Teaching ABC News a Lesson in Tolerance

The news division of another broadcast network has been staging "news" in an attempt to show the prejudices of the American people. Only this time, it didn't work out as planned. After planting a gay couple and an actor portraying a loud-mouthed anti-gay bigot at a New Jersey sports bar, ABC News learned that the bar's patrons are, on the whole, a remarkably tolerant lot.

This wasn't the first time that ABC staged "news" in an attempt to show the prejudices of those from more "conservative" segments of American society. This network has not been alone in engineering events designed to show such prejudice. Three years ago, NBC sought to dispatch Muslims to a NASCAR race in order to show how "red state" America would react.

These news producers seem convinced that the places to look for prejudice in America are places where conservatives congregate. Perhaps it might be more accurate to say where people different from them congregate. They always do seem to discern prejudice in the "other."

When, however, they dispatched an actor to verbally harass a gay couple they had sent to a New Jersey sports bar, they found more tolerance than bigotry. While a handful of patrons expressed disapproval of the couple's presence in the bar, the patrons who spoke out the loudest called the actor on his bigotry, in the process challenging the prejudices the ABC News producers apparently harbored against the patrons of a suburban sports bar.

They had the gay couple come into the bar at two different times -- first during the mid-day lunch hour, then later in the evening.

In the mid-day visit, no one took much notice of the two men until the aforementioned actor, at the network's behest, started "stirring the pot," pretending "to be bothered" by the couple. A few guys seemed to share his sentiments but didn't act out their animosity.

Yet when the actor pestered a "new arrival" about the gay guys, the new guy did express some animus, though not against the gay couple. He told the ostensibly bigoted actor to shut up, saying that if he had to choose between that irritated individual and the gay couple, he'd probably be asking him, not them, to leave. Indeed, he told the gay men, "I'd rather have twelve of you them than four of him."

In the evening, the couple turned up the heat by increasing their public displays of affection. At the same time, the producers raised the stakes by having a straight couple, also actors, "appear to be bothered too." The actor remained obnoxious. A few people grumbled, with one man saying the gay men's display "disgusts" him. But the most agitated person was a woman who objected not to the their affection, but to the basher's antics.

Once again, the most vocal reactions were to the anti-gay voices and not the gay people. And yes, a few people did say they were disturbed by the gay men's public displays of affection, but one wonders if they would have kept their thoughts to themselves had they not been egged on by actors prompted by ABC News to speak out against the gay bar patrons.

Even after they discovered that bar patrons were a remarkably broad-minded lot, the network titled their print story, "Gay Bashing at a Sports Bar: What Do You Do?" The only gay bashing that took place at this sports bar was a verbal one staged by ABC.

At least when they staged an event at the gay bar, they acknowledged the tolerance of the patrons there. "In the course of our two-day ethical dilemma, we saw a diverse suburban community stand up for a gay couple who was being verbally harassed." What reporter Anneke Foster calls an ethical dilemma involves not the network's choice whether or not to stage news, but the conflict, the network claims, bar patrons "can't avoid."

Actually, most bar patrons did choose to avoid it. They would rather have enjoyed themselves with friends than pay attention to what two gay men were doing or what a loudmouth was saying. To be sure, there were those who stood up to silence the loudmouth, both out of irritation at his obnoxious behavior and out of disgust at his intolerance.

If ABC were truly interested in what people would do (this segment was part of the series What Would You Do?) in certain staged situations, they might want to handle prejudices the mainstream media has ignored for all too long. At Townhall, Greg Henger suggests they have a gay man harass a couple of Christians carrying Bibles and praying at a gay bar.

Or why not dispatch Republicans displaying their partisan affiliation on a T-shirt or ball cap as they enter a tony coffee shop in Manhattan's Upper West Side or in San Francisco? Better yet, have a gay Republican wear a Sarah Palin T-shirt as he walks along Santa Monica Boulevard in the heart of West Hollywood.

In these locales, I doubt you'd need to hire an actor to bash the Republicans. It would just happen without any media-generated provocation, as this video clip of McCain supporters marching though Manhattan's Upper West Side last fall shows. Those greeting the Republican marchers with their middle fingers extended were not hired by ABC News to perform this gesture.

So we do have an example of how denizens of these liberal neighborhoods react to one of their fellows harassing a Republican. Don't know if ABC News covered this spontaneous demonstration.

But outside such liberal enclaves, "tolerance," as a woman in the ABC segment observed, "has become an American value." That is true at least toward gay people, even among Republican and conservative circles, as my experience has shown. And that is a good thing to see.

Yet there are prejudices which need exploring and which the media has been busy ignoring. We find them among the mainstream media and their social peers. Many hold conservatives and socially conservative Christians (and others of faith) in contempt. And these narrow-minded folks don't need media prompting to say as much, even to the faces of those professing conservative politics or Christian beliefs.