Duncan Slade in NPR West Virginia Theorizes Gay Youth Might Move Away Due to State Laws, Can’t Find Any, Publishes Story Anyway

  • Slade’s only two interview subjects are thinking about it, Reporter presents zero evidence of anything
  • NPR provides zero context or explanation about the article’s subject: pro-gay state laws
  • Public Broadcasting article relies on gay stereotypes that would cause an uproar if it were published anywhere else

OUR RATING: Sloppy and Error-Filled. Your typical Friday night at Fox News, sloppy work.

Indicted Outlet: Duncan Slade | West Virginia Public Broadcasting / NPR | Link | Archive

When you can read weasel words [1] in a headline and opening paragraph, the rest of the story and the ethics of the journalist should be extremely suspect.

Duncan Slade in West Virginia Public Broadcasting / NPR, writes a piece under this headline, “Lack Of LGBTQ Protections Has Some Young West Virginians Ready To Leave

The word “some” means “none” and “ready to leave” means “thinking about it.” 

So if we were to write this in plain English, it would be: “Lack of LGBTQ laws has one possible West Virginian talking about moving elsewhere.” And of course when we think critically about whether these complaints about West Virginia’s laws are being made in good faith, it seems clear that this is legislative lobbying instead of journalism reflecting the real concerns of residents of the Mountaineer state.

Major Violations:

  • Lying Headline
  • No Evidence to Support
  • Legislative Lobbying
  • Stereotyping
  • Bad Sources
  • Weasel Words

This article starts with some pretty stunning stereotyping and what in the modern age you don’t typically see much of anymore:

Casey Johnson lives in Pittsburgh’s North Shore, a couple of blocks from one of the most colorful buildings in the nation, Randyland, a utopian-esque public art installation with walls, chairs, and trinkets in every possible shade and hue.

You know those gays, they just love their pretty ostentatious pink public art and colorful buildings!

Reporter Duncan Slade’s stereotyping is so blunt and blatant here that it really assaults your senses:

When apartment shopping in the Steel City, Johnson, who is pansexual, gender non-binary and uses non-gendered pronouns, searched to find a neighborhood that was the “most accepting.” North Shore, they said, fits the bill.

The only evidence that the Reporter gives us in the article that the North Shore is ‘most accepting’ seems to be that it has the best public art with ‘trinkets in every possible shade and hue.’ I’m surprised Slade didn’t manage to work in a Madonna and Golden Girls reference somewhere else in the paragraph.

The violation here is that a stereotype isn’t a proper replacement for explaining to a reader the real reasons behind the story. Casey Johnson likely has good reasons for choosing where to live, but we will never know them because we’re told about the pretty and colorful buildings instead of anything relevant to the story. 

As well, stereotypes are a crutch for bad writers and reporters, in addition to being generally offensive to most people who are the subject of the stereotype. People are individuals and while they might trend towards a given stereotype, they should really be presented as individuals, especially in a story that is primarily focused on individual decisions in reaction to state laws. 

It might seem like I’m making too much out of this, but this is the lede paragraph in the story, and it’s so clearly irrelevant to the rest of the story. Are gay youth choosing locations based on building colors? If so, maybe West Virginia needs fewer laws and more paint? It’s sloppy in the extreme and whoever edits the West Virginia Public Broadcasting page should have caught this.

That kind of sloppiness is endemic to the entire article. The premise of the piece is that gay youth are moving away because there’s not enough pro-gay laws. The two people he interviews to support that view are Casey Johnson and David Laub.

Here’s the problem: Johnson doesn’t live in West Virginia, and Laub isn’t gay

But if Johnson were ever to move back home to West Virginia…

David has close friends who are LGBTQ.

Let me restate the thesis: gay youth in West Virginia are under pressure to move away because there aren’t enough pro-gay laws.

Reporter Duncan Slade can only find someone who doesn’t live there, and a straight English grad student to talk about the topic. These are bad sources. This article shouldn’t have been published without relevant quotes from an LGBTQ person in West Virginia who was looking to move because the laws were not to their liking. It also means there is no evidence to support the thesis.

If a quotable person could not be found, then the reporter and editor should have questioned the viability of their thesis. Instead, it appears they relied on confirmation bias to overcome their missing relevant quotes.

At NPR, it’s not what we find in our reporting that is the news, it’s what we invent in our heads that is the “news.”

Most of the time reporters facing this challenge of actually finding people to be quoted, rely on whatever outside group is pushing for the story in the first place. The outside interest group typically preps and coaches the faux subject, who then reads off the prewritten quote for the reporter or sometimes just provides it by group email with the interest group.

