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press reaction

The Toronto Star

"'Assault On Gay America' unfolds in typical straight-ahead (no pun intended) Frontline style, building its case with facts, figures, and the unforgettable faces of the murdered.

"Through Billy Jack Gaither's tormentors, we see the insanity that is homophobia. Problem is, to millions, homophobia is perfectly healthy.

"That's why anybody who watches this program and still insists that gays deserve to get bashed, verbally or physically, probably has a screw loose."

The Boston Globe: John Koch

"According to research on homophobia that this 'Frontline' reviews, [Steven Mullins'] attitudes are woven into the fabric of contemporary American culture. This assertion hardly comes as a surprise and, unfortunately, the conclusions of the experts who appear on the program are just as predictable...

"The murder story at the heart of 'Assault on Gay America' is sad and shocking, but the program doesn't tell us much more about the roots of this crime and others like it than we already know. Furthermore, it raises several questions it has an obligation to address, but never does--notably, why have hate crimes against homosexuals increased in recent years and what is being done, and can be done better, to combat them?"

The Newark Star-Ledger: Matt Zoller Seitz

"'Assault on Gay America' isn't just a walking tour of homophobic violence in the 1990s (including the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998). Rather than play-acting moral outrage (the typical network newsmagazine approach), correspondent Forrest Sawyer and his producers adopt the rational, inquisitive tone of cultural anthropologists, examining the impulses that made the killers feel justified in doing what they did...

"Here's where it gets really interesting: Experts interviewed by Sawyer and his producers suggest that in expressing contempt for gays and lesbians, homophobic people are expressing loathing for an unacknowledged part of themselves.

On the surface, this sounds like another clich of left-wing secular culture: If you hate gay people, you must want to be one. A number of conservative commentators dispute that line of argument -- especially those allied with the religious right. But according to 'Frontline,' anecdotal and scientific evidence suggest the clich has some truth."

The Indianapolis Star: Rita Rose

"With the help of educators, gay activists and religious leaders, the program analyzes the psyches of those who harass and/or kill gays and lesbians. There are no solutions offered; The show deals with cause and effect...

"The program wanders away from the subject of hate crimes and heads into moral territory with its interviews of Christian religious leaders. What the Bible says about homosexuality is a moot point to non-Christians. Perhaps a look at the pros and cons of hate-crime legislation would have better served viewers."

Knight Ridder News Service: Chuck Barney

"In 'Assault on Gay America' Frontline producer Pryor Malis and correspondent Forrest Sawyer use the Gaither murder as a springboard from which to explore the nature of homophobia in our country, both as a catalyst for hate crimes and as an attitude that permeates society. It's an unnerving and painful - but significant - hour of television...

"As usual, Frontline does a solid job of engaging various sources, including a teen in Reno, Nev., who dropped out of school because of ongoing harassment; the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who while clinging to his belief that homosexuality is a sin, admits the antigay rhetoric may have gone too far; and Henry Adams, a University of Georgia professor, whose surprising results for a 1996 test demonstrated that for some, anger against gays may derive from fears of one's own homosexual desires.

"The real heart of the hour, however, belongs to Billy Joe Gaither, who struggled to live discreetly in a backwater town. Absorbing interviews are conducted with family and friends, as well as the two men who murdered Gaither."

Chicago Tribune

"An hour that is fine as far as it goes, but only offers one possible answer to the question of why gay men get beaten: American society's rigid definition of 'masculinity.' It doesn't address why or whether we are seeing more such attacks as gays move toward the mainstream, whether law enforcement responds appropriately and myriad other questions the subject raises.

"Instead, it primarily focuses on one Alabama murder; the 1999 killing of Billy Jack Gaither. As the telling of his story it is sound and thoughtful journalism, but as a program that delivers on the promise of its title, it falls short."

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