I am a fan of the late Mike Wallace and am very sad that he has passed away. I have always enjoyed his reports and consider him a first-rate journalist. However, there was one noticeable career snafu that caused an enormous amount of damage to the LGBT community.
I wrote about it in my book, “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the ex-gay Myth”:
In 1967, the news magazine CBS Reports aired an hour-long segment, “The Homosexuals,” that gave America its first glimpse of gay and lesbian Americans. Thanks to the efforts of anti-gay psychiatrists, gays were vilified in front of 40 million people, solidifying despicable stereotypes that would last for more than a generation.
The landmark broadcast included an interview with a closeted homosexual whose face was concealed by dark shadows cast by a large office plant. “I know that I’m sick,” he told reporter Mike Wallace. “I’m not just sick sexually. I’m sick in a lot of ways, immature, childlike, and sex is a symptom, like a toothache is a symptom of who knows what.”
This memorable image of disease, timidity, and shame was juxtaposed with with the confident, self-assured doctors Irving Bieber and Charles Socarides, (These are the quacks who founded NARTH) who offered lurid illustrations of gay life. In one segment, Socarides appeared to be answering unprompted questions during a symposium at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, where he taught. “I was wondering if you think there are any ‘happy homosexuals’ for whom homosexuality would be in a way their best adjustment to life,” a female student said. “Socarides replied, “The fact that somebody’s homosexual — a true obligatory homosexual — automatically rules out the possibility that he will remain happy for long, in my opinion.” Socarides went on to say that the notion of a happy gay or lesbian person is a “mythology.”
In the next segment, Bieber followed with his own devastating display of misinformation. “I do not believe it is possible to produce a homosexual if the father is a warm, good, supportive, constructive father to his son.”
The most damaging part of the broadcast came when the respected Mike Wallace offered his his calumnious assault on what he thought, at the time, was an objective view of gay life:
“The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested in nor capable of a lasting relationship like that of heterosexual marriage. His sex life — his love life — consists of chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits, and even on the streets of the city. The pickup –the one night stand — these are the characteristics of the homosexual relationship. And the homosexual prostitute has become a fixture on downtown streets at night.”
Nearly one out of every five Americans witnessed this incomprehensible catastrophe. With the ubiquity of this show, it is no exaggeration to say that this broadcast can easily be viewed as the single most destructive hour of anti-gay propaganda in our nation’s history.
To get a handle of the enormity of this PR nightmare, one only has to consider the time period in which this took place. There were no cable stations, satellite dishes, internet websites, or countless other special interest magazines in which dissenting views could be aired. There were no obnoxious television shows where talking heads endlessly bloviated on divisive issues. There were simply newspapers–most of which would not publish gay-related stories unless they were about a homosexual getting arrested for public sex–or the omnipresent networks, where the point of view presented was often considered the gospel. The lack of venues to disseminate messages was compounded by the general absence of openly gay people in society. With few avenues to counter the destructive message of The Homosexuals, the show not only had a devastating impact on public opinion but also was a psychological nuclear bomb dropped on the psyches of gay and lesbian Americans, who prior to this show, had never been represented as a group on national television.
Imagine being a gay person from a small town who had never met another homosexual. This show sent the message that one had either to live miserably in the closet or to accept an underground gay life of crushing loneliness and breathtaking instability. We will never know how many lives were ruined as a result of this broadcast, but there can be no doubt that multitudes of people were driven to despair. Worse yet, they went to doctors such as Bieber and Socarides to help them overcome the despondency that these very doctors worked to create.
Mike Wallace has since come to regret his participation in this broadcast, blaming the anti-gay therapists for spreading misinformation about gay people. Wallace repented in an interview many years later:
“Well, I said it. That is — God help us — what our understanding of the homosexual lifestyle was a mere twenty-five years ago because nobody was out of the closet and because that’s what we heard from doctors–that’s what Socarides told us, it was a matter of shame.”
May Mike Wallace rest in peace. It is good that he acknowledged this error. Unfortunately, the quacks that pushed these lies and deceived Wallace and America are still out there profiting from the pain they deliberately inflict.
On another note — my book, Anything But Straight, will be available online as an E-Book in the very near future. If you have not read it yet, I urge you to do so.