Over the decades, the New York Times’ coverage of the gay and lesbian community has changed. Looking at the big picture, first the paper ignored us, then refused to actually call us gay, then begrudgingly did, then unbegrudgingly did. In the 21st century, the Gray Lady wants you to know that its version of fair and balanced reporting involves an unrelentingly complimentary tone. The Times wants you to know just how gay-positive it is.

But old habits die hard. We’re still erased from the record or portrayed as victims of “whisper” campaigns. Even when they’re being nice to us, the Times can’t keep from lying. The paper is like a Republican struggling to deal with a crowd of black people: It’s smiles all the way till the Freudian slips bubble up.

In a textbook example of lying about gays by saying good things about us, Times reporter Tanzina Vega cheerfully “documented” just how eager “marketers” are to cash in on “a community with money,” to quote one of the headlines attached to the piece. (Heds are fungible and are commonly written by editors.) Her article also functioned as a TechCrunch-style endorsement or ratification of a dicey new startup site, Dot 429.

Another attraction for advertisers, as stigmas about the groups fade and the economy tightens, is the opportunity to sell products. Howard Buford, the president and chief executive for Prime Access, a multicultural advertising agency, said one factor favoring the group for advertisers is two-income households where both partners are men, who still make more on average than women.

“When you have a male couple, that effect gets amplified,” Mr. Buford said.

And while more LGBT couples are having children of their own or adopting children, Mr. Buford said many couples did not have children, leaving them with more disposable income and “disposable time” for travel and entertainment.

What kind of mistakes has Vega made here?

  1. Facts about money. Not a single factual assertion is actually backed up by evidence, though one of the statements has a thin veneer of truth.

    • The consensus of the economics literature holds that gay men earn less than straight men on average (lesbians slightly more than straight women, also on average). In fact, many surveys show that gay-male and lesbian couples earn about the same; that figure puts gay men below straight men and lesbians above straight women, in average cases. But essentially all the research shows that married hetero couples make the most money, due mostly to the so-called marriage premium. (A man married to a woman makes more than any other man or woman on average.)

      Hence while Buford’s first statement is accurate but misleading, his next statement (male income “gets amplified”) has no basis and just doesn’t make sense.

    • The economics literature does not back up any notion that gay men or lesbians have more “disposable income,” which the literature cannot really define. (None of the attempted definitions of the term are well accepted or even basically sensible.) Even if you use a kind of casual or civilian definition that disposable income is what you spend on things you truly don’t need, how many of those things are bought with income and not credit, especially for the kind of gay men Buford is targetting?

  2. Facts about children. Lesbians have children roughly half as often as straight people, gay men about half as often again. These facts, which Vega did not bother to cite, do not demonstrate that either kind of homosexual couple has more disposable anything, including money or time. But that is exactly what Buford implies.

  3. Sources with vested interests. Howard Buford stands to make money if clients accept his proposition that gay men have “amplified” earnings to tap. As in dozens of other cases of media misrepresentation of gay money, the people trying to sell something are the ones claiming gay buyers are unusually able to afford what they’re selling. These blandishments and outright lies are so old they were first demolished by Badgett’s Money, Myths, and Change 11 years ago. That is a long time for reporters to trust biased sources and stenographically report their claims as if true. Vega is the latest to perpetuate a disgraceful tradition that violates basic tenets of journalism.

Incorrect facts are still incorrect even when and if they make a minority group look good. A journalist does have to let the facts get in the way of writing pro-gay articles. Publishing stories that flatter your own self-image that some of your best friends are gay and you’re the farthest thing from homophobic – that is my interpretation here – is an exercise that should be stopped cold by the need to get your facts right.

Over the span of a month, Vega didn’t respond to my request for comments, nor did Buford, nor did the public editor of the Times, Arthur Brisbane.

Meanwhile, in early 2012 we witnessed a bread-and-circuses spectacle in which a cutesy Times correction became a cause célèbre among easily-distracted twits. And in the explanation of the underlying error, the Timeswoman who made the mistake insisted “[t]he Times’s rule is, we correct anything that is wrong, no matter how small or seemingly silly. And I don’t know any of my colleagues who would want to do differently.” This too is a lie.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2012.01.09 13:36. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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