John Townsend blasts Star Tribune on outing articles

Categories: Media beefs
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Do the ends justify the means?
The reporter who outed a homophobic pastor as secretly gay on the cover of Lavender has penned a letter accusing the Star Tribune of misrepresenting his investigation.

John Townsend infiltrated a support group to get the goods on Rev. Tom Brock, who has famously blamed a tornado that struck downtown Minneapolis on a local church group's decision to allow gay clergy.

Townsend's article drew national attention and became the focus of an ethics debate about reporting undercover at a meeting where anonymity is expected.

But Townsend says his methods were necessary because the mainstream media was looking the other way.

"One victim took his complaint to various local media and was summarily rejected each time," Townsend writes. "So for me, it was clear that becoming an embedded whistleblower was the only option left. That way I could more accurately verify the truth than to write about it from the outside. To my mind, quite reasonable suspicion of real danger trumped confidentiality.

Here is the letter in its entirety:
To the Editor of the Star Tribune:

Two recent Star Tribune articles (Cries of 'hypocrite' for pastor, by Jeff Strickler, June 24 and Respect the range of sexual support by Jenell Williams Paris, June 25), have distorted my infiltration of a local Catholic gay chastity group by reacting to only one of my two actual cover articles in Lavender Magazine, Issue 393. The writers read the piece on my observations of Lutheran pastor Tom Brock in that group in my article, Antigay Lutheran Pastor Protests Too Much,  but did not address the other article, Courage, AKA Faith in Action: An Inside Look at Catholic Gay Chastity Group that is on the very next page labeled as 'Cover Feature' and online directly below the cover image.
 
That article is filled with other observations including a stunningly cruel comment by Father Jim Livingston, who runs Faith in Action and inducts members through his chaplain's office at North Memorial Hospital. What racial minority would ever sanction what I observed and heard in that group if the same was said about them?

That article also fingers two priests and a woman director for the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Strickler's cherrypicking of one article over the other has meant Lavender's total Courage coverage has been distorted all the way up to Elizabeth Jensen's New York Times online piece, as well as a rabid written attack on my integrity by an angry pack of pastors. Strickler and Paris never contacted me for a comment before submitting their articles. I did however, contact Father Livingston and Pastor Brock for mine.

Get this straight. Homosexuality and lesbianism are not addictions, nor are they illnesses. Faith In Action participants are required to refer to their same sex attraction as a 'disorder'. They are made to believe that unrepentant homosexual activity damns them to an eternity of hell fire and damnation. The 1973 declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness is fully rejected. Strickler mistakenly describes the group as a 'therapy group'. In the weeks I was there I encountered no therapist.

Faith in Action, whose Catholic sponsors are tax-exempt, harbored pastor Brock for some time, in full knowledge of his demagogic video series and the two decades he spewed his homophobic and sexist vitriol on KKMS-AM, which has been defiantly rebroadcasting his antigay remarks right up even into this very week, almost two weeks after my articles hit.

Brock's bully pulpit has assaulted gays and lesbians and heterosexual reproductive rights advocates for years. For some time, I had been fielding tips about psychological abuse in the St. Charles Borromeo group, including a participant who said he felt tempted to commit suicide. One victim took his complaint to various local media and was summarily rejected each time. So for me, it was clear that becoming an embedded whistleblower was the only option left. That way I could more accurately verify the truth than to write about it from the outside. To my mind, quite reasonable suspicion of real danger trumped confidentiality.

Brock's antigay KKMS exhortations have wailed on for years, so I was puzzled in Strickler's piece where University of Minnesota Silha Professor of Ethics and Law Jane Kirtley tried to discredit my methods, seemingly oblivious to the serial, long term breach of media ethics in her own metro area, that being KKMS. Kirtley never contacted me either.
 
As for handwringing by Michael R. Triplett, overseer of the National Gay & Lesbian Journalists Association, of which I am not a member, clearly his careerist club members have ignored this situation. Be a journalist first, a gay second.

In Respect the Range of Sexual Support evangelical Messiah College professor Jenell Williams Paris speculates that Pastor Brock "may have actually been practicing for the search of self-mastery he preached" in the Courage sessions I attended right alongside him. But I think not. As my Courage article relates, this group actually inculcates, hence, reinforces, a sexual fixation on male beauty with outright stated political positions against gay activism and gay-based spiritual endeavours. Paris peddles with chilling nonchalance so-called 'reparative therapies' (again, Courage is not a therapy group). Her crude analogy of Brock as a cat that stinks boorishly trivializes how Brock, a man in society, has systematically perpetrated his hysterics for years.

Recently, as MSNBC's Rachel Maddow has reported, American evangelicals, some of them so called 'ex-gays', paved the way for a Ugandan law to make homosexuality punishable by death. Recently, the Texas GOP platform has called for recriminalization of sodomy laws and making gay marriage a felony.

As for those who would use my articles as a pretext to slam investigative reporting, I suggest Amy Goodman's recent John Pilger interview on that subject, Recall Thomas Jefferson: "The only security at all is a free press. The force of public opiniion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure."

John Townsend

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