The Chaplains, “Hate Speech” and DADT

A column getting some attention is another “ending DADT means chaplains will be tossed out the military if they preach against the gays” argument, made by conservative columnist Terry Mattingly.  He discusses it at his blog, GetReligion.

The column is a good jumping off point to raise some journalism questions about how this niche issue should be covered by the larger media.  It’s fair to say that concerns over chaplains is pretty low on the list of concerns over DADT, which is probably a good jumping-off point in understanding why the issue plays a role in the opposition to repeal.  So here’s the questions I have.

- What rules cover chaplains?  Are they covered by the Code of Military Justice in terms of their interactions with fellow servicemembers?  Understanding that servicemembers give up many of their free speech rights, how does that extend to religious speech?

- The old canard “hate speech”raises its head.  To be clear, there are no “hate speech” codes and laws in the U.S.  There are “hate crimes” laws and “fighting words” are a factor in First Amendment analysis, but “hate speech” is not a concept found in U.S. law.  So what are people talking about when they use the term?  Is it a “dog whistle” term meant to attract attention? Press people who toss that term around to give specifics in the U.S.

- In examining the issue, ask larger contextual questions.  In balancing the “rights” of servicemembers and chaplains, where should that balance end up? Ask activists to balance out those burdens.

- Are the fears of chaplains getting kicked out based on reality?  What are the regulations? Move beyond hypotheticals and “in Europe” and “in Canada” arguments and focus on the specifics of the regulations.

- Are chaplains really clamoring for keeping DADT?  Beyond the infamous letter from retired conservative chaplains, what are other chaplains saying?  Are there chaplains who support repeal?  Are there chaplains who don’t believe their “rights’ are jeopardized? How do they view the complaints of activists?  What do First Amendment church/state scholars saying about the conflict?

What other questions should journalists committed to fair and accurate coverage be asking?

Lady GaGa, DADT, and What it Says About the Story

So, Lady GaGa doesn’t like Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and has become the most visible spokesperson (for the week) for repeal. And from all accounts, her week in the spotlight didn’t appear to have any impact on the inside-the-Beltway action.

But what to make of the Lady GaGa/DADT story and what does it say that it requires a Lady GaGa stunt, YouTube, and rally for the press to really pay attention to the vote taking place in the Senate.

- LZ Granderson has a nice piece at CNN on the meaning of Lady GaGa in terms of the larger debate over DADT.

I appreciate the good will of Gaga, comedian Kathy Griffin and other celebrities who have spoken out in support of a repeal of the policy, but the truth is, they’re preaching to the choir. We all know not one person who is afraid of losing political power is going to be moved by clips from a rally speech. If Stabenow wasn’t moved by the words of her boss, it’s hard to imagine that a woman wearing a meat dress, like Gaga did, is going to have much impact.

No, ultimately the only voice that is going to matter is the one inside the 100 hearts in the Senate, particularly those who have been quick to point fingers but hesitant to stick out necks.

- The Advocate has been covering Lady GaGa’s efforts all week and has an interesting column by Kerry Eleveld about the weak response from the White House and Lady GaGa’s week.

Meanwhile, Lady Gaga has been a more visible force for DADT repeal than almost every politician in Washington combined. Trust me when I say that this reporter — who suffers from severe pop culture deficit — initially discounted her. But after having discharged soldiers escort her to the Video Music Awards, exchanging tweets with Reid’s office about the vote, tweeting an explanation of a filibuster, and instructing her “little monsters” to call their senators, Lady Gaga penetrated my Beltway myopia.

The YouTube video she posted Thursday advocating for repeal already has nearly a million views, and yet not a single statement urging passage of the legislation from the White House.

At last year’s Human Rights Campaign dinner, which featured appearances by both President Obama and Lady Gaga, the president joked, “It is a privilege to be here tonight to open for Lady Gaga.”

While Obama’s performance may have given Gaga a run for her money that night, he is clearly being upstaged by her now.

- I admit that I’ve also flogged the Lady GaGa story, including a discussion of why DADT was ignored by the Sunday talk shows.

NBC Meet the PressDavid Gregory interviewed former president Clinton and General Powell but never got around to asking the man who signed the law or the former head of the joint chiefs of staff who recently announced support of repeal about the upcoming vote.

Clinton, promoting the Clinton Global Initiative, also avoided any questions from Bob Scheiffer on Face the Nation. The topic was not raised on the foreign policy-heavy ABC This Week with Christiane Amanpour, Tea Party-dominated Fox New Sunday or CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley.

While DADT may not be as important as the elections in Afghanistan, it is likely a more important political issue than Christine O’Donnell and her beliefs about masturbation and witchcraft. So why not ask former president Clinton why he approved the policy and what he thinks about the future of the rule?  Why not ask Powell–who has come full circle on DADT–about his views on the controversy?

Alas, it is up to Lady Gaga to have that conversation about the law.