Reporters aren’t letting their interviews drive their story, the objective of the story is driving the quotes that they are using. 

Here, you can clearly see the agenda, you can see the influence of the interest groups, and yet they can’t even get the quotes and subjects right. 

Is the central thesis accurate: that young gay people might move because of a state’s laws? There’s no evidence to support that thesis in the article. There are several people speculating, but no one who can even point to one person who acted in this manner for these reasons.

The US Census tracks why people move. They find that people move for work and to be closer to family, among 19 possible responses. [2] Nowhere does it say that people move out of a political jurisdiction because they dislike that place’s laws. 

Moving companies say that the two primary reasons people move are for work and to be nearer relatives. [3]

Gallup says 5.6% of Americans identify as LGBT. [4] 15.9% of “Generation Z” uses that label. [5] West Virginia lost 59,000 from 2010 to 2020, for a state that has 1.79 million residents. [6]

So if West Virginia is losing 5,900 people a year on average, then just for normal reasons at least 330 of those emigrating are LGBT. You would think Duncan could have at least found one of them.

Other reporting on this topic has strongly linked state emigration to economic factors. [7] People move for a better job, or a more stable job, leaving the place they know in search of better opportunities and a better economic station in life. Nowhere do any of these articles mention ‘dissatisfaction with state laws’ as a factor, in any way, with the emigration patterns. 

In fact, I can’t find any parallel where specific state laws caused someone in modern times to move out of a state. There are pro-gun people who might avoid certain states to exercise their second amendment rights, and there are people leaving California at high rates but that seems primarily for general economic factors. It certainly seems odd to think that someone would leave their current state of residence and endure the hassle of moving to another, with all the economic displacement that entails, for the sole reason that the state had not yet passed a desired specific law. 

And really, this should come as a bit of common sense. People are going to choose to do the thing which involves the least amount of hassle for them. 

Are you going to leave a state because you dislike their laws, or are you just going to work around them or break the laws? Are you going to quit a job and get another, or work within the constraints of the current job? Most people are creatures of habit. They aren’t making big bold stands on principle to leave a place, and incur the cost, hassles, and inconveniences, for something that doesn’t likely affect them very much in their private lives.

What this story seems a lot more like, is a soundbite and talking point for legislators as they discuss and deliberate on the topic. This is less news, than it is straight legislative lobbying masquerading as journalism. 

In years past there was a distinction between three types of very similar professions: 1) corporate and campaign communications; 2) journalists; 3) special interest advocates. What has happened in recent years is that all of those lines have been increasingly blurred and in many cases those lines are gone, and as a consequence our news is less objective and factual, and, as is the case here, saddled with so many prejudices and biases that it adds nothing to the discussion. It’s trying to birth a new left-wing meme based on nonsense. It’s preaching to the choir of the liberals who read it giving them a false impression of the world that’s comfortably complacent. 

The cumulative effect of all this is a political discourse by memes, where snappy one-liners become people’s total understanding of the political challenges of any given policy. With this issue, for example, leftists will now complain that a lack of pro-gay laws will drive away young people. There’s no accounting for the unintended consequences of these laws, the economic consequence, of the people who might be negatively impacted by these laws, by the rise in unnecessary litigation, in the way it will negatively affect employment law and housing law, it’s a news article where it pushes policy with no context and no balance

It’s hard to get too upset at Duncan Slade, he’s probably a decent guy. Once upon a time he would have had a thing called an “editor” who would have told him to delete his worthless quotes and to work harder to get some real ones, and would have explained that stereotyping minority groups is pretty gauche even at a place as toxic as Public Broadcasting/NPR. 

OUR RATING: Sloppy and Error-Filled. Your typical Friday night at Fox News, sloppy work.


1 ] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weasel_word

2 ] https://www.census.gov/newsroom/blogs/random-samplings/2014/06/why-do-we-move-did-the-reasons-change-over-time.html

3 ] https://www.allied.com/blog/view/all-blogs/2018/01/23/top-reasons-people-move 

4 ] https://news.gallup.com/poll/332522/percentage-americans-lgbt.aspx

5 ] https://news.gallup.com/poll/329708/lgbt-identification-rises-latest-estimate.aspx

6 ] https://www.thestar.com/news/world/us/2021/05/22/leaving-home-west-virginia-population-drop-is-largest-in-us.html

7 ] https://www.register-herald.com/news/outmigration-west-virginias-population-decline/article_98ff5f5a-29a1-5779-8c69-2f69c680ba76.html

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