GLAAD Tidings: CNN, Gay Group in Committed Relationship

You have to hand it to CNN: Even with abysmal ratings, the 24-hr news network manages to keep things gay. Anderson Cooper officially “came out” in early July, joining fellow anchor Don Lemon on the out-of-the-closet news team.

And it’s not just the on-air talent. CNN has a has a special relationship with Gays and Lesbians Allied Against Defamation (GLAAD), the activist group. CNN parent TimeWarner is a “Platinum Underwriter” of the GLAAD Media Awards. So are the three broadcast networks. What makes CNN special is its give-and-take with GLAAD.

CNN has mentioned or turned to GLAAD for opinions and expertise on gay-related stories at least 41 times in the last two years. That’s compared to just two mentions on the three broadcast networks combined. In many cases, GLAAD’s view was presented unopposed.

As GLAAD’s name implies, it enforces its own speech codes regarding what can and can’t be publicly said about gays, lesbians, etc. When actor Kirk Cameron told CNN’s Piers Morgan that, as a Christian, he opposed same-sex marriage, GLAAD swung into action. According to GLAAD’s blog, “Cameron sounds even more dated than his 1980s TV character.” Cameron’s acceptance of the traditional definition of marriage was “anti-gay,” “out of touch,” and a sign of “homophobia.”

The group also monitors portrayals of gays in movies and TV, counting the number of GLBT characters and themes and making sure they’re positive. Elsewhere, GLAAD recently had a hand in forcing the Miss Universe pageant to allow a transgender woman (born a man) to compete. Having upended reality, GLAAD congratulated Miss Universe for folding and urged “the Organization to include all women and use this incident to speak out in support of the transgender community.”

CNN has turned to GLAAD whenever a celebrity has gotten into trouble for being insufficiently enthusiastic about gays. An android app is offensive? Get GLAAD’s reaction. Most recently, CNN interviewed GLAAD blogger and political consultant Jeremy Hooper on Aug.1, asking him to respond to “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” (He didn’t like it.)

The Appreciation Day was a reaction to politicians in several cities blustering that Chick-fil-A wasn’t welcome there because it’s president publicly stated his support for traditional marriage. On CNN, Cooper told Carol Costello that conservatives were, “using side claims about free speech and religious freedom. Both of which are bunk.” Costello didn’t challenge him.

CNN.com publicized GLAAD’s call for donations of $6.50, “the approximate cost of a Chick-fil-A meal,” and its support for a “‘National Same-Sex Kiss Day’ to be held Friday at Chick-fil-A restaurants nationwide.” That’s par for the course. GLAAD shows up another 43 times on CNN.com over the last two years.

For its part, GLAAD has repeatedly honored CNN reporting and personnel.

CNN, MSNBC and the three broadcast networks all support and advance the gay agenda – especially when it can help their candidate. They celebrated the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military and couldn’t find a critical word to say about President Obama’s cynical “evolution” on gay marriage. Reminding the liberal base of his pro-gay bona fides is helpful to Obama’s reelection in a close campaign in which the president can’t run on economic achievements.

But only CNN is so tied in to a group whose main purpose is to promote positive media portraits of gays. And a look at CNN’s coverage of gay issues – and GLAAD’s significant contributions to it – should be troubling to anyone interested in media ethics and transparency.

Mutual Admiration Society

On it’s website, GLAAD explains that “What people see in the media has a huge impact and GLAAD ensures images of LGBT people and allies grow acceptance, understanding and build support for equality.” The site also boasts, “For over 25 years, GLAAD has worked with news, entertainment and social media to bring culture-changing stories of LGBT people into millions of homes and workplaces every day.”

So GLAAD’s purpose and methods are clear and above-board. The group is a self-styled “Storyteller,” “Watchdog” and “Advocate.”

CNN, however, is a news outlet – a journalistic endeavor. As such, (according to the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics) it should:

—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

When it comes to GLAAD, CNN fails on both counts.

In becoming a “Platinum Underwriter” of the GLAAD Media Awards, CNN’s parent made a cash contribution to an activist organization. That organization, in turn, honored multiple CNN episodes and segments with nominations for GLAAD’s Media Awards.

