Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism
New York Times Suggests Bisexuals Are "Lying"
Paper fails to disclose study author's controversial history
July 8, 2005
In a lead article in the New York Times' July 5 Science section,
headlined, "Straight, Gay or Lying? Bisexuality Revisited,"
<http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/05/health/05sex.html> Times writer
Benedict Carey reported that an upcoming study "casts doubt on
whether true bisexuality exists, at least in men." In suggesting
that men who claim a bisexual sexual orientation are liars, the Times
relies heavily on a single study whose senior researcher has a career
marked by ethics controversies and eugenics proposals--facts that
were not presented to readers.
According to the Times, the study "lends support to those who have
long been skeptical that bisexuality is a distinct and stable sexual
orientation. People who claim bisexuality, according to these
critics, are usually homosexual, but are ambivalent about their
homosexuality or simply closeted. 'You're either gay, straight or
lying,' as some gay men have put it."
In leaping to dramatic conclusions from a single study with a small
population, Carey echoes the study's authors, who seem equally eager
to generalize from scant evidence--and to confuse the study's
assumptions with its conclusions. Carey quotes the study's senior
author, J. Michael Bailey of Northwestern University, who
acknowledges that bisexual behavior exists, but argues that "in men
there's no hint that true bisexual arousal exists, and that for men
arousal is orientation."
But that arousal equals orientation seems to be assumed, not proven.
The study measured men's self-identified orientation against their
physical arousal while watching various kinds of pornography;
bisexual men's self-identified orientation did not correspond with
their physical arousal, according to the study, with some being
aroused much more by on-screen men and a smaller group responding
much more to on-screen women.
This finding could just as easily be read as evidence that arousal in
bisexual men does *not* equal orientation--that simple measurement of
arousal does not predict people's behavior or identity. But the Times
reporter himself uses the phrase "true bisexuality," which suggests
that people with bisexual behavior and identity might still not
qualify as "true" bisexuals.
Well into Carey's piece, some cautionary or critical viewpoints were
aired. None of those viewpoints, however, gave readers any hint of
Bailey's controversial history. In 2001 Bailey co-authored an article
that argued that, if it became possible for parents to determine the
sexual orientation of their fetus, "selecting for heterosexuality
seems to be morally acceptable.... Selection for heterosexuality may
tangibly benefit parents, children and their families and seems to
have only a slight potential for any significant harm" (Archives of
Sexual Behavior, Vol. 30, No. 4, 2001). The fact that a researcher
has promoted the eugenic elimination of homosexuality would seem to
be relevant background for gauging the credibility of his studies of
Bailey more recently came under fire for his 2003 book, "The Man Who
Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism,"
which defended the discredited theory that transsexual women are not
female-gendered people born with male bodies, but "are extremely
feminine gay men or are sexual fetishists who are 'erotically
obsessed with the image of themselves as women'" (Chronicle of Higher
Education, 12/10/04). Bailey profiled a handful of transsexual women
for his book, many of whom filed complaints against him for not
getting their consent to be studied (Times Higher Education
The book shares remarkable similarities to Bailey's new study on
bisexuality: In both, the researcher denies people's own evaluation
of their identities, suggesting that bisexuals and transgender people
are lying about who they are.
In fact, the Times' headline could have been taken from the press
release for Bailey's book, which was headlined, "Gay, Straight, or
Lying? Science Has the Answer." A new study by the same author,
peddling a very similar theory, should have been a red flag to
journalists, and readers should have been informed of the author's
controversial history in order for them to better evaluate the study.
When the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation asked the Times to
retract its inflammatory headline, the paper argued that "gay,
straight or lying" is "a commonly used phrase among many gay people"
(GLAAD.org, 7/7/05). It's unclear why a derogatory stereotype about
one group--bisexuals--should be more acceptable in a headline because
it is attributed to another group--gay people.
ACTION: Please ask the Times' new public editor, Byron Calame, to
examine the Times' report on bisexuality, particularly the lack of
relevant information about the senior researcher's controversial
background and the headline's suggestion that an entire sexual
minority is "lying."
New York Times
Byron Calame, Public Editor
mailto:[log in to unmask]
Phone: (212) 556-7652
As always, please remember that your comments have more impact if you
maintain a polite tone.
Read the Times article here:
See also GLAAD's action alert:
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