March 16, 2008
The Blade and Howard Dean
Posted by: Chris
With all the sniping and strong-arm tactics being employed against the Washington Blade and the gay press generally by Howard Dean, his chief of staff Leah Doughtry and the Democratic National Committee, it's worth taking a look at the coverage that was allegedly so one-sided that it reduced these political professionals into crude intimidation and immature name-calling like this:
"I use the Blade and the other gay papers in the bottom of the birdcage." (Julie Tagen, DNC Deputy Fianance Director, March 2007)
"The Blade is the New York Post of the gay and lesbian press corps." (Dean, Sept. 2006)
"The Blade is the Fox News of gay journalism." (Dean, March 2008)
The Blade coverage at issue includes about 20 articles over three years -- that's less than 1 out of 8 newspapers over the time period. There's a lot there, but this summary offers a good sense of the underlying controversies, as well as whether the Blade's coverage was inaccurate, unfair or one-sided, as alleged:
- Dean woos gay Democrats (Feb. 18, 2005): Howard Dean is quoted the day before he was elected DNC chair promising gay Democrats to expand the party's gay outreach efforts and slamming Republicans for pushing state ballot measures banning gay marriage. Both issues will emerge later in controversies surrounding Dean's DNC leadership. The article quotes Jeff Soref, chair of the DNC’s Gay & Lesbian Americans Caucus, defending a separate interview Dean gave the same day to the Associated Press, in which he identifies the party as opposed to gay marriage, although the 2004 platform is neutral on the issue, supporting "full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of our nation and seek equal responsibilities, benefits and protections for these families."
- Dems abolish gay outreach post (Feb. 3, 2006): One year later, the Blade reports that Soref has publicly quit his post in protest over Dean's September 2005 decision to abolish the party's constituent outreach desks, including the post of director of lesbian and gay outreach. The story notes that Dean had pledged in his campaign to
become party chair to retain the gay outreach
post in a questionnaire from Soref's DNC gay caucus. The DNC defends the decision by pointing to the hiring of Donald Hitchcock as director of the DNC’s Gay & Lesbian Leadership Council, which Soref complains is essentially a fund-raising position.
Note: DNC staffers later complain the headline doesn't explain Dean abolished all DNC outreach posts, including the one for gays, though that is made clear in the lead paragraph of the article. No allegations of factual error are made subsequent to publication.
- Democrats still committed to equality for gays by Howard Dean (Feb. 10, 2006): In a letter to the editor, Dean responds to the Feb. 3 article by denying he abolished the LGBT outreach post, arguing that the DNC's new structure -- which replaced all the outreach posts with "American Majority Partnership" under the supervision of his office, includes gay issues in its scope.
Note: The Blade stood by the Feb. 3 article as reported. Dean did in fact abolish all the "political desks" as part of his restructuring, which the story reported in full context and with the DNC's explanation of it, as well as criticism from Soref.
- Dean seek to reassure gay Democrats (Feb. 24, 2006): The focus was on a Feb. 15 statement by Dean defending his decision to replace the outreach desks with a new structure, along with a Feb. 13 appearance by Dean at a meeting of gay Democrats in New York City. Critics are also quoted on the outreach desk decision, as well as on the release of the DNC's annual grassroots report, the first under Dean, which makes no mention of gay issues unlike in the past.
Note: The article includes balanced quotes from Dean's statement, DNC staffers, Stonewall Democrats and gay DNC Treasurer Andy Tobias. No allegations of factual error are made subsequent to publication.
- Activists confront Dem senators (March 17, 2006): Gay activists meet with eight Democratic senators, including Hillary Clinton and Majority Leader Harry Reid, to complain that Democrats haven't tried to defend gays on marriage and other issues, as well as Dean's decision to eliminate the outreach posts.
Note: The article quotes activists who attended the meeting recalling the statements they made in the meeting, along with Reid's spokesperson.
- Prominent Dem slams party on gay rights (April 27, 2006): Paul Yandura, a prominent gay former staffer in Clinton White House who also worked on the Clinton and Gore presidential campaigns, releases a public letter slamming Dean's strategic decisions on gay issues, including what Yandura claims was a failure to counter anti-gay marriage ballot measures in the 2004 and 2005 elections. Yandura, who is Hitchcock's domestic partner, urges gay donors to stop giving to the DNC.
Note: The article was precipitated by Yandura's letter, not a Blade "attack," and quotes liberally from the DNC in response to Yandura's criticism. Blade publishes correction on one minor point: The DCCC, not the DSCC, omitted sexual orientation from its non-bias statement.
- Dean fires Dems' gay outreach chief (May 3, 2006): Dean fires Hitchcock one week after the Blade's article on Yandura's open letter to donors. The article quotes Yandura claiming the firing was in direct retaliation for his public criticism of Dean, along with DNC staffers denying a connection. The story also reports Hitchcock's replacement will be longtime gay Dem Brian Bond.
