It appears that after weeks of controversy, largely fueled by the traditional and online LGBT media, Jarret Barrios of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has resigned after questions surfaced regarding GLAAD’s relationship with AT&T and the company’s regulatory agenda before the Federal Communications Commission and its merger with T-Mobile.
This easily could have been an “inside baseball” story that never went beyond the LGBT media. GLAAD has recently been a main target of LGBT bloggers and activists, who have delighted in GLAAD’s miscues and seeming mission creep. The organization has been criticized for its relationship with corporate sponsors–both media organizations and non-media–despite GLAAD’s efforts to court activists and bloggers at events like NetRoots Nation and NGLTF’s Creating Change conventions.
The GLAAD/AT&T story, however, was the moment the LGBT media had been waiting for since the relationship has all the smell of a scandal. The story largely began when John Aravosis at Americablog first published the letter GLAAD sent to the FCC backing the AT&T/T-Mobile merger. The story came a week after AT&T allegedly backed an anti-LGBT rights bill in Tennessee.
The story percolated in the LGBT blogs for a couple of days until Michelangelo Signorile, a long-time GLAAD critic, hosted former GLAAD co-chair Laurie Perper who blasted the organization and said GLAAD should be dissolved. Barrios allegedly refused to participate in the Signorile show without having a crisis management pro with him, instead taking its defense to Adam Polaski at Bilerico Project.
The story took over a week before it was furthered by the the non-LGBT press, first at Politico which covered the GLAAD story as part of AT&T”s larger courting of progressive groups to further it’s lobbying agenda. By that point, LGBT media was reporting the back-and-forth over contradictory letters sent by GLAAD regarding net neutrality and Barrios’ defense that he hadn’t approved one of the letters sent to the FCC, which was later retracted.
The significant role the LGBT media played in Barrios’ downfall is reflected in the Politico story analyzing Barrios’ resignation, where technology reporter Jennifer Martinez prominently quotes Aravosis, Signorile, and Bilerico’s Bil Browning. This was a story largely driven by LGBT bloggers and online media, as well as Signorile (who works online and at Sirius/XM). The story had a crowd-sourcing feel to it, with many journalists and activists pouring over letters to the FCC, GLAAD and AT&T financial records, and other data in order to determine what happened between AT&T and GLAAD.
In the end, the attention from inside and outside the LGBT media became too much and Barrios resigned despite signals 24-hours earlier that he wasn’t going to. There are now calls for the resignation of Troup Coronado–who has worked for AT&T as a lobbyist and has long ties to both AT&T and the LGBT movement–from GLAAD’s board.
(Full disclosure: I attended, on behalf of NLGJA, a 2010 luncheon organized in Washington by Coronado on behalf of AT&T in order for a top AT&T official to meet with the leaders of LGBT organizations and discuss their outreach to minority groups, including the LGBT community. NLGJA, as an organization representing journalists, has not been asked and has not taken any position on the merger or net-neutrality.)
Without commenting on the merits of the story and GLAAD’s work, this story represents a high point illustrating the impact the LGBT media can have covering the large organizations involved in the LGBT movement. While GLAAD has long been in the cross-hairs of many LGBT activists, the work fleshing out the story, providing primary source documents, and getting interviews with the key players in this saga shows the vitality of the LGBT media and, especially, the impact of online media.