Religious conservatives have new reason to argue that a 21st century blacklist prevails, or may soon prevail, in the American mass media. HGTV, a home-and-garden cable channel, has cancelled a series scheduled to debut this fall, Flip It Forward, about a pair of brother realtors who would rehab homes to create affordable dream houses for poor families. The channel's decision to abort the show followed a posting on People For the American Way's Right Wing Watch website -- a modern-day counterpart to Red Channels, perhaps? -- identifying David and Jason Benham as activists opposed to abortion and gay rights. Two days later, HGTV dropped Flip It Forward.
The volume of outrage may depend on how thoroughly the story is reported. I learned about it from the USAToday website. which reports minimally that one brother picketed an abortion clinic while another warned a radio interviewer about a homosexual agenda "attacking the nation." Right Wing Watch goes into more detail. David Benham is an Islamophobe and once described a local Islamic center as a "den of iniquity." Right Wing Watch holds the sons accountable for the sins of their father, Flip Benham, who leads a "militant" anti-abortion organization, has asserted that "Jesus hates Muslims," and described the September 11 terrorist attacks as divine retribution for Americans allowing abortions.
It's been noted that homosexuals form a large part of HGTV's viewing audience. While that helps explain the channel's action, I still feel uncomfortable about cancelling a program that most likely wouldn't air the Benhams' obnoxious views. However, the ironic answer to all objections about censorship and blacklisting is, "It's a free country." As in most things, real freedom belongs to those with the power to spend, hire and fire. The First Amendment does not prohibit HGTV, nor did it prohibit the blacklisters of the 1950s, from denying work to politically incorrect people. The government can't punish the Benhams for merely stating opinions, but the private sector can -- and if private citizens feel angry enough about this they can boycott HGTV as A&E was boycotted to protest the suspension of one of the Duck Dynasty family. Beyond that, the Benhams' own attempted apologies won't wash. Accused of homophobia, they deny "hating" homosexuals. They insist on Christianity's love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin distinction, but they can't compel anyone to respect it. The problem for the Benhams is that many people interpret the assertion that homosexuality is a sin as hate. From that perspective, to say you don't hate homosexuals while calling homosexuality a sin is like saying you don't hate black people while insisting that they're genetically inferior to whites. There are times when to criticize is not to hate, but critics should tread lightly when they criticize things tied to people's identity. This is a revolutionary moment, as I've written before. The gay rights movement is pushing aggressively to drive out any suggestion, on whatever basis, that homosexuality is wrong. For the movement, this isn't subject to debate. For that reason, their tactics may trouble those liberals for whom little or nothing is closed to debate. Revolutions are not liberal, however; violent or non-violent, on some level they involve coercion. So let's agree at least not to blame this latest programming debacle on the "liberal media."