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    February 24, 2007

    No snickers from Solmonese

    Posted by: Chris

    Solmonesejoe_1_1 A recent column I wrote about the Snickers ad controversy has Human Rights Campaign director Joe Solmonese spitting mad. In an angry letter to the San Francisco Bay Times, one of several gay papers that published the piece, Solmonese claims I suffer from "clear manic bias" against…him:

    While I fail to understand it, I’m beginning to view his fascination with me almost as a badge of honor. In his most recent article, "No Snickers for Snickers" Bay Times, Feb. 8, 2007), Chris Crain, once again, misses the bigger picture.

    The Human Rights Campaign and other gay rights organizations complained not about the ad that aired but about the online campaign which featured homophobic football players and alternative endings to the ad that depicted violence in reaction to two men kissing. The complaints raised were not exclusive to the original ad that aired during the Super Bowl. Chris would be more credible if he commented on the facts rather than contorting them to suit his clear manic biases.

    Two problems with Sloppy Joe's criticism: (1) HRC's attack on Mars, the maker of Snickers, was never limited to the online campaign., and (2) I never said HRC's criticism was limited to the ad that aired during the Super Bowl.

    First, the HRC press release I quoted from attacks "the ad campaign launched yesterday during the Super Bowl," and then describes "the ad" that aired:

    The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, is calling on the makers of Snickers, and its parent company Mars Inc., to pull the ad campaign launched yesterday during the Super Bowl. The ad features two presumably straight men who accidentally engage in a kiss and then try to distance themselves from any perception of being gay by “doing something manly.”

    While HRC goes on to criticize "Wrench," one alternative ending for the ad online, no fair reading of the press release suggest HRC's "condemnation" was limited to that one ending and the football players' reactions.

    Second, I wrote in the column and in a blog post here that HRC condemned "the ads" and the player reactions, not simply the one from the Super Bowl:

    The Human Rights Campaign was quick to condemn the ads, although they ought to be busy protecting our interests on Pennsylvania Avenue, not Madison Avenue.

    HRC chief Joe Solmonese was characteristically patronizing, chastising Mars for not “knowing better.”

    “If they have any questions about why the ad isn’t funny,” finger-wags Solmonese, “we can help put them in touch with any number of GLBT Americans who have suffered hate crimes.”

    Well I, for one, am a gay American who suffered a broken nose and two black eyes for holding my boyfriend’s hand in the street. If that somehow qualifies me to speak, then let me say I am much less disturbed by Snickers’ goofy ad than by the gross overreaction of our overly earnest activists.

    It's striking to me that Solmonese somehow teases a "manic bias" out the hairs he splits here, when I make clear in the rest of my column that I thought criticism of even the "Wrench" version and the NFL player reactions was also overwrought. 

    The only real substantive point raised by Solmonese in the letter was about whether HRC was in fact guilty of "issue-creep," as I had suggested in one aside.  Again quoting from Joe:

    [Crain] writes that HRC, “ought to be busy protecting our interests on Pennsylvania Avenue, not Madison Avenue.” Unfortunately, it is this “criticize for the sake of criticizing” mentality that shadows way too many of his columns. Does he not understand that our work to change hearts and minds in America is connected both politically and culturally?

    When a major American corporation depicts in their advertisements, violence against gay people and reactions of homophobic football players, which many kids hold up as role models, then it is the responsibility of groups like HRC to stand up and demand change.

    Of course Solmonese knows I am well aware we need to "change hearts and minds" both "politically and culturally." Solmonese also knows the movement already has not one, but two, organizations whose missions are directly related to bias in media: the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Commercial Closet, the latter of which is devoted specifically to watchdog Madison Avenue's depiction of gays. Both zeroed in immediately on the Mars campaign, so it's not as if it wasn't being addressed.

    HRC piled on Mars for two reasons: First, HRC is need of victories, since decades of untold millions in donations, from gay communities around the country, has produced a shiny HRC headquarters but not even a single piece of basic federal gay rights legislation. Second, battling corporate America is fairly easy, given today's politically correct environment, and to the victor go the spoils, in the form of corporante penance for its wrongs. Note the language from the HRC press release after Mars caved and pulled the Snickers campaign:

    “While we are pleased with the initial response from Mars, this is not the time to spike the ball,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. … “After speaking with company representatives today, we hope to continue a dialogue and establish a working relationship with Mars Inc., as we have with the majority of Fortune 500 companies, about responsible marketing and fair workplace policies for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans.”