In 2012, GLAAD nominated five CNN products:

In 2011, CNN received two nominations. And it wasn’t just CNN’s reporting that pleased GLAAD.

On Oct. 1, 2011, Susan Hendricks, filling in for Don Lemon on CNN Newsroom, concluded the show, saying, “And finally, we want to say congratulations to the man who usually sits right here in this seat, Don Lemon. Tonight, Don received the Outstanding Citizen Award from the Atlanta chapter of GLAAD, the gay rights group.”

The next evening, Lemon acknowledged the award on “Newsroom.” “I want to thank GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, for an award that I never thought I'd even win for something I never thought I'd talk about publicly. The Atlanta chapter of GLAAD honored me for Outstanding Citizen of the Year award, recognizes my work and my memoir, ‘Transparent,’ in which I talked about the importance of being who you are. Gay, straight or otherwise, black, white, whatever, walk in your own truth. I am deeply humbled by the honor and I want to say thank you very much, GLAAD. Again, deeply honored.”

Tangible Benefits

CNN’s cozy relationship with GLAAD is reflected in its coverage of gay issues. Whether the network reacts to GLAAD’s press releases or simply calls on GLAAD habitually to comment on gay stories, there is clearly a line of communication.

On the April 18, 2011 “Dr. Drew,” while discussing “reparative therapy” to turn gay people straight, the host, Drew Pinsky produced a statement from GLAAD. “They say there is no such thing as ex-gay. Every respected medical and psychological organization has concluded that being gay is not a disorder and does not have a cure.”

On Sept. 29, 2011, host Randi Kaye, introduced a segment: “A French developer has released a new Android app called appropriately enough, ‘Is My Son Gay?’” Kaye’s guest was Corey Johnson, deputy director of programs for GLAAD. “Well, sadly, there's nothing funny about an app that unnecessarily trivializes and promotes outdated stereotypes of gay and lesbian people” Johnson complained. “Sadly, we still see parents who reject their children – more and more parents are accepting their children and unconditionally loving them. But an application like this really sets up bad stereotypes, and gay and lesbian young people that are rejected face higher rates of homelessness, mental illness and, you know, ultimately are eight times more likely to commit suicide.”

GLAAD most often appears on CNN in its role as gay speech police. Whether CNN res. When comic Tracy Morgan was forced to apologize for making gay jokes in his routine in 2011, Kaye hosted GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios. “Jarrett, your organization, GLAAD, released a statement today in response to Morgan's rant, I want to share it with our viewers. ‘We call on him to remove these violently anti-gay remarks from his show and send a strong message that anti-gay violence is not something to joke about,” Kaye read

Then she served up a softball to Barrios while assuring viewers of GLAAD’s benign intent. “Jarrett, your organization is all for freedom of speech, but do you feel Morgan went too far? I mean, do you believe that a homophobic rant like this can cause some damage?”

Barrios trotted out the same bullying lines Corey Johnson had, but then did some bullying himself. “We want Tracy Morgan to meet with the parents of kids who have killed themselves or who have lost their lives at the hands of violence. We also want him to meet homeless gay kids and talk to them because they have been kicked out because of their parents' homophobia.”

Barrios also went after NBC, which employs Morgan, and Nashville, the city in which he said the offending lines. “You know, it's worth noting for everybody here that this took place in Nashville.” he said. “In Nashville, just two weeks ago, the governor repealed the local nondiscrimination ordinance. It is legal to fire somebody in the city of Nashville just because they are gay. The governor signed another bill that said, you know what? You can't say gay in public schools … This is an environment that's filled not just with discrimination, but the kind bigotry, this kind of sort of hatred that he was speaking to when he spoke to that crowd. It is more than an embarrassment, it's more than just an apology.”

Apparently, to Barrios, the only way Morgan could ever atone for his jokes was to promote gay tourism in Tennessee. “He needs to do more to justify the words that he said in apology. He needs to engage with the community, not just the gay community, but all of us, to change the hearts and minds and really make gay folks more welcome in Tennessee and across this country.”

