It’s time for Obama to talk to the gay press again

Fours years into President Barack Obama’s first term, and the LGBT community’s “fierce advocate” has been incredibly shy when it comes to talking to the nation’s gay press.

This week the Advocate, the country’s national LGBT newsmagazine, disclosed that of the main presidential candidates this year, only Obama answered its questionnaire. While that is commendable, it is not of the same caliber as doing a one-on-one interview with a journalist and being pressed on one’s answers.

Since taking office in 2009 Obama has granted a single interview to an LGBT print publication. In December of 2010 he sat down with Kerry Eleveld, then the D.C.-based reporter for the Advocate.

That interview came two months after Joe Sudbay, who covers gay politics for AMERICAblog, was one of a handful of progressive bloggers who were given access to the president and allowed to ask questions about any topic.

Starting with his first presidential campaign, Obama has had a mixed record on granting access to the LGBT press. During his primary battle in 2008 against Hillary Clinton, the Philadelphia Gay News famously ran a blank space on its front page after being denied an interview with Obama ahead of the Pennsylvania Primary that year.

While the paper endorsed Clinton, who did grant the publication an interview, the stunt drew national headlines and highlighted Obama’s refusal during the campaign to talk with local gay publications across the country. Obama did talk to PGN prior to the November election, and the interview ran in a number of LGBT publications, including the Bay Area Reporter in San Francisco.

After taking office, the Obama administration granted access to its White House press briefings to several journalists from gay publications based in D.C., such as the Washington Blade and the Advocate. That access had been denied under the Bush administration.

And a host of cabinet secretaries, high-level officials and senior staffers in the administration have talked to numerous gay news outlets in the last three years. His press spokesman for LGBT outlets took part in NLGJA’s convention last summer in Philadelphia for example, as did Daniel B. Baer, the openly gay deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the U.S. State Department.

Certainly there has been a lot to cover, as Obama has pushed through more pro-gay regulations and laws than any president in modern times. And there is plenty more work to do, such as repealing the federal ban against same-sex marriage and adopting federal protections for LGBTs in the workplace.

All the more reason why Obama should be talking to the LGBT community through its gay news media. As he courts LGBT voters and donors, Obama should be engaging with the LGBT press.

“It’s important for the president to speak to media that reflect and reach communities that mirror the full diversity of this country,” stated David A. Steinberg, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s national president. “In a time when so many major publications and broadcasters are cutting back, the gay press provides information that’s important to the LGBT community — information that often can’t be found anywhere else.”

Whether the president will grant another LGBT press interview amid the cacophony of the 2012 presidential campaign remains unclear. In response to a query for this blog post, an Obama spokesman would not say if he has another gay press interview lined up.

Lisa Keen, the owner of a news service for LGBT media outlets, said in an email today (March, 9) that she has repeatedly tried to secure an interview with Obama since 2008.

“Yes, I have put in several requests, but to no avail. I think I’ve gotten only one official ‘no.’ I’ve been reading in the trades that Obama grants very few interviews (I believe media serving African American readers have felt snubbed) but he has granted group interviews to media (Hispanics last fall) that can serve his interests (appeasing constituencies, appearing accessible, etc.),” wrote Keen.

She also was critical of the time constraints placed on both Eleveld and Sudbay, noting that neither were given enough time to cover the myriad LGBT issues that need to be asked of Obama.

“This limiting interviews to 10-15 minutes has become common practice for presidential candidates (though he was more than a candidate at the time) — limit interviews to 15 minutes so you can rattle on and on about one point and never really have to answer many questions,” wrote Keen. “With the Eleveld interview, she had to ask about [repealing the anti-gay military policy ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] and that gave him a chance to take a long victory lap, leaving little time for anything else. He’s also fond of pulling out a few stock responses like, ‘I’m not ready to make news on that today’ to avoid answering questions he doesn’t want to.”

Mark Segal, the publisher of the Philly LGBT paper, said his publication is once again trying to land an interview with Obama this year ahead of the November election. And he added that he would have no problem running another blank front page to protest Obama’s refusal to do so.

“I certainly expect the president to be interviewed by LGBT media during his campaign. Having a press aide who deals with LGBT media on a regular basis has been very helpful, but during a campaign we expect to hear from the president himself.  It is an issue of respect, and I believe the president understands that,” Segal wrote in an emailed response.

Keen said she is unaware of the main GOP contenders – Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, or Mitt Romney – having granted an interview with the gay media. She plans to try to nab an interview with the party’s nominee following the Republican National Convention this summer.

So Obama’s got a one-up on them in that respect. I have not asked for an interview with Romney, Santorum, etc. I think that will be appropriate in the general, but there’s not really been a divide among GOP gays as to who they’re for in the primaries, so it seems pointless until we get into the general and I can’t imagine a GOP candidate would even consider an interview until the general, if then,” wrote Keen.

PGN plans to seek interviews with Santorum, the state’s former U.S. senator and House member, ahead of the Pennsylvania primary this year, said Segal.

“When Ricky and the R circus gets to PA, as PGN always does we will reach out and make a request.  And I do expect the Republican circus will go to the April 25th Pennsylvania primary,” wrote Segal.

The Washington Blade, D.C.’s oldest LGBT newspaper, has had its interview requests rejected by both Obama’s campaign and White House staff since 2008. Similar to this year’s Advocate questionnaire, Obama did a written Q&A with the Blade during the 2008 campaign.

Kevin Naff, the paper’s editor, said he plans to request interviews with both parties’ nominee this year.

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