There are certain words and phrases that give a reader a sense of the perspective of the writer. And when discussing issues relating to orientation, some words and phrases suggest either a harsh hostility to gay people or a callous ignorance of our lives.
So it was with dismay that I read Ramin Setoodeh’s piece in Newsweek about the circumstances surrounding murder of Lawrence King. Setoodeh, in an effort to tell a “multilayered and complex” story, saw fit to use such language as “inappropriate, sometimes harmful, behavior”, “flaunted his sexuality”, “flamboyance”, and “pushed his rights”. These are all catch phrases that are most often heard from anti-gay activists when seeking to justify bigotry and discrimination.
Setoodeh uses these phrases to present a picture of Larry King, and one that is not complimentary. Unlike his murderer, Brandon McInerney, who “was smart” but “had his share of troubles”, for King the author had little good to say.
To Setoodeh, Larry was the primary source of disturbance on campus. He wore makeup and “thought nothing of chasing the boys around the school in [high heels], teetering as he ran.” He was “a troubled child who flaunted his sexuality and wielded it like a weapon”. “He went to school accessorized to the max” and would “sidle up to the popular boys’ table and say in a high-pitched voice, “Mind if I sit here?””
If there were any residents of Oxnard that didn’t view Larry as a prancing mincing menace intent on wreaking havoc on all around him, Setoodeh didn’t seem to find them. He found instead an attorney with a “gay panic” defense, a litigious adoptive father who resents the gay community for caring about Larry’s murder, and several teachers who objected to his effeminate ways.
In short, there’s very little in the Newsweek article that would not seem more at home on World Net Daily or a press release from the American Family Association.
And other than the briefest of disclaimers there is little to suggest that King was not fully to blame for his own death,. After all, he “sexually harassed” McInerney. He “was pushing as hard as he could, because he liked the attention”.
In addition to Larry King, there’s one other villain in Setoodeh’s tale. No, not the boy who pulled the trigger; he was being “bullied”, you see. The other responsible party is Joy Epstein, “a lesbian vice principal with a political agenda.” In Setoodeh’s words, “Some teachers believe that she was encouraging Larry’s flamboyance, to help further an “agenda,” as some put it.”
It may be that Ramin Setoodeh was limited by the nature of the legal system. While the defense attorney has an interest in pushing a “blame the school, blame the administration, blame the victim, blame anyone but McInerney” spin, the prosecution was not willing to try the case in the papers. And with Larry King’s allegedly abusive adoptive father motivated by his lawsuit against the school, there is no one left to speak for Larry.
Setoodeh may have let inexperience and limited input sway his judgment into writing a hit piece on the victim. He is, after all, an odd choice for an in depth article about social interactions in an elementary school. His prior articles appear to consist primarily of celebrity interviews and entertainment commentary.
But though Setoodeh had not written substantive work for Newsweek before this, it is not the first time that he has shown awkwardness around the subject of homosexuality.
In December of 2005, he phrased a question to Jake Gyllenhaal that makes presumptions about Gyllenhaal’s expertise on gay issues and also wild assumptions about what “people” believe.
“Brokeback Mountain” is a breakthrough movie. Why do you think people oppose gay marriage?
Similarly, his odd questioning of Clay Aiken and whether the Kelly Ripa incident was homophobic cut short his interview with the former American Idol star. In fact, I was surprised at how frequently the term “awkward” appears when googling Mr. Setoodeh. And often when it didn’t, it should have.
I don’t know Ramin Setoodeh’s orientation or his personal tastes or biases. Nor do I know his reasons for writing an article that serves as little more than a press release for the defense on this murder case.
But whatever his motivations, it is clear to me that he was tragically under-qualified for the job and his lack of experience showed in his use of language and in his final product.