Neither Kaye nor any of her other guests challenged disagreed. CNN, perhaps fearing what Barrios would demand from it if it didn’t maximize his exposure, gave him an op-ed on CNN.com to amplify his calls.

But CNN doesn’t scruple to give GLAAD all the good PR its meager ratings can lend, allowing Barrios to publicize online petitions (such as one to force the removal of an Arkansas local school board member for statements he made on Facebook.), and it doesn’t hesitate to include the group in its on-air celebrations of things gay, such as the “gay celebrity baby-boom” CNN noticed in late 2010. The network’s Kareen Wynter chirped that, in addition Elton John and Ricky Martin, “there are other stars, too, who are making no apologies. Clay Aiken, Melissa Etheridge, Rosie O'Donnell. All publicly gay and lesbian celebrities with children.”

Wynter then segued into the obligatory GLAAD comment: “In addition to gay celebrities starting families, GLAAD president Jarrett Barrios says shows like ABC's hit comedy ‘Modern Family,’ which features a gay couple in the story line, may also be opening doors to change. The show cut to video of Barrios saying, “Cameron and Mitchell on ‘Modern Family,’ they have a daughter, a story that when America sees it realizes they're not so different from the rest of us. And that's really what I think is ultimately going to bring around the kind of legal changes that everyday couples need.”

Online Love

Over at CNN.com, it sometimes seems there’s no subject GLAAD can’t be consulted about. Did you know technology is getting more gay-friendly? So wrote CNN’s John D. Sutter on July 3. It seems Facebook made separate marriage icons for the various combinations of man and woman.

Cue GLAAD spokeswoman Allison Palmer:“People can say ‘Who cares, that’s just an icon,’ but we definitely don’t see it as that because of the scale of this platform and because of its role in our culture today. There's more marriage equality on Facebookthan there is generally in the United States. In most states your marriage can be recognized by Facebook but not your state.”

When Actress Elizabeth Taylor died in March 2011, Martin Martinez was careful to include honor from GLAAD. GLAAD “honored Taylor in 2000 with its Vanguard Award for her efforts to increase visibility and understanding of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.”

"Today, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community lost an extraordinary ally in the movement for full equality," GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios said in a statement. "At a time when so many living with HIV/AIDS were invisible, Dame Taylor fearlessly raised her voice to speak out against injustice. Dame Taylor was an icon not only in Hollywood, but in the LGBT community, where she worked to ensure that everyone was treated with the respect and dignity we all deserve."

In an April 12 article, CNN’s Alan Duke crowed the Miss Universe pageant had been forced to include transgender contestants. “Miss Universe President Paula Shugart, in a statement released Tuesday, said the credit for lifting the ban should go to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) … ‘For more than two weeks, the Miss Universe Organization and Mr. Trump made it clear to GLAADthat they were open to making a policy change to include women who are transgender,’ said GLAADspokesman Herndon Graddick.”

CNN.com even felt compelled to run a statement from GLAAD about NHL players calling each other names on the ice. During a brawl in 2011, the Philadelphia Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds allegedly called the New York Rangers’ Sean Avery a “faggot.” CNN dutifully reported that GLAAD “issued a statement saying Simmonds' action created ‘a climate of intolerance and hostility,’ that he should apologize the Flyers and the league ‘have a responsibility to take action and educate their fans about why this word is unacceptable.’” (And you thought their responsibility was to win hockey games.)

Coming Clean

Whether this conflict of interest is “real or perceived,” CNN blithely ignores journalistic ethics by maintaining this mutually beneficial relationship with GLAAD. Again, GLAAD is media-focused, placing CNN squarely in the area the group criticizes and hopes to influence.

Like its colleagues and competitors, CNN is perfectly capable of advancing the gay agenda without the cozy relations with GLAAD – the fact that two of its anchors are openly gay and continue to report on issues like same-sex marriage is proof. The Network should either cease supporting GLAAD financially or stop using the group as a source on gay stories.

Matthew Philbin
Matthew Philbin
Matt Philbin is Managing Editor of MRC Culture