from Political News
Stewart's stated objective is to survey how linguistic choices are used to create a demarcation between good science and bad science in media reports on reparative therapy and other controversial scientific subjects.
Stewart notes that one of the first techniques used in demarcating between good and bad science is by "framing" the issue. Framing is typically done in the headline of a story and in the lead paragraphs. Four kinds of framing are used: conflict, human interest, responsibility and economic consequences.
One element of framing is designed to marginalize or discredit certain points of view by attributing them to social deviants. Other techniques involve the use of quotation marks, epithets, etc. to provide a frame or viewpoint for the story.
Reporting On Dr. Spitzer's Study Of Ex-Gays
Stewart analyzed how the mainstream media, psychological groups such as NARTH, pro-family organizations, and gay activist groups covered Dr. Robert Spitzer's 2001 study of the possibility of change in sexual orientation in some individuals with same-sex attractions.
The author first analyzed an Associated Press story on Spitzer's study and press release responses from Exodus, Human Rights Campaign, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. He mentioned NARTH's references to Spitzer on its web site but did not provide any explicit analysis of how NARTH framed this study.
According to Stewart's analysis of the AP story on Spitzer, a "conflict flame" was established in the lead paragraph by using such terms as "explosive" to describe the study and stating that Spitzer's conclusion "clashes" with those of major mental health organizations. The AP story also describes religious groups as condemning homosexuality while saying gay activist groups "attack" Spitzer's findings.
The use of conflict words sets up a demarcation between Spitzer's study and the findings of "major mental health organizations." Spitzer's comments are characterized by skepticism in the article.
An Exodus press release on the Spitzer study introduced him as a "prominent psychiatrist" and then describes his standing within the psychiatric community. The Exodus release also quotes pro-gay organizations as being critical of Spitzer's study but these protests are dismissed as being invalid.
The Exodus release ended with a quote from NARTH President Dr. Joseph Nicolosi who criticizes Spitzer's critics as being motivated by political, not scientific considerations.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force characterized Spitzer's study in its headline as "flawed" and puts "reparative therapy" in quotes to stigmatize the term. The NGLTF also described Spitzer's study as "snake oil packaged as science" and "tainted and biased."
GLAAD's release states that it "condemns unscientific study's claim that sexual orientation can be 'changed.'" Again, quotes are used to frame the term "changed" as being illegitimate or false.
An article published by Christianity Today on Dr. Spitzer's study focused on Spitzer's professional standing in the psychiatric community and his disinterestedness in promoting a particular political agenda. The article mentions that Spitzer was one of the leaders in the APA's efforts to remove homosexuality from the DSM.
Stewart concludes by observing that particular news frames "give presence to an interpretation that demarcates a study as either good or bad science, and researchers as good or bad scientists."
The objective of organizations with an interest in promoting a gay agenda is to use frames to draw boundaries around a person or organization that conflicts with their views. They create these boundaries to exclude these individuals or groups from public discourse by stigmatizing or discrediting their conclusions.
As Stewart observes, one group is made to look as though it "has facts while the other has only assertions. Science writers in news organizations are accustomed to popularizing scientists' claims, but controversial science also requires reporting the political dimension. The relationship between scientific popularization and political reporting in controversial science is a potentially important one that deserves more exploration, especially the role of such reporting on the public understanding of science."