Saturday, December 27, 2008

Milk and me

On Views, we often talk about journalists reporting news in an episodic way--without context. It's an easy comment to make--harder work to do. Over the holidays, I saw the film "Milk", about the first openly gay elected official in the country--Harvey Milk, San Francisco supervisor. He was shot and killed by another supervisor, who later committed suicide. All this is detailed in the film.

But, what I didn't realize is that I, as a reporter in Eugene, Oregon, was part of the larger context for the film.

In the late 1970s, I covered the Eugene city council when it adopted an anti-discimination ordinance that included the words "sexual orientation" and the subsequent election to overturn that ordinance. At the time, and as a fairly young reporter, I thought I had done a good job with the coverage--getting to several sides of the issue and mentioning in at least one story the recent history of the US gay rights movement. But, at no point in my journalistic efforts did I connect Eugene, Oregon, to what was going on in San Francisco. I think the closest I got to the larger national context was mentioning Anita Bryant's anti-gay campaign which began in Florida.

I had to wait until 2008 and the Ragtag cinema to see that connection made for me in a film.

By the way, the film itself is worth going to see. Among other things, it shows how Milk built a community and used the media to do it. The film also includes embedded news footage of actual events. What is more discouraging is that the rhetoric--and angst--surrounding this issue has changed very little since I first covered it about 30 years ago.

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