The head of Truth Wins Out today condemned NPR’s response to the outrage it created by portraying conversion therapy as helpful to some people.
Wayne Besen, who founded the group that is primarily responsible for piquing NPR’s interest in so-called conversion therapy, said the station’s explanation for its story was “inadequate and failed to dispel concerns that NPR had aired a poorly investigated puff-piece that benefited the ‘ex-gay’ industry.”
Besen had penned a guest op-ed for The Advocate and called on NPR to apologize but instead got a column from an NPR ombudsman who dissected what led to a misleading report being broadcast on Morning Edition Monday. The report included interviews with Rich Wyler, founder of an organization promoting “ex-gay” therapy, and Peterson Toscano, who says the therapy was mentally damaging.
The NPR reporters involved in the story told the ombudsman they inappropriately left the impression that both sides were equal, when in fact Wyler’s was part of a “minority experience.”
Besen says there’s no such minority.
“NPR should have tried to find individuals that were not ‘ex-gay for pay.’ Truth Wins Out always challenges journalists to find such people and they come up empty handed,” he wrote on his group’s website. “This speaks to the fact that there is no genuine ‘ex-gay’ movement, just a high-dollar, politically motivated marketing campaign to create the appearance that such people exist in large numbers.”
Wyler’s experience was doubted by many bloggers because he is the founder of People Can Change, which profits by hosting expensive conferences for people who want to stop being gay. The NPR report never mentioned Wyler’s role in the group, and the journalists acknowledged the information should have been included. But they fired back that Toscano has also benefited by giving speeches and writing a play about his experience. The bottom line is the NPR journalists said they believed Wyler’s story of becoming ex-gay was sincere.
“We don’t think that they believe what they do about their experiences because they are now active on these topics,” Alix Spiegel and her editor told the ombudsman. “Rather they are active because of what they experienced and believe.”
In their defense, the NPR reporters cited a line at the end of their nine-minute story as the missing context that should have been moved to the beginning. But the line also implies that ex-gays are not a myth.
“From Toscano’s perspective, there might be a handful of people like Wyler who benefit from this therapy,” Spiegel said at the story’s conclusion. “But for every Wyler, there are dozens of gay men and women who will struggle through a process that asks them to annihilate a part of themselves.”
Nowhere in the ombudsman’s column did the journalists explain where the estimate comes from that one in “dozens” will benefit from so-called reparative therapy.
NPR’s acting senior vice president for news, Margaret Low Smith, said in a statement to The Advocate Thursday that she believes the mental health profession is clear about whether conversion is possible. Still, she was careful to mention the dissent of “some therapists.”
“We also unintentionally left the impression with some listeners that the establishment psychological community only began to discount conversion therapy in the last few years,” Smith said. “Though some therapists disagree with that mainstream view, it has been widely held for many years.”