Tidbits in the news

Quick takes on social minorities in the recent news cycle

It seems like every day in the news cycle there is a fascinating tidbit I’d like to cover in Minority Reports. But I only write once a week, so, too often, I have to let those pieces go. I keep a running list of what I’d like to write about but haven’t.

Here, in no particular order, are my quick takes on some items in the news (and about the news) that I thought were interesting lately.

Christine Quinn gets angry

A New York Times piece on New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is running for mayor, was all about her temper: She uses vulgar language! She yells in people’s faces! While the story never says the word “ladylike” (as in: she isn’t), it’s obvious that it was written because a woman with a temper seems to be an anomaly. (Though writers Michael M. Grynbaum and David W. Chen mention rival candidate Joseph J. Lhota’s temper, there’s no equivalent article about him.) New York magazine points this out, slyly, by compiling a list of many other male New York politicos known for their temper.

What is curious to me here is the focus. I don’t think it’s worth writing a full article about how a candidate who has presented herself as brash and shoot-from-the-hip has a temper. Women can — and do — get angry. It shouldn’t be sugar-coated, but it shouldn’t necessarily be made into a big deal, either.

However, what is a big deal is something that is mentioned in passing: Quinn is so vengeful, the Times reports that a slight to her can mean cuts to senior centers, youth sports, and other programs benefitting the constituents of the offender. When a politician’s urge for retaliation hurts voters, that’s important. I’d like to see a story on that.

Yelling at another politician is one thing; cutting programs important to the less-well-off because their representative didn’t do or say what the Speaker wanted is something else. Choose your battles, people.

The Associated Press Stylebook is on a roll

A big brouhaha was required for the AP Stylebook to condone the use of “husband” and “wife” for married gay couples. But since then, it seems that the Stylebook is working diligently to weed out any other social issue usages that haven’t been updated to reflect our current times.

One Stylebook editor told NPR that they would look at updating “widow” and “widower” to include gay couples. And just this week, Kathleen Carroll, the AP’s executive editor and senior vice president, wrote that the AP would no longer use the word “illegal” to describe people, only actions. Therefore, no more “illegal immigrants,” only people who have immigrated illegally. As CJR’s Peter Sterne points out, this is a victory for activists like Jose Antonio Vargas, who have been pushing for the change. (NPR’s On The Media has a nice conversation about this issue with Vargas.) I’m happy to see the AP Stylebook vigilantly watching its word choices as social minority issues evolve. Language, we all know, is vital to how the public understands changing social and political trends, and it is important that social minorities are treated fairly, especially in the framing of their own issues.

Black vs African American

Politico points out something disturbing: Bloomberg News uses “black” as a noun to describe African Americans. As in, “McGuire would allow Obama to recruit a black to represent the administration.” The National Association of Black Journalists Style Guide says, “In news copy, aim to use black as an adjective, not a noun. Also, when describing a group, use black people instead of just blacks.” But Bloomberg only uses African American as a noun when describing immigrants and first-generation Americans. As Politico points out, that means that Barack Obama would be “an African American” while Michelle Obama would be “a black.” Using “black” as a noun this way is often offensive to black people, because it reduces them to their color — when have you ever heard someone referred to as “a white”?

For the record, gay people are likewise offended when one of them is called “a gay,” though “a lesbian” is perfectly fine.

Where are the Asian Voices?

The Huffington Post has Gay Voices, Black Voices, Latino Voices — plus a section on women (though I must say, that’s more fluff than hard news, unlike the other social minority sections, so it may not count). But where is Asian Voices? For that matter, where are the Asian American voices in our media? Every week, I look for stories in the mainstream media, but find very little. There are constant stories about China, India, and North Korea/South Korea and the people in those countries, but far less coverage of Chinese Americans, South Asian Americans, and Korean Americans. Yet the Pew Research Center tells us that Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in the country. What are their struggles? What battles do they fight within their communities? Asian Americans are under-covered by all media except their own, and that is shameful. We need to do a better job of understanding their communities and digging for stories.

Jenna Wolfe is pregnant — and gay

In one of the more graceful coming-outs that I’ve seen, Today weekend anchor Jenna Wolfe came out as gay on the weekday show by announcing that she and her girlfriend, NBC foreign correspondent Stephanie Gosk, are expecting a baby girl. When Savannah Guthrie congratulated her for keeping a big secret, she didn’t mean Wolfe’s same-sex partnership; she meant her pregnancy.

As Matthew E. Berger said on the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association blog:

There has to be a middle ground between being in the closet and announcing you’re gay on the front page of a magazine. Many people live openly gay lives without making headlines … but either do not warrant a public announcement of their sexual orientation or leave that type of advocacy to others. That’s certainly true for some LGBT journalists, who take their role as an objective arbiter of facts seriously and shy away from disclosing personal views and details of their private lives.

We should not assume that the only options are “closeted” and “gay icon.” Many actors, politicians and journalists are out, but just haven’t told you. It was as if Wolfe and Gosk were saying, “I never told you I am straight, so why should I tell you I am gay?” …

What they are saying is that having two gay correspondents shouldn’t make headlines. But that doesn’t mean anyone is ashamed of who they are.

Congratulations to both Wolfe and Gosk. And let’s hope that increasing equality can eventually make being a gay or lesbian reporter a non-issue in every newsroom (and for every audience) across the country.

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Jennifer Vanasco is a is a news editor at WNYC and the former editor in chief of MTV Network's LGBT news site 365gay.com. She writes about social minorities, national politics, and culture. Her award-winning newspaper column on gay and women's issues ran for 15 years. Tags: , , , ,