Bathroom or Bath House: The Sequel

Thank you all for pointing out that KGUN decided to run a follow-up story on the “darker side” of Craigslist and gay-sex dates in public parks. In that revision, KGUN news personalities gave themselves credit for doing a piece they believe was “edgy” and caused “controversy.” The Weekly didn’t find the story edgy or controversial; we just thought it was “bad.”

“We told you about these: 262 arrests last year for various sex acts in public,” KGUN reporter/anchor Jennifer Waddell said in her follow-up. Actually, she told us about arrests and held up a stack of papers in the original story, but she didn’t tell us how many were in that stack. We came down on her for that, because specific details (aka facts) make the story. It’s duplicitous for her to word the follow-up so that it seemed like she included that essential information in the first place. (By the way, the original KGUN story has been removed from the station’s Web site.)

Still, even with precise arrest numbers for “various sex acts in public” last year, the connection between some or all of those 262 arrests and Craigslist (once again, we don’t know exact numbers) is murky at best. Overall, we agreed with KGUN viewer Keith Humphrey when he said Waddell hadn’t made a persuasive case linking Craigslist, gay men and public parks as “an imminent danger to people and their families.”

The Weekly spoke with Officer Dallas Wilson, who handles public information requests for Tucson Police Department. He talked to a vice sergeant, who told him that acts of gay sex in public restrooms are “a prevalent problem,” adding that they only investigate when they get specific complaints.

“I don’t think we’re getting constant complaints, no,” Wilson said.

He also told the Weekly that there was no evidence showing that the frequency of such acts has increased. “But it does go on,” he said.

No doubt it goes on – just like it goes on in any city of any size in the United States. That doesn’t make it right, but that also doesn’t make it a cause for exaggerated concern. Curiously, in the original story, Waddell drew a tacit comparison between (straight?) teenagers humping in mom-and-pop’s car (that’s OK!), and adult men doing “dirty deeds in the desert” (not OK!).

What about these women and children, who were mentioned in Waddell’s opening and closing remarks in the first story? We don’t hear a single word about their sex acts in the follow-up, either. Why is the story only about gay men, if she said herself that all kinds of people have public sex? How many of these 262 arrests were for heterosexual or lesbian sex, and where were they caught?

KGUN seems to have missed the point about the story. Many people aren’t upset because they raised an uncomfortable, but important, issue. They’re upset because they put out a sensationalistic, half-assed product – ostensibly to score in the ratings. (For more on that, read a 1998 article in The Advocate.) Whether they meant to or not, their carelessness perpetuated the stereotype that gay men live to get off in bathrooms and other public places, just as Kent Burbank, executive director for LGBT community center Wingspan, has claimed.

KGUN wouldn’t even talk about the problems with their original story. Now, they’re going around claiming the piece was a thoughtful example of investigative journalism that simply ruffled a few feathers because of its salience.

It’s just not so, KGUN 9.