So why didn’t the vote get better play in the media? And what does it say that it takes Lady GaGa to show up before people start writing and talking about it?

Dealing with those Wikileaker Sexuality and Gender Questions

Among the many layers of interesting stories inside the Wikileak controversy involving classified DoD documents is the questions about Bradley Manning himself. Specifically, speculation on Boing Boing that Manning was transgender and the much wider speculation that Manning may be gay.  The Boston Phoenix does a nice job of laying out the controversy.

The American mainstream media has carefully tip-toed around the question of Manning’s sexuality — although blogs including BOING BOING have for at least a month openly asked whether the transcript of Manning’s IM chats (the ones that got him arrested by the army on suspicion of delivering tens of thousands of secret documents to WikiLeaks) indicate that Manning is transgendered. The same Boing Boing post questions whether Manning’s sexuality led to his downfall, via his trust of the Boston native and famous hacker in whom Manning confided, and who later turned Manning in to the Feds:

“Did Manning, in isolation and distress while stationed in Iraq, reach out to Adrian Lamo in part because Manning believed Lamo —whom the internet-searchable public record shows has been an active member of the LGBT community—would be empathetic to a fellow geek going through a gender identity crisis?”

In June, Gawker — citing the GLBT links on Manning’s Facebook profile — asked pretty much the same question: “Was WikiLeaker Bradley Manning betrayed by his queer identity?”

The Daily Mail’s article was ostensibly about the suffering of Manning’s English mother — who was questioned by FBI agents over the weekend — but the Mail also took the opportunity to run a big photo of Manning being embraced by Tyler Watkins, one of Manning’s openly-gay Boston friends who has reportedly been questioned by the Army in recent weeks. Watkins, a Boston University student and former marketing intern at EDGE who was quoted in Wired magazine’s original scoop, is now politely declining all media inquiries. His blog — “Swish Army” — identifies him as a “queer army wife”: “It wasn’t until I join the ranks of all the other gay military spouses that I really ever understood how unjust our country’s policies towards the queer community in the military,” he writes. “Not only am I fed up with DADT but I’m sick and tired of the Obama administration’s failure to serve and uphold the rights of ALL citizens of the US.”

As always, the question is whether his sexual orientation or gender identity matter beyond curiosity. On balance, understanding Manning’s motivation seems to be relevant and if he was feeling distraught, angry, or looking for revenge, than it matters. But the evidence is far from conclusive and appears to wild speculation, for now. That hasn’t stopped conservatives from pouncing on the speculation relying on the Daily Telegraph reporting in the UK.

Is the fact that anti-gay forces are going to use the information about Manning’s alleged sexual orientation or gender identity reason enough not to report it?  How should the media deal with the rumors?

What if They Held a DADT Trial and No One Came?

Did you know there is a major trial going on near Los Angeles dealing with the legality of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?  Did you know some of the top experts on DADT have testified?

If you don’t know, it’s likely because–as veteran LGBT journalist Karen Ocamb points out–the trial is largely being ignored by the large LGBT organizations and the press, with the exception of Ocamb and The Advocate.

Where was GetEqual? They can buy several very expensive tickets to a Barbara Boxer fundraiser to yell at Obama about DADT – but can’t show up with signs outside and buttons inside to demonstrate to the judge, the DOJ and the military representative that this trial matters to LGBTs and should matter to the public?

And where were members of Log Cabin Republican and DADT repeal supporters from Southern California? Surely more LCRs should feel more invested in their own case.

And what about supporters of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and Servicemembers United who speak for the hundreds of military personnel, active or veterans, who serve in the numerous military bases around Southern California?  They could have at least sat in the gallery and glared at the DOJ when those young attorneys made snide objections.

Where were Equality California’s progressive get-out-the-vote volunteers who worked extra hard to help pro-marriage equality Assemblymember Mary Salas, (D-Chula Vista) in her primary contest against conservative Juan Vargas for that 40th Senate District? Surely, the people who volunteer for a pro-gay politician understand the importance of defeating the federal government in court on this issue of full equality. And what about marriage equality canvassers who might also want to advocate for LGBT servicemembers and their families? Hundreds of people drove to nearby San Bernardino from Los Angeles and San Diego for a sweltering, long, contentious post-Prop 8 meeting in the summer of 2008 – where were they?

The U.S. District Court in San Francisco made special arrangements for the expected over-flow crowd during the federal challenge to Prop 8 earlier this year. So the U.S. District Court in Riverside, expecting similar huge crowds, made similar arrangements. But the overflow room sat air conditioned-cold and empty, save for Log Cabin Republicans communications manager Charles Moran, who was fielding media calls and emails.  Yes, the American Foundation for Equal Rights had a built-in media generator with attorney Ted Olson. But LCR’s lead attorney Dan White of White & Case is also a straight Republican who has taken the case pro bono because – like Olson – he considers LGBT equality to be one of the most profound civil rights issues of our time.

