The danger in viewing only partisan media, part 2
Last month, I wrote a column about the danger in viewing only partisan media, using an example of a congressional hearing on a judicial nominee that was completely misrepresented across the right-wing media landscape. Here’s the thing: it happens on the left as well. You may have seen the articles on social media “US votes for death penalty for gays.” Some were slightly more honest, stating something to the effect of “US votes against resolution to condemn the death penalty for homosexuality.”
The problem with either headline, and many others, is that they misrepresented what actually transpired at the UN. A handful of these articles included some clarifying information in the text, but in most cases, the headlines and often much of the articles, were a distortion. It is true that a September resolution came before the UN Human Rights Council called “The question of the death penalty.” That resolution passed by a more than two to one margin.
It is also true that the US allied itself with a group of nations that aren’t exactly leaders on human rights: Saudi Arabia, China, Iraq and Bangladesh and a few others, in voting against.
But this wasn’t actually a vote on the death penalty for gays. It was more a condemnation of the death penalty in general. In fact, the resolution called, though in typical UN mealy-mouth language, for countries that had not yet abolished the death penalty to consider doing so. The US is one of those countries.
In fact, though support has been dropping in recent years, the death penalty still shows majority support in US polling. A Gallup poll last month showed 55 percent of respondents in favor, though this is down from a high of 80 percent in 1994.
Because many American voters view the death penalty as a proxy for being tough on crime, most national politicians of both major parties support it. Every president since Reagan has done so.
The UN HRC resolution, in some of its many convoluted findings, noted that the death penalty was often used to punish blasphemy, apostasy, adultery (in a way that disproportionately impacts women), and homosexuality. It called on states still using the death penalty to end these practices.
UN ambassador Nikki Haley voted against the resolution. It should also be noted that although some of the language about its discriminatory practices had not yet been added, the Obama administration abstained on a similar vote just a few years ago.
This was a vote on the death penalty, not a vote to kill gays or even a vote to oppose condemning the killing of gays. The US supports the death penalty, this administration very much supports it (the president having called for its use in the Central Park Five case, one in which those accused were eventually exonerated), there was no way they were going to support a resolution condemning its use.
It is also certainly true that this is not a gayfriendly administration. Trump and his appointees have rolled back a number of protections previously in place to keep LGBT people safe and free of discrimination.
But it is simply dishonest to say that they voted for the death penalty for gay people. Yet there were several headlines saying or implying just that.
Wait, you might ask, but why is the US so isolated on this issue? Why are we allied with rogue regimes against much of the world?
It is in the use of the death penalty itself that the US is isolated. The practice holds a special fascination for many Americans, but it does not deter crime and its application, both here and abroad, is often arbitrary and discriminatory, showing clearly that we value some lives much more than others.
Some US states have long ago stopped using the death penalty. Others have it on the books, with inmates spending decades on death row, but rarely actually execute them. A handful, like Texas, have a virtual assembly line of death, applying it so liberally that there are substantial questions of the guilt of some executed.
In the rest of the world, including virtually all of our allies and all aspiring to democratic ideals, the death penalty is perceived as barbaric, a practice from the distant past, inconsistent with modern ideals.
Perhaps one day, we can aspire to that level of modernity.