CNN advocated a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy in 12 different reports between Jan. 28, the day after President Barack Obama reiterated his pledge to end the current military policy of banning openly gay citizens from the United States military in his State of the Union address and Feb. 2.
CNN allowed spokespeople from gay advocacy organizations such as Servicemembers United, the Log Cabin Republicans and the Palm Center, as well as several former and active gay military personnel, to plead their case without challenge
Of the 12 people CNN chose to appear on air (nine were military personnel) to discuss "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," only one expressed support of the current policy. Despite a Military Times poll that indicated 58 percent of military personnel are opposed to allowing openly gay people in the military, 78 percent (7 out of 9) of the military personnel featured in CNN's recent reports expressed their desire to allow homosexuals in the armed forces. One person remained neutral.
"Our deployed soldiers deserve to have their full rights," an anonymous female soldier told CNN's Ted Rowlands.
CNN's Pentagon reporter Barbara Starr implied on Feb. 1 that it didn't really matter what the military had to say about the possible repeal.
"We know the [Joint] chiefs have a lot of concerns about it," Starr reported. "They're worried it'll be disruptive to the force, in their view."
Starr later declared: "The bottom line ... is the chiefs, no matter what, will salute smartly, say they support the President, and try and figure out a way to make it work."
CNN's blatant advocacy was timely since the Senate Armed Services Committee was scheduled to meet with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen Feb. 2 to discuss military concerns about changing the policy.
No Room for Debate
Over and over throughout the past six days, CNN viewers heard only one message from the cable network: repeal "don't ask, don't tell."
A segment by CNN reporter Ted Rowlands featured three anonymous gay service members, complete with blurred faces and changed voices because the service members did not want to jeopardize their careers. That one segment aired at three separate times since the president's announcement during the State of the Union.
Despite expressing fear of their commanders finding out about their sexual orientation, the service members told Rowlands they were speaking out because they, "really think it is the best thing for the military, all services and the best thing for this country for this [DADT] to be repealed."
"Gays, lesbians, transgenders are in the military now. People know about it and the people who are against it who don't want to take a shower with us, that stuff already happens. It's not going to change," elaborated one soldier.
Rowlands did not include a point of view from a current soldier, airman, Marine or sailor that reflected the opposite view: that gay and lesbians should not serve in the United States military.
CNN's Rick Sanchez also lauded the efforts of gay serviceman Lt. Dan Choi, crowning him "Most Intriguing" person of the day Jan. 28, the day after the State of the Union. Choi famously came out as a gay soldier last spring on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show." He is awaiting a decision from his commanders with regard to his job in the Army National Guard.
"While serving in Iraq, he had to lie to fellow soldiers in his platoon and refer to his boyfriend as his girlfriend," Sanchez said. "That was a lie."
"The case is still pending, so this might be what saves my career and platoon," Choi reportedly texted to CNN after Obama's announcement that DADT would be a priority for this year. "If Congress or the president ends ‘don't ask, don't tell,' then I will have a job, again."
On Feb. 2, Starr turned to Michael O'Hanlon of the liberal Brookings Institute to tout DADT as an "old-fashioned" policy.
"We can talk about this directly or we can just be fairly direct," O'Hanlon told Starr. "There are a lot of 18-year-old, old-fashioned, testosterone-laden men in the military who are tough guys. They are often politically old-fashioned or conservative. They are not necessarily at the vanguard in many cases of accepting alternative forms of lifestyle."
Later that morning correspondent Carol Costello turned to Nathan Frank of the Palm Center to argue that "Repealing the ban would save money in the long run, absolutely." Costello didn't point out that the Palm Center is a research outlet based at the University of California at Santa Barbara that advocates for gay, lesbian and transgender inclusion in the U.S. armed forces.
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, and a former Army intelligence officer who was discharged after being outed told CNN Feb. 2 that "don't ask don't tell" is "much more all inclusive and encompassing" than it sounds. "It was more like don't ask, don't tell, don't happen to be found out any time, any place, in any way," he said.
No one appeared on CNN to counter claims like former Defense Secretary William Cohen's, who told anchor Don Lemon on Jan. 30, "The notion that someone can be gay in the military and not anyone know about it, you can sacrifice or she can sacrifice their lives, but if they say they're gay, then they're out. I think that's a policy which needs to be reviewed. And I would advocate [it] to be repealed."
Lemon later hosted a discussion between three gay activists about the policy. Charles Moran, from the Log Cabin Republicans, Michelangelo Signorile, host of a daily radio talk show on Sirius Satellite Radio's OutQ channel, and Neil Giuliano, former president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation who all argued the military should do away with "don't ask, don't tell."
Moran, for his part, claimed equality was the most important factor in this debate.
"Regardless of people's personal hang-ups and feelings, we have a commitment as Americans to support a structure that is going to be best preserve and defend what America is. We didn't take a poll to see if it was popular to let integrate the military with African-Americans" Moran said. "We didn't take a poll to see whether or not it was going to be popular to let women serve side-by-side along with men in a combat zone. It's doing what is best with representatives of our country, and doing what's best for the military and for our nation."
Signorile attempted to use polls to prove his point that America is ready for gays to serve openly in its military.
"The public has come dramatically far since the ‘90s. We now have polls that show 75 percent of Americans support this. Many Republicans support it," the radio host claimed. In 2008, an ABC News/Washington Post poll did find that 75 percent if Americans are okay with gays openly serving in the military.
But while 75 percent of Americans may favor a change in policy, it doesn't reflect the military's own opinion of such a change. Signorile referenced an unnamed poll that found 66 percent of service members would not have a problem with open homosexuals serving, but that's wasn't in agreement with other surveys of military personnel.
In the summer of 2009, a survey conducted by the Military Officers Association of America, an organization made up of active-duty officers, reservists, military retirees, and veterans, found 52 percent of respondents "supported an outright ban on military service by homosexuals." Even more, 68 percent said changing the law to allow openly gay service members would have a negative effect on troop morale and military readiness.
A 2008 Military Times poll found that 58 percent of respondents oppose the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."
Costello referenced the Military Times poll in her Feb. 2 report, but noted only that "24 percent of military personnel would eventually leave the service if gay troops served openly."
CNN also ignored a statement of support for the current "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy signed last March by more than 1,000 retired flag and general officers.
What CNN Excluded
Brief mentions were made about the "divergent opinions" held by Congress and the military on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" but arguments in favor of the policy were almost entirely missing from the reports.
Nothing was said on CNN about the effect open homosexuality in the military could have on troop cohesion, morale and readiness. No active member of the military appeared on CNN to speak in favor of the policy, even though polls indicate service members are largely in favor of keeping the policy in place.
Clearly there are widely divergent opinions on the topic. CNN failed its journalistic responsibility to represent all sides of the controversial topic.