Note: The article also quotes Tobias, the gay DNC Treasurer, defending the decision. No allegations of factual error are made subsequent to publication.
- Dean slams gay marriage on '700 Club' (May 10, 2006): Dean reaches out to evangelical voters by appearing on Pat Robertson's "700 Club" and misstates the party's 2004 platform as affirming marriage is between a man and a woman. In fact, the platform was neutral, supporting "full inclusion of gay and lesbian families in the life of our nation and seek equal responsibilities, benefits, and protections for these families." The story includes Dean's subsequent clarification.
Note: Dean's decision to go on the "700 Club" was itself newsworthy, along with how he misstated the platform on gay marriage. The DNC responded internally by telling leading gay donors that Dean's interview was with the ABC Family Network and was broadcast by Robertson. In fact, it was an "exclusive" with Robertson's CBN News for "The 700 Club," as video of the interview makes plain.
- Party seeks to reassure angry gay Democrats (May 19, 2006): Story extensively quotes Tobias and DNC spokespersons defending Dean's decision to be interviewed for "The 700 Club," as well as several gay critics, including National Gay & Lesbian Task Force director Matt Foreman.
- DNC rejects affirmative action status for gays (Aug. 18, 2006): Reports on decision by top DNC officials to reject a proposal by the party's Gay & Lesbian Americans Caucus to add gays to the affirmative action "goals" used to select delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Instead, Dean was cited endorsing the addition of gays and persons with disabilities to "inclusion programs" that acknowledge both groups have been underrepresented on delegate slates. The article quotes a number of leading gay Dems praising the result, as well as Hitchcock criticizing it.
- Dean dismisses Blade as 'New York Post of gay press' - IN LA magazine (September 2006): In a wide-ranging interview with Karen Ocamb of IN LA about the DNC's delegate selection controversy and the Hitchcock lawsuit, Dean says, "First of all, we consider the Washington Blade to be the New York Post of the gay and lesbian press corps. They’re not credible and they have somebody who has an agenda which is certainly not favorable to the Democratic Party so we simply don’t give them any credence."
It was at this point (coincidentally!) that I left as editor of the Blade, succeeded by Kevin Naff, who had worked with me as the paper's managing editor for several years.
- DNC gay caucus to push for more delegates in '08 (Feb. 2, 2007): Previews Dean's speech to the DNC's Gay & Lesbian Americans Caucus, noting in the second paragraph that exit polls showed 80 percent of gay voters backed Democrats in the 2006 congressional races. The article also reports that the Caucus will press state Dem parties to set voluntary "goals" for openly LGBT delegates to the party's national convention.
Note: Almost all sources in the article are in support of Dean and the DNC.
- Democrats pledge to push gay bills
(Feb. 9, 2007): Reporting on the DNC's annual winter meeting Feb. 2,
and the party's pledge to introduce a gay and trans-inclusive ENDA and
hate crime bills in 2007. The article quotes
Dean's speech before the party's Gay & Lesbian Americans Caucus
thanking gay supporters for their help in the 2006 elections. The
second half of the story quotes Hitchcock criticizing Dean for saying
there is no exit polling on gay voters, as well as Log Cabin responding
to a swipe from Dean in his remarks. Gay Dems are then quoted defending
Dean from those criticisms.
Note: The full text of Dean's speech on LGBT issues was included as a sidebar to the article.
- Former gay outreach adviser sues DNC (June 8, 2007): Reporting Hitchcock's suit against Dean, the DNC and Tagen, alleging he was fired because of statements made by Yandura, his domestic partner, which represented a form of anti-gay discrimination since public criticism by heterosexual partners and spouses are tolerated by the party. The article quotes the DNC's counsel and the answer filed by the DNC and Dean to respond to the allegations in the lawsuit, as well as Tobias, who defends Dean and the DNC.
- Dean asks gays to 'vote Democrat'
(Aug. 31, 2007): In an interview with the Blade, Dean cites '07 state
legislative gay rights victories in Iowa, New Hampshire and Oregon to
make the case for gays to support Democratic candidates in the 2008
elections. He also pushes the DNC's compromise position on gay delegate
selection to the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Note: The story quotes Dean at length, along with Log Cabin's director in response, as well as gay Dem activists largely backing Dean on the delegate selection compromise.
- Mediation ordered in gay man's lawsuit against DNC (Oct. 12, 2007): A brief article notes the court ordered the parties in the Hitchock litigation into mediation and reprises allegations and denials to date.
- DNC disparages gay press (Jan 10, 2008): Recounting internal DNC email exchanges that complain about coverage in the gay press and suggest "punishing" the Blade by giving exclusives to the Advocate. Julie Tagen, DNC Deputy Finance Director, says in one email, "I tend to use the [B]lade and the other gay papers in the bottom of the birdcage."
