Wednesday, September 12, 2007

GLAAD After New Post-Again-For 'Toe Tapping'

I have to acknowledge my former GLAAD colleagues for their recent consistency in their attempts to hold the New York Post accountable for their arguably homophobic and clearly sensational coverage of many LGBT-related stories. I wrote this story for EDGE earlier this week after the media watchdog criticized the tabloid for its use of 'toe tapping' to describe former CNN Headline News anchor Thomas Roberts in relation to an alleged Manhunt profile in which he posted explicit pictures of himself. Gossip is gossip until proven otherwise but the question remains as to whether GLAAD's efforts to go after the Post will actually generate any concrete results. Many activists have blasted the media watchdog for their apparent lack of protocol to the Post -- or at the very least a slow response to problematic coverage. Others remain highly skeptical. These points of view arguably remain valid. The question remains, however, as to whether attempts to reign in the Post are worth the time. New York activists founded GLAAD in 1985 in direct response to the tabloid's highly problematic coverage of the AIDS epidemic so the media watchdog has an added charge, if you will, to handle this situation correctly.

The New York Post, which is a must-read for many Manhattanites for its Page Six gossip coverage, has landed itself in hot water for a perceived anti-gay slur. It’s far from the first time the newspaper, which has positioned itself as a national tabloid in the tradition of London’s Sun and News of the World--both also owned by press lord Rupert Murdoch--has been cited for its coverage.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD is up in arms over the Post’s description of an openly gay former CNN Headline News anchor in an article published in Page Six on Sept. 7. The gossip column reported now Insider co-host Thomas Roberts posted explicit pictures under his profile on the popular gay cruising site Manhunt. Manhattan blogger Kenneth Walsh had posted them on his blog Kenneth in the 212. The pictures contain full-frontal and nude back pictures but do not display the man’s face.

GLAAD took issue with the tabloid’s description of Roberts as a "toe-tapper." The term refers to outgoing U.S. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), who was arrested last month by undercover police in a Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport restroom for allegedly soliciting sex. The police officer reported an elaborate ritual for soliciting sex that involved Craig putting his foot into the officer’s stall and tapping his foot, an action that quickly became fodder for late-night comics.

GLAAD Director of Media Strategy Paul Karr told EDGE in a prepared statement that the Post continues its homophobic reporting through the use of the slur. "What we’ve got is a paper that’s stuck wallowing in the prejudices of the 1980s," he said. "The stereotypes the Post clings to so desperately might have seemed novel two decades ago, but today they’re just vulgar, cheap and tired."

Rubenstein Public Relations, the high-powered New York firm that serves as the Post’s and Murdoch’s New York mouthpiece, did not return EDGE’s requests for comment.

The Post has a long history of tempestuous relations with the gay community. In fact, it helped contribute to the founding of GLAAD itself. New York activists founded GLAAD in 1985 in response to what they deemed the tabloid’s homophobic and salacious coverage of the AIDS epidemic in the city.

GLAAD further blasted the Post last October after it published two cartoons by Sean Delonas, the cartoonist whose viciously satiric jabs usually appear on Page Six. One featured openly gay former New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey comforting former Florida Congressman Mark Foley with the caption "Look on the bright side Foley, you’ll have a best-selling book." Another featured a veil-clad man holding a sheep outside a marriage license window following the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling that extended civil unions to same-sex couples in the Garden State. (There was no explanation as to what the relevance was, since the sheep was not a ram, and thus female, as many bloggers pointed out.)

GLAAD also named the Post one of its 2006 Anti-Gay Defamation Offenders in a list it released on January 3. These efforts seemed in vain, however, after the tabloid published yet another Delonas cartoon in July that featured McGreevey threatening Miss New Jersey Amy Polumbo in light of the blackmail scandal which nearly forced her to surrender her crown.

The media watchdog again publicly criticized the Post, but a number of activists and even media professionals remain highly skeptical as to whether these efforts have generated tangible changes in its coverage of LGBT-related stories. Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute categorized the tabloid as the "worst of the worst" of what she described as "frat house humor" in an interview with EDGE.

She quickly added GLAAD and other organizations face an uphill battle each time they publicly criticize the Post. "I seriously doubt the Post is going to change," McBride said. "They’ve identified a market and this use of language and treatment of sexual orientations fits within that identity."

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