Trial coverage is tedious and expensive, and this trial lacks the excitement (and San Francisco location) of the Prop 8 trial. It’s also fair to say national LGBT organizations can’t raise money off the back of DADT, except to have photogenic activists walk across the stage in uniform.

But where are the bloggers (largely attached to activist groups) who swarmed all over the Prop 8 trial? Why the lack of attention?

Good questions all.

Palm Center Unhappy With Press Coverage of DADT

The Palm Center, which does research on gays in the military, has issued a statement criticizing the press coverage of the aftermath of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell votes in Congress. Specifically, the Palm Center says that the New York Times is creating controversy over the implementation that doesn’t exist but instead is spin from pro-DADT forces.

Press stories have been saying that questions linger about whether there will be separate housing for gay troops, whether some units will continue to ban open gays, and whether chaplains and others with religious opposition to homosexuality will be forced out of the military. “These questions are completely off the table,” said Belkin. “Despite the backing of separate housing from the Marine Commandant, there is simply no serious proposal to build different quarters for gay people. Remember, lifting the ban allows gay people to identify themselves, but does not compel them to do so, and that’s what would be required if gays were to be forced into separate quarters. This is not a thorny question–it’s a red herring.” Some questions about whether same-sex partners would be offered housing and visitation rights, Belkin said, are yet to be determined. “But these are not implementation challenges; they are policy questions, and they don’t affect implementation.”

Belkin also disputed the notion that “don’t ask, don’t tell” gave “protections” to gay people, a point made by a lesbian soldier in the Times story. “Some gay service members have said the current policy makes it easier to conceal their identity because they’re not asked if they’re gay,” he said. “But the history and the data tell a different story, which is that both discharges and harassment went up under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and that a majority of troops already believe there are gays in their units. Any feeling of being protected by the gay ban is a false sense of security.”

It’s not clear what specifically bothered the Palm Center, but here’s a passage dealing with the issues discussed in the critique.

Some homosexuals in the military say they are worried about how that process will work and whether they will be treated differently if they publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation. Some raised concerns about being harassed, assigned to separate barracks or shunned by colleagues who had been friendly before.

“In an idyllic world, getting rid of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and saying ‘Everyone here is welcome’ is great,” said a 29-year-old lesbian in the Army National Guard, who asked that her name be withheld because she could still be discharged under the rule.

“But the policy actually allowed for a lot of protections,” the soldier said. “Getting rid of it completely without modifying it is kind of worrisome. The number of incidents against gays in the military is going to increase.”

Indeed, both opponents and supporters of the ban say a host of thorny practical questions will face the Pentagon if Congress gives final approval to legislation allowing the repeal of the ban, which could happen this summer.

Will openly gay service members be placed in separate housing, as the commandant of the Marine Corps has advocated? What benefits, if any, will partners or spouses of homosexual service members be accorded? Will all military units be required to treat homosexuals the same? And what training will heterosexual officers and enlisted troops receive to prepare them to serve with openly gay soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines?

“The reality is, getting rid of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ doesn’t ensure that all lesbian and gay service members will be equal on that day,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “There will continue to be challenges to make full equality for gays and lesbians in the armed forces a reality.”

Does the Sarvis quote contradict the message the Palm Center is trying to argue? Is the Palm Center disagreeing with the quotes from service-members, who have expressed concerns?

It wouldn’t be the first time that the coalition advocating against DADT has disagreed on tactics and message, but the journalism question is whether it is wrong for the NYT and other media to raise concerns about implementation even though the Palm Center says its own research disagrees there is a problem? If advocates supporting DADT raise concerns, how is the media supposed to handle those arguments?

Here’s how the Palm Center describes the lack of dispute:

But Aaron Belkin, Director of the Palm Center, says this is a “false debate” taken up too readily by even mainstream journalists. “There is zero evidence that the transition will be difficult,” he said. “In fact, research across the board shows that implementation of openly gay service is a non-event and that the only thing that could make it bumpy is the suggestion by leaders that there’s cause for alarm.” Belkin pointed to research by the Government Accountability Office, the RAND Corporation, and the Palm Center showing that just two variables are relevant in ensuring a smooth transition: signals of confidence by leadership and a clear, single standard of behavior that applies to everyone. He also said that, unlike ending racial segregation, lifting “don’t ask, don’t tell” does not require massive change, such as the movement of personnel or newly integrating units, since gays are already integrated into units throughout the force, and polls show that many of them already serve openly.

Journalists shouldn’t create controversies that don’t exist, but I’m not sure that’s what the NYT was doing here. After a lot of anti-DADT news and editorial coverage, this seemed like a story that was worthwhile telling. It was supported by quotes from people on all sides and responded to the conversation that is taking place, even if it’s a conversation the Palm Center thinks isn’t necessary.

Your thoughts?

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