BuzzFeed’s hit piece on Chip and Joanna Gaines is dangerous

Published 8:51 pm Thursday, December 1, 2016

By Brandon Ambrosino
Special to The Washington Post
I am currently planning my wedding, and I’ve never been happier. I believe that God brought me and Andy together and that God celebrates our love. I also believe that our marriage will offer a powerful testimony to skeptics that queer love can be God-honoring, and even sacramental.
I have heard from a few well-meaning Christian friends that they feel they can’t attend my ceremony. I think that’s silly, I think it’s theologically misguided, and it hurts me deeply because it makes it seem as if they care more about abstract principles than me, their friend and family member.
Still, I do not think these conservatives should be shamed or mocked. I do not think they should be fired. And I certainly do not think they should be the butt of a popular BuzzFeed article.
I’m referring to a non-story written by Kate Aurthur, published Tuesday on BuzzFeed. The piece starts off innocently enough by describing the success of Chip and Joanna Gaines, a husband-and-wife team whose series “Fixer Upper” is one of the most popular shows on HGTV. After pivoting to the religious beliefs of the Gaineses, and pointing out that they go to an evangelical church whose pastors oppose same-sex marriage, Aurthur then poses these questions:
“So are the Gaineses against same-sex marriage? And would they ever feature a same-sex couple on the show, as have HGTV’s ‘House Hunters’ and ‘Property Brothers’?”
The entire article is an elaborate exploration of that hypothetical question. And yes, it is very much hypothetical, by the reporter’s own admission: “Emails to Brock Murphy, the public relations director at their company, Magnolia, were not returned. Nor were emails and calls to HGTV’s PR department.”
But that does not stop Aurthur from writing almost 800 more words about the non-story. Her upshot seems to be: Two popular celebrities might oppose same-sex marriage because the pastor of the church they go to opposes same-sex marriage, but I haven’t heard one way or the other. (I can’t imagine pitching that story to an editor and getting a green light, by the way.)
Besides the fact that the entire case is made by speculation and suggestion, there are many other problems at play. Here are a few of them.
A 2016 survey from Pew Research Center shows public support of same-sex marriage is at an all-time high of 55 percent – and it is steadily growing. But the same polls tell us that nearly 4 out of 10 Americans – no small number! – are not on board with it. The minds at BuzzFeed are not naive: They know that the Gaineses and HGTV are going to have to come out with a public statement on same-sex marriage. They also know that if the statement is not 100 percent supportive of same-sex marriage, the network will be pressured to drop them.
Think about that for a moment. Is the suggestion here that 40 percent of Americans are unemployable because of their religious convictions on marriage? That the companies that employ them deserve to be boycotted until they yield to the other side of the debate – a side, we should note, that is only slightly larger than the one being shouted down?
Or maybe the suggestion is that, because they are public figures, they need to be held to a higher standard, one that does not allow them room for moral and religious convictions? But that doesn’t make sense, either.
BuzzFeed is probably at the forefront of discussions surrounding diversity in entertainment. But do their reporters think diversity refers only to skin color? Does ideological diversity count for nothing, especially when it is representative of, again, a sizable chunk of the American public? It’s hard to make the case that the website promotes this kind of diversity, particularly on same-sex marriage. In June, Ben Smith, the publication’s editor in chief, told Politico that “there are not two sides” on the issue.
Another concern I have with the story is that it validates everything that President-elect Donald Trump’s supporters have been saying about the media: that some journalists – specifically younger ones at popular digital publications – will tell stories in certain deceitful, manipulative ways to take down conservatives. (And really, I can’t for the life of me imagine any other intention of the Gaines story.)
Stories such as this will serve only to reinforce the growing chasm between the media and Trump, which means we are in for four agonizing, tedious years of “gotcha” non-stories like this one.
A few years ago, gay activists decided the best way to win arguments in favor of same-sex marriage was to shut up their opponents. All they had to do was lob a charge of homophobia and the argument was won. Or they tweeted at the companies that employed the “homophobes” until they were fired. Conservatives were bullied on social media and mocked for being ass-backward (and indeed, some of them were and are). But they were never taken seriously.
They were simply dismissed with a snarky RuPaul GIF. At the time, this seemed like a good strategy because, well, Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in for president and because the country was only becoming more and more liberal, and those kinds of hillbillies were being left in the dark.
Enter Trump – the voice of all of the people liberals and activists have been shutting up for the past eight years. It’s no secret that part of Trump’s success is owed to how skillfully he invalidated the media’s authority in the eyes of his conservative followers. The message was very clearly: The media doesn’t like me because I’m conservative, and they don’t like you because you’re conservative, and they’re going to try to ruin all of us, so let’s just ignore them.
And then, like clockwork, BuzzFeed published a story proving him right.
The old strategy of journalists shaming “hicks” is not going to work anymore because our new president seems to be on their side. Sure, no one really believes Trump is homophobic, and sure, he has given his word that same-sex marriage will not be overturned. But as is very clear by now, Vice President-elect Mike Pence (who is literally one heartbeat away from the presidency) has a political past that rightly scares LGBT people and our allies. Also very clear: Many enthusiastic Trump supporters oppose same-sex marriage. Like it or not, we now have to engage them.
As a community, LGBT people did a terrible job of settling the issue of same-sex marriage from a political, ethical and logical standpoint – and now the issue is back to haunt us. What we need to do is what we should have been doing all along: engage our opponents, answer their questions, and use appeals to philosophy and – yes! – theology to thwart their arguments.
Anti-same-sex-marriage arguments are very easy to win, in my opinion. Appeals to natural law are often arbitrary and unaware of how historically contingent they are. Arguments from Scripture do not hold water because most Christians do not consistently apply their biblical hermeneutic. Arguments that queer love is not real love do not hold up under the weight of the extraordinary experiential reality of the millions of committed gay couples who love each other selflessly.
But we need to show up to these arguments to win them. Being “too good” or “too cosmopolitan” or “too educated” to show up to the debate is no longer an effective strategy in the age of Trump.
BuzzFeed can’t argue that the same-sex-marriage issue is ethically settled, because it isn’t for a sizable population of our country and our world. It is no longer okay – indeed, it never was – to write cutesy articles shaming religious people as homophobic for simply being one of the many millions of Americans in 2016 who attend a religious congregation that does not support same-sex marriage. That is not a good move for activism or journalism.

Ambrosino is a writer living in Delaware.