As already reported on NewsBusters, Friday’s "Good Morning America" used the pretext of the 2008 presidential election to wonder just how bigoted America is. In a segment that aired in the 7:30 hour, Diane Sawyer talked to former NBA star John Amaechi about his new book, the revelation that he’s a homosexual, and an anti-gay diatribe delivered by ex-Miami Heat star Tim Hardaway.
This is the second time in five days that the ABC program has promoted Amaechi’s book. And just as with the piece on Senator Obama and his candidacy, Sawyer used isolated incidents to draw conclusions about all of America:
Diane Sawyer: "All right, as we said now, we're going to give you a story that wades right into this country's secret prejudice against gays in America. The former pro basketball player who revealed he is gay is with us. His name is John Amaechi. He has been the target of an anti- gay tirade by a former NBA all-star, Tim Hardaway."
In an apparent conflict of interest, Sawyer failed to mention that Amaechi’s autobiography is being released by ESPN Books, a division of ABC’s parent company. Oddly, on February 11, when GMA ran virtually the same piece on Amaechi, they offer the full disclosure information about the connection.
In the segment, which aired at 7:32am on February 16, Sawyer introduced a report by correspondent John Berman:
ABC Graphic: "NBA Star's Anti-Gay Rant: Does Hardaway Apology Mean Anything?"
Diane Sawyer: "All right, as we said now, we're going to give you a story that wades right into this country's secret prejudice against gays in America. The former pro basketball player who revealed he is gay is with us. His name is John Amaechi. He has been the target of an anti gay tirade by a former NBA all-star, Tim Hardaway. ABC's John Berman launches this tale."
John Berman: "Banished from this weekend's NBA all-star festivities, a chastened Tim Hardaway returned home to Florida last night."
Tim Hardaway: "I've very sorry. That's- That's no doubt about it. I'm very, very sorry about it. But, you know, a lot of people don't think so, but I am."
Berman: "But the former all-star's comments about gays are still sending shock waves through the sports world."
Hardaway: "You know, I hate gay people. I let it be known, I don't like gay people. I don't like to be around gay people. I'm homophobic."
Berman: "The comments were prompted by the release of the new book from former player, John Amaechi, in which he comes out of the closet. Only a small handful of gay athletes in major men's team sports have ever come out of the closet. And then, only after they retired."
Billy Bean: "My dream is to be a major league baseball player. Everything, that I hoped and dreamed that my life would become, none of it had to do with the reality that I’m a gay man."
Berman: "The machismo of male sports might make it hard to come out, but for women, it seems to be different. Athletes like Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, and Cheryl Swoops are all openly gay."
Christine Brennan (USA Today Sports columnist): "If you want to play sports, if you wanted to play on the basketball team, or the volleyball team, the softball team, you weren't maybe going to be maybe the most popular girl but you would be accepted. There was a place for you there."
Berman: But Tim Hardaway's initial rant shows that the sports world for men today might not be nearly so accepting. For Good Morning America, John Berman, ABC News."
Sawyer followed that segment with a full interview and the tone of her questions clearly indicated her full support for Amaechi:
Sawyer: "And joining us now is former NBA player John Amaechi who did publicly reveal in his book, 'Man in the Middle,' that he is gay. He is also, by the way, the only British player?"
John Amaechi: "That's correct."
Sawyer: "-Person growing up in England to play for the NBA."
Amaechi: "Indeed, yes."
Sawyer: "It's great to have you here. It's good to see you. All right, Tim Hardaway, you heard his comments. What do you want to say to him this morning?"
Amaechi: "I really want to impress on him, and to people in general that people whose voices can ricochet around the world need to be careful how they wield their words. It's important that they realize that right now there are hundreds of thousands of people who feel less safe, less secure, more anxious, not just gay and lesbian people, but people who are perceived to be gay and lesbian. It pollutes the atmosphere when you hear these words of hate. And not only that, he's emboldened the bigots. He's made people who, perhaps, would keep their hatred, their bigotry inside, perhaps pushed them to a point where they are now feel they are free to say things and do things that will impact other people."
Sawyer: "You have written that you're particularly concerned about kids because it's sports. And when bigotry is incited against kids who have yet to tell people, it's a different kind of thing."
Amaechi: "It is, really. It's so damaging. I mean, everybody knows that the formative years, your teenage years, when you're just kind of understanding, coming to understand yourself, it's so difficult. You add onto that issues with your sexuality and the confusion and then comments like this, it makes life ever more difficult."
A few minutes later, Sawyer seemed to make it clear where she stood on what should happen to Tim Hardaway:
Sawyer: "Let me go back to Tim Hardaway for a moment, because, as you know, he was asked to leave the all-star game in Las Vegas this weekend. Do you think that was appropriate?"
Amaechi: "I think David Stern has made a very clear message. He wants to the NBA to be a meritocracy. I think we should want society to be a meritocracy, not based on these other prejudices and stereotypes. So I'm very pleased that he's-- that David Stern and the league have put their money where their mouth is."
Sawyer: "Another question about Tim Hardaway's apology. He said 'As an African American I know all too well the negative thoughts and feelings hatred and bigotry cause.' So that was his apology."
Amaechi: "Yeah, it seems a little trite, doesn't it? As a black person myself, I know some of those very same issues. But it has changed the way I think. It makes me more open. Where as with him, it seems to have made him less so."
Sawyer: "I want to ask you about something, somebody else said. Shaquille O’Neal. He came out and basically said, 'Anybody who would try to get to a gay player on my team would have to go through me first. And he said, 'If he was on my team, I guess I would have to protect him.' And he said, 'I'm just not the type of person who judges people.'
Amaechi: "You know what, it's enlightening, it's heart-warming. It- Those are the words that inoculate against some of the hatreds that we've heard. You know, I heard that first this morning and it's just been, it's put a smile on my face."
Sawyer: "Well, I know people have been overwhelming you with e-mails, and we wish you the best."
Amaechi: "Thank you very much."
Sawyer: "Thank you so much for coming in. Again, it is 'Man in the Middle,' and it is bringing out into the public a debate, that as David Stern said, maybe sports needs to lead the way sometimes."
Amaechi: "I hope so."
So, Tim Hardaway goes on a rant and is banned from appearing at the NBA all star game? Sawyer’s approving comment about David Stern and sports leading the way appeared to indicate she agrees with the commissioner’s action. However, when the Dixie Chicks faced boycotts and fans burning their albums after they attacked President Bush, the GMA anchor was on the other side. On May 23, 2006, she touted how the group had come "roaring back." Sawyer also asked sympathetic questions, including whether the group felt they had "been vindicated and that the American public moved to your position?"
As noted earlier, "Good Morning America covered this exact same topic only five days ago on the Sunday edition of the ABC program. That segment, unlike the Friday interview of Amaechi, did point out that the ex-NBA player’s book is being released by a parent company of the network. It also featured remarkably similar comments by the morning anchors. For a transcript, head over to the posting by the MRC’s Tim Graham.