National Commentary

The Oprah Winfrey Network’s Great Shame


The goal of a reporter should be to tell a story as accurately as possible and paint a realistic portrait. Facts should be vigorously checked and follow-up questions asked. Unfortunately, the Oprah Winfrey Network’s Our America with Lisa Ling produced an indulgent puff-piece on “ex-gay” programs, “Pray the Gay Away”, that included gross factual inaccuracies resulting from a lack of research and lazy reporting.

Some of Ling’s mistakes were prosaic, yet annoying, such as using the term “gay lifestyle”, even though the 1980’s have been over for quite some time. I’m surprised she didn’t regress even further and refer to gay people as “inverts”. Ling’s excuse was that she was trying to make the “ex-gay” activists comfortable by speaking their lifestyle lingo.

I’m curious if she would extend the same courtesy to a white supremacist group while they politely discussed other minorities in a pejorative way? Furthermore, even if the phrase was uttered within a conversation, it should never have made it out of the editing booth. The fact that Ling and her assistants did not pick up on the obnoxious “lifestyle” phrase and leave it on the cutting room floor suggests a surprising cluelessness.

However, it was not the style (or lifestyle) of the report that was so upsetting, but the lack of substance. Ling shamefully allowed herself to be used by Exodus International, an extreme “ex-gay” group that desperately wanted an image makeover after being tied to the deadly Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. Sadly, Ling never brought up that Exodus board member Don Schmierer joined a Holocaust revisionist at a conference in Kampala to drop what was called “a nuclear bomb on the gay agenda.”

The enterprising reporter also omitted any reference to spiritual warfare – commonly known as the exorcism – that is a major part of “ex-gay” programs. Exodus President Alan Chambers has said, “One of the many evils this world has to offer is the sin of homosexuality. Satan, the enemy, is using people to further his agenda to destroy the Kingdom of God and as many souls as he can.”

Why did Ling conveniently overlook such disturbing views? Couldn’t she at least have asked Chambers why many of his inflammatory statements in support of spiritual warfare were at odds with the milquetoast image Exodus was peddling in the mainstream media?

Ling was completely uninterested in Exodus’ nefarious lobbying efforts, including the group’s work to pass Proposition 8 in California and enthusiastic support of the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would ban marriage equality in the United States constitution. Could Ling not have taken a moment to explain how Exodus vigorously opposed federal hate crime legislation, was in favor of sodomy laws, and is still fighting against all efforts to protect students from bullying in schools?
No, it was more important for Ling to humanize a group of activists dedicated to dehumanizing LGBT people than to state the plain facts. Better to produce a tearjerker for Oprah than shine a spotlight on the anti-gay jerks causing tears for their victims.

It was also perplexing that Ling failed to include psychological experts to point out that such programs are rejected by every mainstream medical and mental health organization in America. During a live discussion of the topic directly following the show, a psychologist was featured. But, as soon as she told the truth about Exodus and said it was based on “quack therapy” they ushered her off the air. I guess expert opinion wasn’t as good for ratings as helping Exodus peddle its fairytale.

Speaking of fairytales, Chambers audaciously portrayed his marriage as true bliss and told Ling, “It (sex with his wife) felt natural, absolutely, and has every day for our entire marriage.”

What? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Chambers admitted that it took 9 months to consummate his marriage and said at a 2007 Love Won Out conference in Phoenix that to remain “ex-gay” he must “deny what comes naturally to me.”


Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”