I felt that shock on Monday while listening to NPR and heard WHYY news director Chris Satullo’s editorial about former Pennsylvania senator and presidential hopeful Rick Santorum.
One might have expected an excoriating screed on NPR. After all, it’s the one remaining liberal voice on the radio airwaves and does nothing to disguise that center-left-leaning bias. But Satullo, who hired Santorum as a columnist when he was editorial-page editor at the Inquirer, gave praise to Santorum, saying, “You can sharply disagree with someone, yet still recognize he is a thoughtful, ethical person.”
Satullo ended with this caveat: “I know my gay friends will never agree. How could they, given Santorum’s iron stance against homosexuality? But in Rick Santorum, there is, along with the anger and rigidity, a decency deserving of respect. I don’t expect his moment of success on the presidential trail to last, but I’m glad it happened.”
Alas, our own community deserves some blame for this editorial tolerance of homophobia. Even as President Obama continues to joke about his “continuing to evolve” on marriage equality and holds Bradley Manning in indefinite detention, we act like he’s not a bigot, but our ally. So why wouldn’t Satullo think it was OK to salute Santorum as “ethical” and act, along with Obama, like it is us queers who are at fault for expecting more?
It’s not just Satullo’s “gay friends” who should disagree with him — it’s every non-bigot in the listening audience. You can’t have a “stance against homosexuality” without dismissing 5-10 percent of the population. This isn’t arguing over school vouchers or meatless Mondays in the cafeteria. It’s the civil rights of an entire community.
Bigotry is not OK. Not the blatant bigotry of Santorum, the jocular bigotry of Obama nor the some-of-my-best-friends-are bigotry of Satullo. Were a white president to joke about “still evolving” on black civil rights or an NPR exec to editorialize on the ethics of a racist or a presidential candidate to proclaim that people of color were the same as animals, would it be tolerated? Of course not. Yet that’s what all three of these guys are doing, at our expense.
The moral relativism that Santorum, Obama and Satullo are using to disguise or excuse their bigotry is hardly ethical and deserves a level of outrage that goes beyond the occasional glitter bomb or sweater-vest jibe. Why do we make excuses for straight people who claim to be our allies? Satullo is right: Santorum is honest about his bigotry; he doesn’t put it back on us, making us think our belief that we deserve equality is a collective character flaw.
We should call for Satullo’s resignation. NPR pundit Juan Williams was fired for just implying that Muslims were terrorists. How is this different?
Raise the bar, people. In our eagerness to be mainstreamed, we seem to forget that casual, off-hand bigotry like Satullo’s or Obama’s is no different from the blatant sort expounded by Santorum. If we’re going to boo Santorum off the stage, then we shouldn’t vote for Obama again and we should call for Satullo’s ouster.
There’s no such thing as a little bit of bigotry. If you wouldn’t say it about your own kind, then don’t say it about mine. Satullo insulted every LGBT person in America with his commentary. Does he have a First Amendment right to be a bigot? Sure. But let him promote his admiration of a hater from a street corner instead of from a highly paid post at NPR.