Hotze In the Media Fun House

Dr. Steve Hotze probably wouldn't protest too vigorously if you called him a homophobe. In the decade he's been at the forefront of the church-based forces of the far right in Harris County, Hotze's never disguised his abiding enmity for homosexuals and the gay rights movement. Quite the contrary. The Bible, Hotze says, views homosexuality as an abomination, and that's all he needs to know. "It's wrong and it's immoral and it has a deleterious effect on the entire moral fiber of the culture," says the Houston physician. He believes that the state's sodomy statute, which makes homosexual acts a crime, should remain on the books.

Still, whatever you may think of Hotze's views, he has the right not to have them misstated, not to have them caught in a media-made hall of mirrors and distorted into a outsized fun-house grotesquery. For the record, Hotze says he doesn't favor the death penalty for gays. But in the past two months, in three nationally distributed publications, it has been stated as fact that Hotze believes people should be put to death because of their sexual orientation. And nobody asked him if it's true.

Hotze rated a passing mention in an article on the rise of the religious right that appeared in an early July issue of the New Yorker. "In 1993, Dr. Steven Hotze, who favors the death penalty for gays, was elected chairman of the advisory committee of the Harris County, Texas, Republican Party," wrote Sidney Blumenthal, the magazine's Washington correspondent, in describing the success Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition has had in gaining control of Republican Party organizations across the country. Hotze was also cited by New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis in a July 15 column on the religious right, headlined "Merchants of Hate." Hotze, Lewis wrote, "wants to execute homosexuals."

"I've never said it or promoted it," Hotze said last week. "The New Yorker never interviewed me. I don't know where they got it. Lewis never called me. I've never talked to the guy."

In the past, Hotze has certainly made remarks about homosexuality that have stretched the bounds of reason. At the height of AIDS hysteria in 1985, for example, he was quoted as saying that he cased out restaurants to ensure they had no gay employees before bringing his family to them (something that must have considerably narrowed his dining-out choices). But longtime Hotze watchers in Houston say they've never heard him advocate execution for gays.

Lewis says he didn't check with Hotze but "merely wrote what had been mentioned twice before," meaning the Blumenthal article and a publication issued earlier this summer by the Anti-Defamation League, The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America. Hotze was mentioned twice in the ADL booklet; both mentions refer to his supposed support of a state-sanctioned genocide of gays. An assistant to Blumenthal says the New Yorker writer used the ADL publication as a source, as well as an April 1993 article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine that, according to ADL researcher David Cantor, was the source of the ADL citations. Buried deep in that long Times article on the Christian Coalition and the rise of the religious right is a mention of Hotze as a proponent of the death penalty for homosexuals, "based on a narrow and literal reading of the Bible." He is not, however, quoted in the story.

Robert Sullivan, a freelance writer from Portland, Oregon, who authored the Times piece, says his source was ... well, Sullivan doesn't want to talk "on the record" about it. "I stand by the story, how it was written and fact-checked," is all he'll say in the for-attribution mode.

Hotze says that when he's been asked about imposing the death penalty for homosexuality he's always given the same reply. "The only thing I've ever said is that I'm a Bible-believing Christian, and the Old Testament says that it is a capital offense for a man to lie with another man, as he would a wife," he says. "If the Old Testament has such a high penalty for such behavior, why in the world should we be promoting it as natural and safe and normal to our kids?" While Hotze has long made it clear that he believes government should be operated according to biblical precepts, he says he takes the scriptural opprobrium to mean that the state should forbid gay marriages and adoptions, "affirmative action" for gays and the teaching in public schools that homosexuality is an "alternative, acceptable" lifestyle. "That's where I stand, period," he says.

And if that's indeed where he stands, period, it's a far cry from wanting to "execute homosexuals."

A fact-checker for the New Yorker did try to contact Hotze prior to the appearance of Blumenthal's article. "We played telephone tag," Hotze says. "I left two weekends ago and called him when I got back and he said, 'Oh, we've already done the article.' I said, 'What's it about?' He said, 'Oh, we said in there something about the death penalty for gays.' I said, 'Where you'd get that?' 'Well, we got that from another article.'"

Cantor says the ADL doesn't generally verify citations appearing in major papers such as the Times. He and others who monitor the far right suggest that the characterization of Hotze as being in favor of the execution of gays may stem from the doctor's association with the Coalition on Revival, a group whose membership includes some evangelicals who are part of the "Reconstructionist" movement. Some Reconstructionists, according to the ADL and other right-wing-watch groups, consider homosexuality and adultery to be capital offenses. But, Cantor acknowledges, "this in itself proves nothing" about Hotze. He also acknowledges that if Hotze doesn't favor executing gays, "he's been done a big disservice."

Hotze says he's contacted an attorney and will be seeking a retraction from both the New Yorker and the New York Times. But he's not sanguine about his prospects. "What can I do?" he says. "Fight the New York Times?"

In the meantime, Hotze's supposed support of killing gays has become lodged in the database memory of the culture. And the next time some journalist begins his research on the religious right by consulting Nexus, he'll find that down in Houston, there's a Republican doctor who wants to execute gays. And he'll accept it as gospel because, by God, it was in the New York Times.

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Jim Simmon