The Story Stalls Here

As Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was figuratively dragged out of the restroom and into the spotlight this week, the media have been ignoring another compelling story about sex in public toilets.

Fort Lauderdale's Democratic mayor, Jim Naugle, has incurred the wrath of homosexual activists for publicly addressing the problem of men irresponsibly having sex with strangers in public places – in a county with a shocking rate of new AIDS cases. 

It all came to a head, so to speak, in July, when the mayor backed an idea that would frustrate the thrill seekers: switching to automated stalls.  Automated stalls make it difficult for trolling swingers to hook up, and they protect small boys from walking in on lewd behavior. 

Ft. Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle addresses the inappropriate activity in his citys public restrooms, outraging assembled reporters.

The reaction was brutal.  The local South Florida Sun-Sentinel ran a piece effectively accusing Naugle of gay-bashing.  Predictably, the “gay community” came out of the woodwork, attacking the mayor as “homophobic,” “bigoted” and full of “hate.”  Critics said Naugle was undermining BrowardCounty's carefully cultivated reputation as a “gay-friendly” vacation destination.

Responding to the media-fed flood of criticism, the mayor, like so many pols before him, announced that he would apologize at a press conference on July 24.  The local press gathered, notebooks ready and cameras rolling, to enjoy the latest example of self-immolation on the pyre of political correctness.

Naugle delivered an apology all right, but not the expected groveling before the rainbow flag.  Instead, he apologized to “the children and parents of our community” for not being informed about “how serious the problem was of sexual activity that's taking place in bathrooms and public parks.” Then he made a shocking assertion: that BrowardCounty leads the nation in new AIDS cases.  Naugle noted that a “gay” Web site lists several public places in Fort Lauderdale where homosexuals meet for anonymous sex, and added that several homosexual leaders were backing his call for greater public and personal responsibility in sexual behavior.

Say what? Did he just do what we think he did? How many Americans do you suppose would have found this interesting: a newsy city's mayor under siege who, instead of kowtowing, comes out fighting and even raises the stakes?  And wins the support of homosexual leaders for promoting greater personal responsibility in sexual practices? Talk about a man bites dog story.

Nevertheless, national press coverage of the Naugle saga has been skimpy.  CNN finally covered the story on August 6.  In a news segment of 5 minutes, 10 seconds, CNN gave Naugle a total of 35 seconds to speak. Reporter Susan Candiotti noted Naugle's explosive claim that Broward has “a record increase of new AIDS cases in the county, the highest in the nation,” but she didn't explore the significance of the statistics.

Here's what Candiotti ignored:  According to the Broward County Health Department, AIDS Surveillance data, in 2006, 70.2 percent of new HIV cases involved men having sex with men (MSM) and another 2.8 percent involved MSM who inject drugs intravenously, for a total of 73 percent.

On August 13, CNN gave the story another 5 minutes, 12 seconds. Anchor Rick Sanchez affected a skeptical, aggressive tone, but to his credit, Sanchez gave Naugle time to make his case.  Sanchez showed no interest in the public health concerns.

The New York Times finally ran an article on August 16.  Reporter Abby Goodnough quoted several critics but not a single supporter of Mayor Naugle. Goodnough mentioned Naugle's claim that BrowardCounty led the nation in new AIDS cases, but again, no exploration of the shocking statistics. 

The compassionate media don't seem to care that homosexual men are dropping like flies.  To them, it's more important to appear “inclusive” and “tolerant.”

Even after The New York Times weighed in, the networks yawned. No story here. By contrast, ABC, CBS and NBC collectively ran 19 stories on the Craig scandal within the first 48 hours.  CNN had 32 segments on it, and Fox clocked in with 12.

Naugle's feisty followup press conference on August 21 featured several local activists and religious leaders, along with Dr. John Diggs, a Massachusetts-based physician.  Diggs is the author of a white paper considered threatening by homosexual activists:  “The Health Risks of Gay Sex,”  which cites voluminous data in major health journals.

On August 23, Bill O'Reilly brought on Naugle for a 4-minute, 47-second interview.  O'Reilly treated the mayor respectfully, challenging his premises but allowing Naugle to elaborate on his concerns about the health risks of promiscuous homosexuality.

On August 24, the Miami Herald editorialized that Mayor Naugle's actions were “contemptible,” noting that police have arrested only a few men for having sex in public bathrooms. The Herald, utterly ignoring the appalling HIV/AIDS statistics, accused the mayor and the “clerics” supporting him of “maliciousness” and said the mayor “refuses to let it die, as it should.”

Perhaps in light of the deadly AIDS epidemic in BrowardCounty, we should rephrase it: “the mayor refuses to let them die.” The Herald actually called Mr. Naugle a “hate-monger” for trying to save the lives of the people he's supposed to hate.  Is it any wonder people are losing faith in the “mainstream” press?

In the next few days, as the networks beat the Craig drum, they should also spend a little time with Mayor Naugle, who was just kicked off the BrowardCounty tourist board.  They'd find it instructive.  They might even share with their audiences Mr. Naugle's well-documented concerns for the health of BrowardCounty's homosexual visitors: The men whose lives BrowardCounty is recklessly putting at risk in the name of tourist dollars.

The story might even generate some compassion for Sen. Craig. Well, we can dream, can't we?

Robert Knight is director of the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.