the early films they're showing. I did see Gary Indiana, Andres Serrano, and many other artists and writers, including a few people from his films, plus many more who looked like they belonged in one. I heard Patty Hearst was there but I didn't see her.

It was a more interesting, and younger, crowd, than other New Museum events I have attended. I loved that the second floor was left empty for the big crowd to just have drinks and hang out. Every opening should have such a luxury of space.

This reminds me of an amusing John Waters story. In the early 1990s James and I saw Romper Stomper at Film Forum. It's a pretty disturbing movie about racist skinheads in Australia, with plenty of violence. If it hadn't had Russell Crowe in it, I doubt I would have gone to see it. During a lot of the worst violence, I could hear the person sitting right behind me giggling. When the lights came up I turned around to see who this idiot/madman might be. I wasn't annoyed anymore, in fact I was quite pleased, when that person turned out to be John Waters.

One other item: his new art book is amusing.

This page is an archive of entries in the Queer category from February 2004.

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