The Tampa Tribune has pulled a controversial column that alleged Disney is indoctrinating children with its "pro-gay agenda." The column, which was highlighted by Media Matters, had also drawn criticism from gay rights activists and Florida journalists.
On August 11, Douglas MacKinnon, who is listed on the since-pulled column as "Tribune staff," argued that Disney has been engaged in an underhanded effort to wrongly "indoctrinate" children. He also contended the company is trying to subtly push an agenda through its children's programming.
The piece, titled, "Disney's pro-gay agenda is disturbing," quoted an anonymous "former Disney executive" saying, "the company has taken direct aim at children to indoctrinate them about gay lifestyles and gay marriage through shows it airs on The Disney Channel and Disney XD."
MacKinnon later added:
The former executive said one of the more subtle techniques is to incorporate the colors of the gay-pride flag in as many shots as possible. The colors are woven in as a wink and nod to the gay community and show up on shirts, hats, posters, stacked cups and rings. The practice has been picked up by other children's networks and national advertisers. Disney also pushes the gay agenda by introducing openly gay characters and couples on its children's programing. Again, that is their right, but should they be in the business of entertaining children or indoctrinating them?
As of publication, Media Matters had received no response to requests for comment from the Tribune.* The column was removed midday today.
The newspaper posted several letters to the editor critical of the column, which termed it "boring" and "hate-filled." The Tribune's "letter of the day" on August 14 also focused on the column, stating it was "disturbing."
Prior to the column's removal from the Tribune website, several gay rights activists and journalists expressed concern to Media Matters about its stereotypical and offensive arguments. Among them, Nadine Smith, founder and CEO of Equality Florida and a former Tribune reporter.
"The first time I read it I thought it was satire," said Smith, who worked at the Tribune from 1989 to 1993. "It's absurd. He's so fixated on this bizarre, paranoid fantasy that he's actually missed the larger story. Businesses are speaking up and being very visible and speaking out quite publicly for equal rights."
She also called it an embarrassment for the newspaper.
"People reading it have contacted me to say, 'is this satire?'" she said. "It's not simply that he has a point of view that is different from my point of view, this isn't the assertion of a point of view, it is sort of a hysterical untethered rant. This is intended to appeal to an insidious idea of who gay people are, which is unworthy of serious people."
Jason Parsley, president of the Florida Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and associate publisher of South Florida Gay News, agreed.
"It's just typical right-wing propaganda, the word indoctrination is not one we see much anymore," he said. "I guess he is against tolerance and acceptance, I don't understand the idea. It is a ridiculous, repugnant disgusting view. It really reminds me of 90's rightwing antigay propaganda. Because of social media today and because of 24-hour news, I think the backlash ends up bringing so much awareness that it just completely discounts and diminishes the negative effect."
Chris Alexander-Manley, president of GayDays.com, which holds pro-gay events for guests of Walt Disney World and other resorts, said MacKinnon's views miss the positive aspects of such diversity.
"I would think they're pretty narrow-minded. There's no lifestyle we're trying to push. It is just being who we are," he said. "I want my children to realize there are other people like them, that is what I think makes our country strong. The diversity of accepting those differences."
*Language has been updated. Following publication, Tribune managing editor Ken Koehn contacted Media Matters to request the removal of the name of the paper's opinion editor from the post, because MacKinnon's piece ran on a "news page." Koehn added, "Additionally, MacKinnon's column - like any columnist at our newspaper - represents his own opinion and not those of the newspaper. We will have no further comment on this story."