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Off Mic

A Manufactured Controversy

A non-controversy at Petco Park. (KNSD)

While the Padres were busy losing a game yesterday, an anti-gay protest was petering out.

The team had advertised "Pride Night" at the park -- on the same night as a ballcap giveaway for kids. A small handful of activists outside complained the Padres are pushing a homosexual lifestyle on children. Or something.

The media had plenty of notice of this demonstration. That's because the Thomas More Law Center , a conservative Christian group, sent out a press release several days earlier (quoting verbatim):


Shame at Petco Park; The Thomas More Law Center Urges Families to Boycott This Sunday's Padres Game

On the same evening, the San Diego Padres are enticing families to bring there children to the Padre's game against the Atlanta Braves with a family day giveaway of "floppy hats;" the Padres are also advertising a homosexual event, "Pride Night at PETCO Park."

[...]

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center commented, "In my opinion, this confluence of events is not a mistake. The Padres are playing the part of the Pied Pieper leading unsuspecting children into accepting the homosexual lifestyle as normal. Children should not be subjected to the 'in-your-face' antics of these radical groups. The Thomas More Law Center wants unsuspecting parents that hope to get their children a free hat and maybe allow their children to run the bases at PETCO to know that they are also walking into a modern day scene of Sodom and Gomorrah."
The Union-Tribune article nailed it: The protest ended up being as floppy as the hats.

Even so, this non-story made headlines across Southern California. It's the top story at NBCSandiego.com . That headline tells us "Padres 'Pride Night' Sparks Controversy." And News 8 aired the story at the top of the 11 o'clock news last night. The reporter struggled to show any real controversy . I never saw more than a few protestors gathered at once, and the footage showed fans ignoring the people in bright red shirts. After the story, the anchor reached into her bag of clich?s and noted "a lot of controversy there."

If the protestors succeeded in creating controversy, "it wasn't readily apparent," writes Scott LaFee in the U-T . "Official attendance for the game was 41,026, just short of a capacity crowd for the 42,685-seat ballpark." Padres spokesman George Stieren is quoted as saying: "People are making this bigger than it really is."

Maybe the "people" George refers to are the media.

Imagine there hadn't been a press release. If someone at the news desk got word of the meager gathering outside Petco Park, would the editor send out a reporter? I doubt it. But here's the scary part. Some news organizations don't even wait for the protest. The Los Angeles Times wrote a story about the press release . And without fail, that story used the C-word:


Law firm criticizes Padres over gays

SAN DIEGO -- A national law firm involved with religious issues joined a local Christian minister Friday in decrying what they termed support by the San Diego Padres' management for the "homosexual lifestyle."

[...]

The game controversy began when an El Cajon-based ministry said its followers would refuse to work the food concession stands during the game as a way to show disapproval of homosexuality. Set-Free Ministries has a contract with the team to staff such stands.
And there you have it: a media-manufactured controversy. A controversy that wouldn't have existed unless someone was there to legitimize it. The truth is, someone is always complaining about something . The ratio of press release-to-published story is about a million to one, if I may be unscientific.

When the LA Times covered the story, editors and news directors across San Diego suddenly had currency to cover it themselves. Well, if the Los Angeles Times covered it, it must be worth our time.

I'm not saying it's necessarily wrong to cover a protest, especially one that targets a hot social issue. At least a protest is a step above a press release; a protest requires action. A protest makes an idea real. A press release, however, is an idea disguised as news.

The local media played into the hands of one media-savvy fringe group. That is not good journalism. I should note that many outlets did not bite, including KPBS. And although the Union-Tribune covered the story, the reporter correctly explains the protest was a failure -- rather than trying to force it into a controversial corner. Oh, and that story never utters the C-word.

-- Andrew Phelps is a reporter for KPBS News and co-host of Off Mic . Please read our guidelines before posting comments.

Robert M. Cerello
July 11, 2007 at 03:23 PM
With an unadmiited agenda of pushing imperial presidential presumed-benevolent infallibile-leadership (collectivism), pseudo-otherworldism as values and opposition to individual rights, liberty and decision making as its main purpose, more than 85% of the U.S.'s government-licensed public media corporate press now dictate over public airwaves and serve extremist and postmodernist masters. Here their method of functioning can be seen plainly. 1. ignore reality. 2. pretned to be objective through not admitting Medieval pseudo=Crhistian de fact kingship and pro-corporate tsar and de facto plutocratic nobility are one's governmental theory. 3. Miscover stories by pushing an unreal public-statism agenda--by ignoring science, ignoring categorizing cncepts and substituting politically "correct" or incorrect" attitudes as one's basis--aided by delusive headlines and false value choices. Gay and lesbian citizens are as entitled under our Constituion to categorically equal rights as is any else. That is the real question here. Petco Park and Padres' team officials are entitled to invite members of any group not to favored treatment but to especial "recognition". If I go to the Park that night, I am therefore knwingly choosing to see more servicemen, mothers, farmers, students, member of some club, or gay and lesbian ticket buyers etc--and if I do not wish to see these particular ticket buyers in large numbers, I do not have to go. I can choose not to go on that evening. It's called "liberty", "full disclosure advertising, etc." It's American behavior. So, here's the bottom line: The story should have been that the words "gay and lesbian" were not used with "pride" in the original advertising. Other than that glaring omission, no story existed. No protest worth mentioning was staged. False pseudo-theocratic bigotry was spouted by a tiny few opponents of each U.S. citizen's individual's rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of individually chosen prioritized goals of happiness as protected by the Constitution. Individual citizens wento to the Park intent on having a good time by paying for tickets and watching a ballgame. Right-wing pro-postmodernist-statist press have no legal right and no justification for twisting news, defrauding readers and pushing their neo-con unAmerican agnda onto the rest of us. That's how they've tipped two elections to a party now finally voted out of office for massive incompetence--for non-performance in reality space-time, whose tenets they reject and ignore. Andt that's how the same irres[ponsible and illegal press are trying toget away with blaming the Democrats, fantastically, for D.C. gridlock--when it is (and has been) Republicans who are opposing every rollback of every premise their extremist, unpopular, undesirable and impractical (pragmatic) agenda for five decades, since the Nixon era of crimes and dirty tricks. And that is what we must as citizens work to end, I claim, if we are ever again to have freedom--of speech, press, life or expressions of choice in marketplaces of categorically-defined values. Clearly, so long as false headlines and fake stories are being manufactured by pro-imperial presidential bigots and by false-theocratic would-be manipulators of men's minds, we must lack these rights, as we do at present and as we shall for so long as a fake media;s tsars hold power over our lives. -----

Erica
July 14, 2007 at 04:34 AM
This happens more often than you think! Kudos to KPBS for not falling for it!