Daily Archives: August 6, 2003

Here’s an editorial in the August 6, 2003 edition of the Star-Tribune : “Robinson Ambush/ The Anatomy of a Smear”

We had hoped to comment this morning on the meaning of the Episcopal debate over the nomination of the Rev. Gene Robinson to be bishop of the New Hampshire diocese. Why is it happening now? What does it portend? Is the Episcopal Church, as it often has before, signaling a significant change in the social fabric of American life?

That was before Robinson was ambushed, hours before the House of Bishops was to take the final vote on his nomination, by the most scurrilous smear: He was accused of linkage to a porn Web site and of inappropriately touching another man. The church investigated both charges and cleared Robinson. The House of Bishops then voted to accept his elevation to Bishop of New Hampshire. End of story? Not quite.

The Every Voice Network Web site, a liberal Anglican site, reported Tuesday that the alleged inappropriate behavior “occurred when Robinson touched a married man in his 40s on his bicep, shoulder and upper back in the process of a public conversation at a province meeting around two years ago.” Oh, please.

The phony accusation that Robinson was linked somehow to porn on the Web was easy to track down. It was a deliberate, calculated lie, apparently held in reserve until the last minute in case the first vote, in the House of Deputies, went against those opposed to Robinson’s elevation to bishop — which it did on Sunday.

The question of whether Robinson should be a bishop is — and probably will remain for some time — an issue for the Episcopal Church. But the smear is an issue for the larger community as well, for it demonstrates just how low some people will stoop when honest, reasonable debate is going against them. In fact, it links to the same sort of behavior in the American body politic.

Years ago, Robinson helped organize the Concord, N.H., chapter of Outright, a group that, essentially, ministers to young gay and lesbian people. He has had little contact with the group in recent years, and had nothing to do with its Web site, as the group has confirmed.

At Outright Web site that Robinson had nothing to do with, you find links to nine Outright groups in Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. One or more of them once had a link to bisexual.org, a support site for bisexual people. At bisexual.org, in the bottom left corner, is a link to “3 pillows.”

If you click that link, you get a bisexual.org splash screen telling you that “Three Pillows is the net’s premiere site for bisexual erotica.” If you click the link in this window, you get a Three Pillows warning page: “Warning — Adult Content Ahead! You must be over 18 to proceed. Three Pillows contains adult erotica of a bisexual nature.”

If you click the “Enter” link, you get a fairly explicit page with the naughtiest bits blanked out. To actually see the explicit stuff, you must become a member and pay for the privilege.

That’s, what, seven clicks and a Visa card from the Outright page that Robinson had nothing to do with? As one online wag said, you can get from the conservative Weekly Standard to porn in just two clicks: to Salon, then to porn. Frankly, porn is much closer than seven clicks to Startribune.com as well. Everything on the Web is a few clicks away from porn; that’s the Web.

The Weekly Standard is important in this. Executive Editor Fred Barnes gave the Robinson story a major boost — after it was shopped to other news outlets that refused to bite — when he posted information about the controversy on the magazine’s Web site Monday. Barnes asserted that, “Episcopalian bishop-elect Gene Robinson has some curious affiliations,” meaning the porn Web site.

No he doesn’t, but Barnes does. He’s not simply a journalist in this; he’s a conservative Episcopalian of outspoken views who sits on the board of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. It’s a conservative group which believes that mainline Protestant churches “have thrown themselves into multiple, often leftist crusades — radical forms of feminism, environmentalism, pacifism, multi-culturalism, revolutionary socialism, sexual liberation and so forth.” The group vigorously opposes gay rights within the church.

Also fascinating is who funds the institute. The most prominent names on the list of contributors are Olin, Scaife and Bradley, the same folks who bankrolled the Clinton wars.

So we come full circle. Gene Robinson, meet Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky. But there is a difference: In Clinton’s case, years of digging eventually produced evidence of private sexual misbehavior. Robinson appears guilty of nothing at all — save being a gay man who wants to be a bishop. For some, unfortunately, that is enough to justify all sorts of innuendo and dirty tricks. Be warned: This is the way they play.

And so it goes in the world of “Mainstream” journalism. Fred Barnes is a “respected” reporter. His job is secure. So is Judy Miller’s, Jeff Gerth’s and Sue Schmidt’s.

Every so often they throw a small fish like Jayson Blair overboard — manufacturing along with it a splash that suggests a creature of Melville-like proportions has been consigned to the briny deep. Hands are wrung, “souls” are “searched,” promises are made — and an expendable editor or two gets a pink slip. But nothing in any essential or meaningful way changes.

And that’s because none of this has to do with anything so much as vaguely resembling The Truth.

That this editorial was written at all is therefore an event.