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Woah, back up. Who’s Tom O’Gorman?
Yeah, he just kinda flew outta nowhere there didn’t he? Tom O’Gorman was a researcher for the Iona Institute who earlier this month was murdered and partially eaten in his home by his Italian chess partner. Seriously. I’m not making a joke, that actually happened. This of course was a horrific and tragic crime which would certainly be grounds for editing O’Neill’s interview if he had mentioned Tom O’Gorman in any way.
Okay…so, that’s weird.
It gets weirder. Well…no, it doesn’t really get weirder than cannibalistic Italian chess players but it continues to be weird in different, less horrifying ways. As it turns out, this was an attempt by RTÉ to use a horrific crime to give themselves cover for censoring the interview. The reason they did this pretty soon became apparent. John Waters and the Iona Institute had lawyered up. And they did not take kindly to being called homophobes. On a later episode of The Saturday Night Brendan O’Connor addressed the audience. Now, let me be clear, if O’Connor had just come out and said “RTE wishes to clarify that the views expressed on this show do not necessarily reflect the views of RTE blah blah boilerplate” that’s fine. Regardless of my personal stance on the issue, the national broadcaster must be seen to be impartial . That’s fine. That’s not what this was.
“Now, on the Saturday night show two weeks ago comments were made by a guest suggesting the journalist and broadcaster John Waters, Breda O’Brien and some members of the Iona institute are homophobic. These are not the views of RTÉ and we would like to apologise for any upset or distress caused to the individuals named or identified. It is an important part of democratic debate that people must be able to hold dissenting views on controversial issues.”
So…what you have here is the national broadcaster censoring itself and then apologising profusely under legal threat because a private citizen expressed a personal opinion that individuals who have devoted a considerable portion of their adult lives to ensuring that gay people do not achieve equal marriage rights could be considered homophobic…and then lecturing us on the importance of freedom of expression in a healthy democracy.
However, it was the news that RTÉ is actually paying a cash settlement to the Iona Institute (which, since RTÉ is state funded essentially amounts to a gift from the Irish taxpayer) that people have loudly declaring that Up With This We Will Not Put. Ironically, John Waters was until recently a member of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, whose purpose is to actually protect liberty of expression in Irish broadcasting. To his credit, I suppose he’s not a hypocrite. It’s just a little disheartening that when faced with choosing between freedom of speech and media suppression he looked at the latter and said “Ooh that one!”
RTÉ’s behaviour in all this baffles me. See, I’ve spent time in RTÉ. I worked their briefly as an intern and I was interviewed once for an afternoon programme and let me tell you, the place is not exactly what you’d call gay unfriendly.
The obvious reason of course is cowardice. As in, RTÉ are cowards. Big wusses. Total pussbags. And if this was a simple case of a craven obeisance to power that would be something. That at least can indicate a rat-like survival instinct which is kind of admirable in a way. But, and I cannot emphasise this enough, NOBODY GIVES A FLYING FIDDLER’S FUCK ABOUT THE IONA INSTITUTE. Seriously, they’re a joke. Ireland’s gay marriage referendum is scheduled for 2015 and there’s every indication that it’s going to be a walk for the YES side. I’ve seen polls putting support at upwards of seventy percent, the highest level of support for anything in Ireland since pollsters stopped asking “Beer good?” Given Iona’s complete lack of clout the only reason for RTE’s craven grovelling is that they think Iona and John Waters actually have a case.
So that’s the real question. Was O’Neill’s remark an objective fact or an unproven slander? Does opposing gay marriage in and of itself make you a homophobe? Now I know that thousands…hundreds? Okay, several readers are now screaming at the screen “Yes. Mouse. Yes.” But honestly, I think that kind of absolutist “with us or agin’ us” mentality is very harmful for the gay rights movement. Take somebody who supports civil unions for gay couples and abhors discrimination and anti-gay prejudice but draws the line at full marriage equality. He may be wrong, but he’s not Fred Phelps, and treating him like he is Fred Phelps is not going to win him over. In every great social struggle like this the side that is the more flexible, pragmatic, patient and willing to make messy compromises in the present for greater gains in the future always wins.
So if you were to tell me that you honestly and sincerely bear no ill will or prejudice towards gays but just believe that marriage should be between a man or a woman, I can’t read your soul. I can’t know if that’s true or not so I’m just going to have to take you at your word until I get my hands on a Klingon mind sifter.
Also, because I am an incurable optimist, I can’t help but see the bright side in this. If being labeled a homophobe is now so toxic in Irish society that even the friggin’ Iona institute feels the need to yank out the heavy legal artillery at the mere suggestion that they might be such, then the war is very nearly over and we are in the advanced stages of endgame.
However, I would like to close with a little bit of unsolicited career advice for the Iona Institute and Mr John Waters. If the idea of being labelled a homophobe is so abhorrent to you? If the mere notion that anyone could possibly consider you to be a homophobe is so awful that you would sue the national broadcaster and throw the very notion that we live in a country where freedom of expression is permitted into serious doubt?
If it is really as bad as all that?
Maybe you’re in the wrong line of work.
It’s (pardon the Spockian choice of words but it’s so darn fitting here) fascinating to read/watch how a public kerfuffle goes down in a country other than the U.S. I would agree with your optimism that “if even the Iona Institute doesn’t want to called homophobic” except that I am jaded enough to believe that it’s more a case the Iona Institute and Mr. Walker want to engage in homophobic behavior and language, but don’t want to called homophobic.
The one thing that the Duck Dynasty horror-show last month taught me was that calling you a homophobe just because you’re acting and sounding like a homophobe is obviously censoring your First Amendment rights because you’re just stating your opinion so shut up! ::eyeroll, facepalm, headdesk, uncontrolled fetal-position sobbing::
Fortunately we don’t have a First Amendment here and it makes things so much simpler.
I will just say that I really like your point about how to win a social struggle. There’s a lot to be said for making an effort not to alienate those who don’t share your viewpoint.