This morning, I opened up Roll Call to see that Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition has an opinion piece trashing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The piece has enraged Jillian Weiss at Bilerico Project who complains TVC is a “hate group,” yet they are quoted by mainstream media outlets.
I spent a few years covering ENDA in Congress and have dealt with (and quoted) Lafferty and TVC. Lafferty is incredibly engaging, talks in perfect soundbites, is amazingly media savvy, and her organization cranks out press releases like nobodies business. She’s accessible to the press, returns phone calls, is easy to identify at hearings, and has a great sense of humor.
Her organization also represents the only organized opposition to ENDA in Washington.
There’s the dilemma that reporters face when covering ENDA. They need some balance, members of Congress are incredibly vague about their opposition, staff don’t like to talk about it, so you call up TVC because you need a lively quote from the opposition. On deadline, it’s a natural move.
There came a point where I quit calling them or quoting them. I worked for a specialized publication geared towards lawyers and the business/labor community. TVC’s concerns weren’t relevant to the concerns of my readers and therefore continuing to quote them didn’t really make sense.
But as a reporter, you have a dilemma. If you are going to be fair and accurate, you want to quote some opposition to ENDA. Since ENDA can’t seem to ever get passed, there is clearly opposition out there. But the opposition doesn’t really have a spokesman or interest group, only enough votes to filibuster in the Senate. That creates a bind for journalists. How do you reflect that opposition if no one seems to want to talk about it? You end up turning to TVC or Focus on the Family or other social conservative groups, even if ENDA is ultimately a business or legal story.
As to the “hate group” label that is a favorite in the LGBT and progressive world, it’s just not that clear cut. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of “hate groups” is far from scientific and is often criticized for its role in SPLC fundraising. Mainstream media, understandably, is reluctant to use the SPLC “hate group” designation when describing organizations like TVC.
So where does that leave journalists? Journalists probably need to be more suspicious of sources like TVC who appear to lack a real constituency in Congress. Journalists also need to do better in cultivating sources who can talk about opposing ENDA, if that’s the goal. Look who appears as witnesses in Senate and House hearings. Find out what the business lobby has to say. Try to get members of Congress (or their staff) to speak about their concerns regarding the bill. Using a “dial a quote” source is sloppy journalism that doesn’t really serve your readers/viewers.