    I don't begrudge Solmonese, or Neil Giuliano at GLAAD — query how it is that I bear "manic bias" against Solmonese when I spent more of my column criticizing an organization run by one of my best friends — for their shakedown. The more money invested in the movement, the better. But from those to whom much is given, much is expected, and whether Solmonese likes it or not, the role of the gay press, and gay people generally, is to make sure HRC is a good steward of those precious resources.

    In fact, it's a bit mind-boggling to me that the head of "the nation's largest gay rights group" would claim a gay newspaper had "set back the entire movement" by "giving a platform" to me to "spout" my "misguided rhetoric." The tight-ship HRC communications department from the Elizabeth Birth era would never have allowed the E.D. to go off such half-cocked.

    Nonetheless, Solmonese can rest assured that the Bay Times and more than a dozen other gay newspapers, as well as this blog of course, will continue to be a forum for those of us willing to take issue with the direction he steers the HRC ship.

    (Hat tip to activist-blogger Michael Petrelis for alerting me to the Solmonese missive and for defending my honor. I have to admit, after years of being on the receiving end of Petrelis' sharp tongue — now there's a man with a "manic bias"! — it's a bit odd to see him write fondly of my years at the Washington Blade.)



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    1. Andoni on Feb 25, 2007 10:11:18 AM:

      I agree with you on HRC's reaction. I wish I could say that I'm going to show my displeasure by not giving them money any more.......but I did that many years ago and haven't given them money since 1996. However, they still send me mail addressing me as a member. It's sad, but the mail is addressed to me and my ex of 7 years. I've called them twice to change our status in their data base, but to no avail. In my mind if they can't do something simple like that, it explains why they haven't accomplished a thing in the past 15 years or so.

    1. KJ on Feb 25, 2007 1:55:52 PM:

      Good job, Chris! You've turned Solmonese into a victim. We can see that he has already found that useful.

      Meany! :-)

    1. Tim C on Feb 26, 2007 9:31:19 AM:

      I gave up on HRC in 2000 after several friends quit the Federal Club over the unabashedness of HRC's promotion of the Gore campaign. As there is now a Democratic party operative running HRC, don't expect anything but lip service, and precious little of that, to anything resembling a non-partisan organization or agenda.

    1. Tim on Feb 26, 2007 8:57:34 PM:

      For all his talk of "political change" all he works in the private sector, and only the richest of companies typically. I try to respect Solomese for his efforts, but so often I think back to his letter concerning the iranian teens hung in Iran. After his strong work in Eygpt I expected more from him than weak kneed half apology for not talking about it, he went on to say that the Iranians probably weren't gay and that they wouldn't have approved queers weeping for them. How pathetic, how many of us swore we weren't gay to protect ourselves only to later understand what we're really about. I was heartened to see the worldwide response though and it gave me the courage to keep fighting for all gays. Not just the ones lucky enough to be able to donate money.

    1. Alan down in Florida on Feb 27, 2007 12:35:18 PM:

      Whereas I disagreed with your original premise of overreaction, the following comment of yours "HRC piled on Mars for two reasons: First, HRC is need of victories, since decades of untold millions in donations, from gay communities around the country, has produced a shiny HRC headquarters but not even a single piece of basic federal gay rights legislation" is the absolute unblemished TRUTH.

      If HRC was an employee of GLBTQI Inc. it would have been fired as an incompetent a long time ago.

    1. Matt on Feb 27, 2007 12:38:36 PM:

      Spot-on, as always, Chris.

      I don't know if you saw my related post, but I'm pretty sure HRC's "member services manager" just told me a huge lie:


    1. Craig Ranapia on Feb 28, 2007 3:27:12 PM:


      Jeebus... I know keeping mailing lists up to date is a job without end, but that's not only crappy (who likes to be reminded of the ex-, no matter how amicable the separation?) but unprofessional. I also learned the hard way that it can really be outright cruel, having worked for an organisation where I once had to deal with a near-hysterical widower who said this was the TENTH time in five years he'd asked to have his dead wife taken off the data base.

      Didn't I feel like the proverbial turd in the punchbowl...

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