Poynter Questions the GLAAD Commentator Project

It’s difficult for some journalists, especially LGBT journalists, to figure out how they feel about the GLAAD Commentator Accountability Project. While it has been praised by some, it has raised concerns from others.  Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute–who focuses on ethics and has appeared at NLGJA conferences–takes a look at the project and raises questions about the purpose and impact.

  • Of course, the danger is that journalists will use lists like this in the same way they would use a black list. If GLAAD is sincere about its intentions, the organization could add a short, instructional paragraph to the site, offering up some ideas about the best way to use the database. Because there is a range of egregiousness, such language would be helpful to journalists and to citizens who might come to the site looking for more information about a voice they heard. GLAAD also might include names of people who do “accurately represent the ‘other side’ of those issues,” as they say these commentators do not.

McBride questions whether the comments of some of the people on the GLAAD list have really committed what GLAAD considers “hate speech” and suggests that journalists and bookers may come away uncertain about why someone shouldn’t be interviewed or interviewed without being viewed as an expert.

She quotes GlAAD’s Aaron McQuade in describing the purpose of the list, and defending the criticism that it isn’t a blacklist.

If you are going to offer vile, hateful rhetoric in one forum, then show up on MSNBC as a scholarly expert, we want the audience to know the full context of who you are,” he said. And he hopes that anchors and reporters will challenge such commentators on things they say in other forums.

McBride’s column comes as GLAAD announces that the National Organization for Marriage and Pat Robertson have been added to their list of questionable commentators.  NOM’s sin, of course, is the release of internal documents outlining the group’s political strategy that included exploiting hostility between the gay community and African Americans, as well as Latinos. But the inclusion of NOM raises the inevitable question: if GLAAD thinks journalists should be suspicious of the largest, most well-funded anti-SSM group in the country, who does GLAAD think journalists SHOULD call to balance out pro-SSM activists and commentators?

This is questions we’ve wrestled with before, when it came to the infamous Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate group designations.  While clearly they are fringe groups on the SPLC list–and there are fringe people on the GLAAD list–there are also many people on both lists who have significant constituencies and a track record of significant support from the public.  So how do you exile such people from your coverage?  Should you?

Maggie Gallagher is rather fearless in her willingness to debate anyone and talk to any media.  But she’s also not a fringe voice or someone without a significant constituency.  It’s difficult to imagine any better advocate for the anti-SSM position than Gallagher if you are trying to book a guest or get a quote.  So why shouldn’t be considered credible and interviewed?  She’s said some crazy stuff, but so have some pro-SSM activists who are routinely interviewed.  Her group has put out some controversial statements and taken some unsavory positions, but so have groups that support SSM and gay rights.

This leaves journalists in a real jam. I agree that journalists should ask hard questions and commentators should be called on controversial statements. But is creating a list of suspect commentators really the answer?

7 Responses

  1. Well, fascinating that Bryan Fischer was raising the same concerns the lgbt community is raising. This can’t be good for the face of the community. It’s never good to be associated with Macarthyism or the Red Scare. But, no one is going to jail are they? So, I don’t get what the fuss is. – Bryan Fischer and others can say what they want, I believe that the list ascts as just a list of names to watch out for as opposed to something to be overly concerned about.

  2. The purpose of the list is to make available the objectionable comments made by these “experts.” It is not to ban the bigots, though some on the list have made statement so beyond any line of acceptable discourse that inviting them would be equivalent of inviting the Grand Wizard of the KKK to comment on the Trayvon Martin case. Those should be banned. The others, however, should be questioned about their objectionable comments. When Maggie Gallagher comes on television and appears reasonable, viewers should also be reminded of her history of unreasonable statements. (To say nothing of her working as a shill for the Bush administration.)

  3. “She’s said some crazy stuff, but so have some pro-SSM activists who are routinely interviewed.  Her group has put out some controversial statements and taken some unsavory positions, but so have groups that support SSM and gay rights”: Prove it. You’re setting up the sane kind of false equivalency (two sets of facts, each equally credible) that GLAAD is fighting here.

    Man, NLGJA sucks.

  4. 1. Where is the link to the full Poynter article?

    2. I’m disappointed to see this post repeat Poynter’s sloppy characterization of the purpose and use of the GLAAD list.

    “If you are going to offer vile, hateful rhetoric in one forum, then show up on MSNBC as a scholarly expert, we want the audience to know the full context of who you are.”

    I mean, c’mon, you quoted this, and then proceeded to ignore it.

    3. Why are GLAAD’s critics uncomfortable with a fair and comprehensive airing of the facts about media guests? Why do the critics parrot the false claim that antigay groups represent the only Christian viewpoint, or even a majority Christian viewpoint? (For example: How many Christians agree with FRC that all homosexuals should be imprisoned?)

    4. Why is NLGJA smearing SPLC as “infamous”?

    It would be one thing if the criticisms of the GLAAD accountability project were primarily factual. I do agree with one criticism: GLAAD does need to promote a list of experts who are less extreme, more truthful and balanced, more representative of mainstream faith and family values — and available on a few minutes’ notice to comply with media deadlines.

    But when you criticize (and smear) organizations for compiling the very data that one needs in order to ask tough questions, then your claim to support fact-finding and hard questioning is left in doubt. And if you refuse to question the credibility and integrity of someone before giving them prime airtime, then your own integrity as a journalist is left in doubt.

    • I’ve added the link. Sorry about that.

      As for GLAAD’s list, I agree with McBride that putting out any list of suspect guests runs the risk of being perceived as a blacklist, no matter what GLAAD suggests or intends. GLAAD dearly isn’t trying to encourage booking or interviewing these guests or groups, so the truth-squad approach can seen as an attempt to blacklist them.

      In terms of SPLC, “infamous” was probably not a great word choice. But SPLC is controversial and their tactics–especially when it comes to anti-gay groups–have been questioned in terms of how they’ve complied their “hate group” list and how journalists have used those designations. From a journalism ethics perspective, the “hate group” label SPLC uses is problematic.

  5. Going forward, what will NLGJA do to encourage all journalists to view extremist groups with greater factual skepticism and less free publicity?

    • Absolutely. The same skepticism should also be applied to any advocacy organization.

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