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Published: Saturday, 8/9/2003

Making mountains out of molehills

Always be suspicious of stories that take on a life of their own in August. When lawmakers in Washington and around the country take the month off to mingle with regular folk, people who make their living reporting the news sometimes struggle to find some. Whether the news discovered is legitimate or a stretch to fill copy or pad out a broadcast is another matter.

Occasionally when the establishment goes on vacation, the rumor mills go into overdrive, making mountains out of molehills. Woe to the politician on hiatus who forgets the rules of political correctness with a remark that can be blown out of all proportion in August.

Stories that otherwise might elicit a yawn under different circumstances become the most pressing developments of the day. Take the supposed departure plans of Secretary of State Colin Powell and his second in command, Richard Armitage. First of all, to anyone who actually follows Beltway politics, speculation that Mr. Powell won't serve in a second Bush presidential term is no earthshaking revelation.

The poor moderate has been undercut by administration conservatives ever since he took the job as America's foreign policy ambassador. With hawks like Messrs. Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Wolfowitz undermining the State Department's every attempt to soften dogma with diplomacy, one would be surprised if Mr. Powell considered staying on with the Bush team for another thankless tour of duty.

Frankly, the only interesting information to surface from the rumored Powell intentions was talk of who might succeed him when he leaves the State Department. Some of the conjecture was about Condoleezza Rice and some had Paul Wolfowitz as a possible candidate for the nation's top diplomat. The former is tainted by pre-war lies that led to an embellished State of the Union address and the latter is the chief architect of the fabricated public case for waging a pre-emptive attack on Iraq.

But in the August doldrums the National Security Adviser or Deputy Secretary of Defense could be portrayed as saints among sinners. Heck, the way Washington works, friends of either could have planted the story to get Mr. Powell to resign and float the administration favorites as replacements. Or maybe I'm just too cynical about political scheming and media manipulation.

A different developing summer time controversy, and another inflated story that grew in importance to fill a news gap, concerned the New Hampshire priest picked to become the first openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Church.

To my way of thinking the inter-church schism between conservative and liberals over the transformation of the Rev. Gene Robinson to Bishop Robinson seems like much ado about nothing.

It looks like the last-gasp stand of stalwart homophobes against the inclusion of sexual diversity in their ranks.

Get over it, I imagined the bored masses thinking. But an Episcopalian confidante of mine set me straight. While the angst in some church quarters over the unprecedented election of an openly gay bishop might have struck outsiders as an anomaly in the 21st century, perhaps it was much more.

In a way, the church dispute over appointing a gay bishop may simply reflect reservations in the greater society about how far it can or should go in accepting that all humans - homosexuals included - are created equal and deserve equal treatment under the law and within their spiritual communities.

Could outrage expressed by some to an openly gay bishop be the result of cumulative coverage of gay-related issues lately? The public has heard about Canada and gay marriages, a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a “gay agenda,” a Vatican edict to disable such an agenda, and a pandering President wondering how marriage laws might be codified to exclude gay unions.

But exactly what threat do gays pose to the rest of the world that even remotely justifies ostracizing them for living life on their terms? The anti-gay frenzy is fueled by unreasonable fear. It's also a convenient distraction for government and religious leaders reluctant to tackle what really matters in life.

Unfortunately in slow news cycles silly sideshows can become larger than life and too easily replace the main event at the circus.



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