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Open Letter to the Publisher of the Charlotte Observer on facilitating civil debate on amendment

This letter by contributor Scott Rose is in response to the profile in the Charlotte Observer of Rev. Mark Harris, senior minister at uptown Charlotte’s First Baptist Church and head of the NC Baptist Convention, who claimed he would like a civil public debate about the constitutional amendment ballot initiative on May 8 that would bar gays and lesbians from civil marriage as well as negate any opportunity for civil unions and eliminate domestic partnerships where they have been locally established (see the PHB post). Ironically, this call for civility was followed up by the anti-LGBT organization North Carolina Family Policy Council’s use of a ‘sniper crosshair’ image to bash marriage equality. Scott wrote the Observer to request a series of columns to offer civil debate from both sides. Here is open letter on what transpired (or not). — Pam


Ann Caulkins (
President and Publisher
The Charlotte Observer

Dear Ann:

This is to express consternation and dismay that nobody at The Charlotte Observer has yet given me the courtesy of a response to my proposal for regular back-and-forth columns to run in your paper between now and the May vote on the proposed anti-gay marriage amendment to the North Carolina constitution.

Here is what prompted me to propose the back-and-forth columns to you:

On December 27, you published an article titled “Rev. Mark Harris; Pastor Hopes for ‘civil” marriage debate.”

Reading that article, it would appear that Harris could have scant actual desire to engage in debate. What he might actually intend, as your published report appears to suggest, is to propagandize against gay human beings between now and the vote. Your newspaper, I regret to have to articulate, misled readers with a headline stating that Harris hopes for debate on the topic. What is worse is that your misleading headline led into and then permitted Harris an opportunity to gay bash.

Right after the headline, you published Harris’s allegation of a “threatening” phone call he had received from an amendment opponent. Your newspaper used the word “threatening” to characterize the call Harris says he received, but then did not substantiate whether any threat had actually been made against Harris.  The general shape of a formula of a threat is “Do A or B will happen.”  Your article only reports that Harris was told that he “needed to stop “spewing hatred” toward homosexuals and their families.” Your reporter and writer David Perlmutt attempted to learn from Harris actual details of the alleged threat, it seems, but Harris did not supply those details. And nonetheless, you reported on the allegation as though it had been fact-checked and proven true.

Allow me, please, to show you how exceedingly easy it would have been to report more responsibly about Harris’s allegation. Instead of publishing that “the Rev. Mark Harris fielded a threatening voice mail” you should have published “the Rev. Mark Harris CLAIMS he fielded a threatening voice mail.”  Do you as a newspaper publisher comprehend the difference there?

I wonder if it dawned on you — or on anybody at The Charlotte Observer — that Harris may have fabricated this story about a threat — with malice aforethought — the better to demonize gay human beings. If the alleged voice mail exists, where is it? I want to hear it. This particular tactic for demonizing gay human beings is widely used throughout the society by political gay bashers, as you may know. If an anti-gay political figure like Harris receives 500 well-reasoned and civilly-worded pleas for enlightenment and tolerance to every one or two nastily-phrased messages sent to him out of exasperated anger, then the figure will only talk about the two nasty notes received and not say a peep about the 500 civilly-worded ones.

And that gets right to the heart of why it is so disturbing that The Charlotte Observer stated in its headline that Harris “hopes” for a civil debate. It isn’t at all civil to portray one’s political opponents as grotesquely rude, semi-human caricatures. The opposing viewpoint from Reverend Nancy Kraft tacked onto the end of the article does nothing to mitigate the irresponsible and seemingly propagandistic reporting done beforehand on Harris.

It really is quite beyond belief that you as a news reporting organization left unexamined Harris’s outright duplicitous lie in this article that he doesn’t believe “people” should be discriminated against. In 2009, when the Mecklenburg County Commissioners passed a domestic partners benefits policy intending to see gay human beings treated more fairly, Harris lashed out vociferously and with heterosupremacist arrogance and cold-hearted cruelty. For example, in speaking against the gay fairness policy, he told  WBTV “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Are those the words of a person of political influence that sincerely and verifiably believes that “people” should not be discriminated against?

Most American public school students have personally witnessed events identical or similar to an anti-gay bully hurling a victim against a corridor locker while yelling and snarling “Faggot!” at the victim. What you have permitted Harris to do in the pages of the Charlotte Observer is merely a refinement of that sort of anti-gay bullying. Harris’s set-up for dehumanizing gay people was that they are cursing and threatening him, and then he goes on, in your article, to claim that denying civil marriage rights to gay people is “absolutely essential to the future of humanity.”

That kind of political hit-and-run gay bashing . . . left unanswered as though documentably true . . .  is precisely why I proposed back-and-forth columns to you, perhaps to run on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I would write a column for a Wednesday; Harris could respond to it for that Saturday, and then publish an original piece the following Wednesday, to which I would respond on Saturday.

Long-term committed gay couples have always existed no matter the harsh anti-gay social environments in which they have lived. The question is not whether there will be long-term committed gay couples in North Carolina, but rather whether the society in its majority will endorse political gay bashing of those couples.  The issues involved merit actual debate instead of hit-and-run attacks against the minority. By the Charlotte Observer’s own description, Harris is a “point man” in the marriage amendment ballot campaign with influence over 1.3 million church-goers in North Carolina. I can not agree that a minority bashing “point man” should be described as hoping for a civil debate but then — out of cowardice, or lassitude, or whatever motives you may have — be allowed to slink away without actually engaging in civil debate.

Having reported that Mark Harris hopes for a civil debate on the proposed amendment, why would you hesitate to put to the test whether he actually wants a civil debate?  The opportunity for civil debate is right here and in your hands right now.

Having received an automated response from your e-mail address that you are on vacation, I wrote directly to your editor Rick Thames, asking for verification of receipt of my proposal. I received no response.

If The Charlotte Observer is going to publish articles claiming that a political gay-basher like Harris “hopes for ‘civil’ marriage debate,” the least it could do would be to make some effort to facilitate an actual debate.  All I see from the article you published about Harris is gay-bashing propaganda with an opposing view thrown in at the end as an afterthought.



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Scott Rose

Scott Rose