Chain-Ups, Sit-Ins, and Bad PR: The Media Wrap-Up

What if you held a protest at the White House and no one really notices?  Imagine holding a sit-in on Capitol Hill that was ignored by the three newspapers who cover Capitol Hill like a blanket?  What happens when you hold a press event with a major celebrity who earlier calls a congressman “a queen” and the event gets hijacked?

That, in a nutshell, was the media story from Washington as the Human Rights Campaign held a “rally” with Kathy Griffin about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell that was hijacked by Lt. Daniel Choi.  Choi then went to the White House, handcuffed himself to the fence, and got arrested.  Simultaneously, activists staged sit-ins at Nancy Pelosi’s offices in San Francisco and Washington over employment discrimination.

And what was the mainstream media’s reaction. A collective yawn.

Here’s the Washington Post’s coverage of the Choi protest.

Gay men arrested in White House protest

The U.S. Park Police arrested two protesters who handcuffed themselves to a portion of the White House fence Thursday afternoon.

Shortly before 2 p.m., Park Police came upon two men who had chained themselves to a section of the iron fence on the north side, said Sgt. David Schlosser, a police spokesman. Officers told the men they did not have a permit for their demonstration and gave them three warnings about the violation, Schlosser said. The men refused to leave, so officers arrested them on the charge of “failure to obey a lawful order.”

James Pietrangelo, 44, of Sandusky, Ohio, and Daniel W. Choi, 29, of New York are scheduled to appear in D.C. Superior Court on Friday.

Choi is an openly gay Iraq war veteran who has been a vocal critic of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward homosexuals. Pietrangelo is a former U.S. Army captain and also openly gay.

Choi said in a statement that he and Pietrangelo went to the White House to take their message directly to President Obama.

That’s it. There was also a blog post involving a city council race where the arrest was becoming an issue.  The paper’s coverage of Kathy Griffin, the day before on the gossip page, was longer than both pieces combined and came with a photo.

The broadcast networks–with the exception of CNNonly covered the protest on their websites and without much independent reporting.

The coverage of the sit-ins was worse.  The three publications that blanket Capitol Hill and cover the opening of an envelope–Roll Call, The Hill, and Politico–completely ignored the sit-in.

Now, it can be argued that the DC press ignores theatrics like this because, well, theatrics like this happen almost every day in DC.  Someone protesting at the White House just isn’t that big of a news story.  And the protests all occurred on a day when health care was sucking up the oxygen in the press room.

That left the bulk of the coverage to the LGBT press and the blogosphere and twitterverse. Both Kerry Eleveld of the Advocate and Chris Geidner of MetroWeekly dominated the twitterverse coverage. John Aravosis at Americablog provided heavy coverage on his blog.

Despite the collective yawn by the press, David Mixner declared the day the birth of a civil rights movement and compared his friends (and fellow March on Washington organizers) at GetEqual.org, as well as Choi and Captain Jim Pietrangelo, to Dr. Martin Luther King. Michael Crawford at Bilerico Project spoke of a “new queer order” and praised “new organizing,” echoing fellow Bilerico Project blogger Jillian Weiss, who saw the day as a triumph for online/offline activism. At Huffington Post, Rob Smith mixed a number of metaphors before saying that Choi isn’t the next Dr. King, but instead the next Malcolm X.

Queerty was quick out of the gate with both praise and criticism. Here’s their take on Griffin and HRC:

She opted to stay behind, with HRC’s Joe Solmonese, to take pictures and get more B-roll. Instead, she missed the real action at the White House, and so did her cameras. Alas, that might mean no footage of Choi’s efforts on Bravo.

And on the failure to get media coverage:

Why weren’t any of them reporting on Choi’s protest? Because they weren’t notified about it ahead of time. Cable news operates this way: If there is no video, there is no story. Sure, Wolf Blitzer can insert a “this just in” as he relays what he hears in his IFB, but unless they’ve got tape or a live feed, producers will not put it on the air. That’s how it works. And without advanced notice, they had zero time to coordinate the ordeal of getting a satellite truck in position, and a cameraman and reporter on the scene.

Obviously, the net result of the day’s actions and misactions will be judged down the line. Queerty is correct in pointing out that it was a media blunder for not organizing the protests and planning a media strategy. Mixner said he spoke with Choi before hand, but was anyone advising him on how to get media attention? And whose idea was it to have Kathy Griffin headline a DADT rally?

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3 Responses

  1. Hey Michael –
    Appreciate you blog.

    It was Kathy Griffin’s idea to hold the rally – which she announced on Saturday night and then asked for HRC’s help – I think it was to get footage for her special “My Life on the D-List” on DADT: http://www.lgbtpov.com/2010/03/at-hrc-gala-kathy-griffin-calls-for-dadt-protest-in-dc-de-rossi-now-a-post-prop-8-activist/

    As far as Lt. Dan Choi “hijacking” the rally – that’s kind of unfair since so many people have been invoking his name since he came out on Rachel Maddow’s show that he has become more of the “public face” of DADT then the other vets HRC got involved with Griffin’s rally.

    From my interaction with him in our post Prop 8 world in LA, I found him to be deeply sincere and committed to this mission – restoring integrity to himself and the military (Kights Out) by repealing the DADT policy. He is leader in the National Guard and to me it looks like he’s bringing that fortitude and commitment to this fight – which some are now seeing as a ego-trip. He may have gotten a swelled head since I last saw him – but I think he’s just looking at this as a battle and doing whatever he can to win – which includes putting his personal freedom on the line if the military comes after him for wearing his uniform during a protest at the White House. Remember, he’s being dismissed under DADT – but he’s still on active duty.

    I find it interesting to cover someone who exercises decisive public leadership and articulately explains why he’s doing it.

    Just some thoughts.

  2. I meant hijacked in the sense that this was clearly not what HRC, at least, had in mind when they announced the rally. The reports are that Choi wasn’t even a scheduled speaker. In that sense, it was hijacked. It also took away all of the attention, with Kathy left reading telegrams from Cher. Griffin’s trip to DC was quite a spectacle; it will be interesting to see how it plays on her show.

  3. Good article, Michael. I agree with you about the media coverage issue. I’d like to speak to you about how to get a better media advisor for GetEqual. Can you email me?

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