- DNC lawsuit ensares lesbian activist (Jan. 17, 2008): Quoting legal documents, reports accusation by Hitchcock's legal team that lesbian DNC volunteer Claire Lucas was evading testifying in the lawsuit by claiming she isn't a D.C. resident -- even though she claims a homestead tax deduction for a residence she owns in the District. Lucas' lawyer is quoted defending her, and the article quotes from internal DNC documents from the litigation that show Lucas coordinating criticism of Hitchcock for a letter he wrote published in the Blade in February 2007.
- DNC lawsuit reveals black vs. gay rivalry
(Jan. 25, 2008): Internal DNC emails leaked from the Hitchcock
litigation reveal criticism by Stonewall Dems alleging that Leah
Daughtry, Dean's chief of staff, incited a wedge between gays and
blacks within the party over adding gays to the party's delegate
selection affirmative action guidelines, as well as a Alabama state
House election disputed between a lesbian candidate and an African
Note: The story quotes at length DNC sources defending Dean and Daughry, alongside the criticisms in the emails.
- Painting an unfair picture of the DNC by Rick Stafford (Feb. 1, 2008): A very strongly worded opinion column by the chair of the DNC's LGBT caucus says that the Jan. 25 Blade article was "unfair" and "shameful." Stafford doesn't allege any factual accuracies, but instead argues that additional background would have put the delegate selection Alabama election disputes in a different context -- he also lays out those additional facts in detail.
- DNC seeks to halt leaks stemming from lawsuit
(Feb. 8, 2008): DNC legal filings seek a court order blocking
Hitchcock's team from leaking internal DNC documents that are
"embarrassing, oppressing and damaging" to the DNC and Daughtry. The
article reprises the allegations in the Hitchcock lawsuit and the DNC's
response. A sidebar to the story reports that other internal DNC docs
obtained from the Hitchcock litigation showed party staffers
concerned in March 2007 that Dean should not personally issue a
statement criticizing Peter Pace, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs,
for saying the ban on military service by out gays was justified
because homosexual acts are "immoral."
- Dems' love for us is on the down low by Kevin Naff (Feb. 8, 2008): An editorial that criticizes hand-wringing within the DNC back in March 2007 about whether to have Dean personally criticize Pace. Naff slams Daughtry, an ordained minister, for worrying about fallout if Dean did so, imagining she was worried her "fellow Pentecostal worshippers who also speak in tongues might be offended that the Democratic Party stood up for those sinful gays who are going to hell." Tough stuff but hardly libelous. He also called her to the carpet for trying to undermine gay influence within the party on the delegate selection controversy.
- Do the wrong thing by Kevin Naff (March 15, 2008): An editorial relates how two lawyers representing Daughtry called for a meeting with Naff and Blade Publisher Lynne Brown to complain about the Feb. 8 editorial. Naff claims the lawyers screamed and cursed and later DNC staffers bragged they had succeeded in intimidate the paper from coveraging the Hitchcock suit.
- In an interview with Page One Q, one of the Daughtry lawyers denied screaming, cursing or intimidating Naff and the Blade.
- Gay official seeks end to DNC lawsuit (Feb. 15, 2008): Report focuses on an open letter by Tobias asking Hitchcock to agree to settle his lawsuit against the DNC in exchange for a mutual public agreement of "misunderstandings." The article quotes Hitchcock's attorney declining the offer because it does not include a financial settlement; otherwise the article focuses entirely on Tobias' claims in his letter.
Evaluating this coverage, there are some important points to keep in mind:
- Not one of these articles is "enterprise reporting"; meaning that in each and every case, the story was the result of prominent gay Democrats -- not the Blade -- raising issues about the decisions that Dean and the DNC had made or planned to make. Those public complaints are newsworthy, and it's not the job of the Blade or any newspaper editor to decide whether the Dean's explanations satisfy the criticism. That's up to the reader.
- In each and every story, the DNC and its supporters were offered and took full advantage of equal space within the story to make their case to readers. And although this review is largely limited to news articles, Kevin and I both always made sure to publish letters, columns, Sound Offs etc from the DNC and its supporters.
- Coverage of ongoing disputes like these walks a fine line between doing enough stories to cover the issues in detail and doing too many so that it appears the paper has some sort of "crusade." Week to week, editorial decisions were based on newsworthy developments that week. Over the last three years, the DNC has alternatively complained that the whole story wasn't being told and that too much attention was being paid to the story.
- Readers and story subjects are obviously entitled to their views about the quality of the journalism in the Blade's coverage. But the immature name-calling and strong-arm tacitics of the DNC, Dean, Daughtry et al go beyond the pale and would be inconceivable if directed toward other niche journalists, in the Latino, African American, feminist, labor press etc.
It's important that gays generally, but especially gay Democrats and those influential within the party's appartus -- Andy Tobias, are you listening? -- speak out for respectful treatment of the independent gay press. They do themselves, their party and the gay rights movement no favors by standing by while Dean and top DNC officials treat our community press with such contempt.
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