Gay-Left Lobby Gets Maine Reporter Fired Over a Personal E-mail (Updated)

[Update: HRC statement added below.

The censorious intolerance of the gay left is on display again – a reporter was fired in Waterville, Maine. His offense? Sending an angry private e-mail to the Human Rights Campaign in Washington. The HRC wanted the reporter dismissed – and bang, he was terminated.

Via the Romenesko media news site, I found Al Diamon of Downeast.com reported that Larry Grard was fired after 17 years at the Waterville Sentinel and 35 years in journalism:

Grard was fired by Bill Thompson, editor of the Sentinel and its sister paper the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, shortly after the Nov. 3 election in which Maine voters repealed a same-sex marriage law approved by the Legislature. Grard said he arrived at work the morning after the vote to find an e-mailed press release from the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C., that blamed the outcome of the balloting on hatred of gays.

Grard, who said he'd gotten no sleep the night before, used his own e-mail to send a response. "They said the Yes-on-1 people were haters. I'm a Christian. I take offense at that," he said. "I e-mailed them back and said basically, `We're not the ones doing the hating. You're the ones doing the hating.'

"I sent the same message in his face he sent in mine."

Grard thought his response was anonymous, but it turned out to be anything but. One week later, he was summoned to Thompson's office. He was told that Trevor Thomas, deputy communications director of the Human Rights Campaign, had Googled his name, discovered he was a reporter, and was demanding Grard be fired. According to Grard, Thompson said, "There's no wiggle room."

He was immediately dismissed.

Is this a new trend? Being Google-canned?

It didn’t matter that Grard sent an e-mail privately. It didn’t matter that Grard never covered the "gay marriage" initiative battle. He had taken offense at the HRC, and that was apparently grounds for firing:

Grard hadn't covered the marriage issue or other gay-rights controversies for the Sentinel. He said that wasn't because he was opposed to doing so, but "other people grabbed those assignments."

According to Grard and his union, the Portland Newspaper Guild, he has never before had any disciplinary issues. Guild president Tom Bell said in an e-mail that a grievance has been filed on Grard's behalf, and the Guild is awaiting a date for an arbitration hearing, which will probably take place in three or four months. "The Guild is defending the contract," Bell said, "which requires that there be progressive discipline in situations like this."

Grard said he wouldn't be complaining if he'd been subjected to a lesser penalty, such as a reprimand or a suspension without pay, for his first offence. He said reporters frequently send personal e-mails from their own accounts during working hours without incurring management's wrath.

Grard said he thinks his religious beliefs were a factor in his firing, calling it "anti-Christian bias." "A lawyer said to me, `What if you'd agreed with [the Human Rights Campaign]? Would the company fire you for that? Of course they wouldn't have,'" he said.

The Sentinel and the other MaineToday papers editorialized in favor of same-sex marriage.

The week after Grard was fired, he said, his wife, Lisa, who wrote a biweekly food column for the Sentinel as a freelancer, received an e-mail informing her that her work would no longer be needed.

Did HRC also demand the freelancing wife be fired? Of course, the people responsible for Grard’s firing are not responding to calls for comment – which is always amusing when the no-comment folks are editors and publicists:

Thomas did not return a phone message left at his office. Neither Thompson nor Scott Wasser, executive editor of the Sentinel and the other MaineToday Media papers, responded to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment on the incident.

UPDATE: Around 4:30 today, I received a statement from the HRC's Thompson:

The day following the loss in Maine, HRC released a statement and shortly thereafter reporter Larry Grard responded with the following: "who are the hateful, venom-spewing ones? Hint: Not the yes on 1 crowd.  You hateful people have been spreading nothing but vitriol since this campaign began. Good riddance!"

Understanding the original release was sent only to Maine media contacts, it was quickly discovered the reporter worked for a mainstream news outlet that covered the Maine ballot race.  At no time did I ask Larry to be fired, but instead had one email interaction with his editor where I said: "I received the below email this morning after our national media release was sent to your team.  ... It's frankly, just not acceptable coming from a news organization the morning after our defeat."

The editor did not contact me further.  The management team of the newspaper did let me know they had policies in place and were looking into the matter.  It is my understanding they conducted their own review.  I only learned Larry was fired from a reporter asking for comment.

Trevor R. Thomas
Deputy Director, Communications
The Human Rights Campaign

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis