BuzzFeed News pulled off a tricky feat Wednesday, managing to offend most of civil society and even its peers in progressive media with a hit piece on Christian reality television stars Chip and Joanna Gaines.
The stars of HGTV’s home renovation show Fixer Upper, it was reported by BuzzFeed, attend the Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, a church that has as one of its beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.
“Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Church is Firmly Against Same-Sex Marriage,” the headline announced.
Reporter Kate Aurthur wrote:
So are the Gaineses against same-sex marriage? And would they ever feature a same-sex couple on the show, as have HGTV’s House Hunters and Property Brothers? Emails to Brock Murphy, the public relations director at their company, Magnolia, were not returned. Nor were emails and calls to HGTV’s PR department.
When Aurthur could not get a response from the couple’s representatives, she took aim at their church and at its leader, pastor Jimmy Seibert, who she described as having a “severe, unmovable position” on the issue of same-sex marriage.
“This is a clear biblical admonition,” Seibert said of the concept of traditional marriage in a sermon delivered in June 2015, on the day the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide. “So if someone were to say, ‘Marriage is defined in a different way,’ let me just say: They are wrong. God defined marriage, not you and I. God defined masculine and feminine, male and female, not you and I.”
The insinuation made by the article is clear: that the Gaineses could themselves be against gay marriage because they attend a church that believes in traditional marriage. And Aurthur infers that the hosts might not “ever feature a same-sex couple [as a client] on the show.”
The article was almost universally panned by readers, even on BuzzFeed’s own site.
“This is the dumbest story I have ever heard,” wrote one reader in the most popular comment under the story. “It’s like a witch hunt for their beliefs, to try an stir the oil from a pot into the flames of the stove. This kind of article is exactly what is wrong with the media.”
“This is a tired, forced witch hunt,” wrote another commenter. “You are inciting a wave of negative attention on this couple for something that indirectly links to them. That’s not journalism, it’s petty bullshit.”
Gabriel Malor, a gay conservative attorney and pundit, called the article “purely harassment.”
But the reporter never ascertained the couple's view before publishing the piece about them. That's purely harassment, not journalism.
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) November 30, 2016
BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith attempted to defend the story on his Twitter account Wednesday evening: “This is a story about a big company, HGTV, refusing to say whether they ban LGBT people from a TV show. They should just answer the question.”
But Smith’s media peers, from both left and right-leaning outlets, weren’t buying it.
“It’s not quite framed that way though,” the Daily Beast’s Olivia Nuzzi wrote in response.
“[T]he framing is on the couple, not HGTV,” Business Insider‘s Paul Szoldra challenged Smith. “So are the Gaineses against same-sex marriage?” that’s 1st q, not network.”
Others noted that HGTV has featured many gay couples on its programs in the past, and still others responded more sarcastically: “I always address what the story is all about in two sentences in the fourth paragraph too,” wrote Popehat.
Several Twitter users pointed out that Aurthur, days before her piece ran, implied that the idea of the clients on Fixer Upper voting for Donald Trump “ruined” the show.
@kpfallon And Fixer Upper.
— Kate Aurthur (@KateAurthur) November 27, 2016
The site’s pressure on Fixer Upper recalls recent legal battles where gay couples sued Christian-owned businesses for refusing to provide their services for same-sex weddings. Several businesses that have been targetted legally and financially include Elane Photography in New Mexico, Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Oregon, and Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado.
Representatives for HGTV did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Breitbart News.
BuzzFeed describes itself as “the leading independent digital media company” that delivers “news and entertainment worth sharing with [our readers’] friends, family, and the people who matter in their lives.” For many years, critics pigeonholed the site as a platform for cat gifs, but it has recently broken that mold and become the go-to platform for corporate advertorials and the Social Justice movement’s raging id.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum