Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Primary Reporting: GLBT Newspapers Keeping Tabs on Presidential Candidates on the Campaign Trail

Politics remains my journalistic bread and butter as my feature in this month's PressPassQ newsletter indicates. Stay tuned...

With less than three months to go before the first votes are cast in the 2008 presidential election cycle, the campaign continues to generate headlines in GLBT media outlets across the country.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s apparent flip-flop on gay rights, the Human Rights Campaign and Logo-sponsored presidential forum in August, and the right wing’s obsession with former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson’s position on a federal marriage amendment are just a handful of stories that reporters in the GLBT press have covered in recent months.

Tracy Baim, publisher and executive editor of Chicago-based Windy City Times, noted that her newspaper has also covered the ongoing debate over the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Peter Pace’s reassertion last month that homosexuality is immoral. This is particularly newsworthy in Chicago since Pace’s original comments about homosexuality first appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

Baim expects to ramp up her election coverage as the primary vote nears. “Every week there’s something [about] GLBT, AIDS, or a civil rights topic that would make it relevant for us to cover,” she said.

She and her staff have paid particular attention to U.S. Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) because of their personal ties to the Chicago area. (Obama moved to Chicago in the 1980s; Clinton grew up in suburban Park Ridge.)

Also important to Windy City Times is the fact that neighboring Iowa will hold the country’s first caucuses in early January. Freelancers provide the bulk of the newspaper’s political coverage.

David Stout, associate editor for Q-Notes in Charlotte, N.C., said his publication plans extensive coverage of the South Carolina primary on Jan. 29. Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina has campaigned heavily in the Palmetto State for two reasons – he is a South Carolina native, and he won the state in the 2004 Democratic primary.

South Carolinians traditionally cast their votes on the heels of the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire. Stout was quick to praise Edwards, adding his newspaper will likely endorse the native son in the primary. Stout maintained, however, that he and his staff would continue to focus on the candidates and their records as part of their campaign coverage.

Bay Area Reporter news editor Cynthia Baird said she feels the most significant election-related stories remain the anti-GLBT positions held by the majority of the Republican candidates as well as the leading Democratic candidates’ failure to support marriage rights for same-sex couples. Baird said her newspaper has published a variety of articles, columns, and commentaries on White House hopefuls from both parties in addition to coverage of presidential debates and local fundraisers.

GLBT media and columnists have scrutinized the candidates’ records on GLBT issues even before many of them officially entered the race. Gay City News and the New York Blade, for example, reported on the controversy sparked by a leaked memo that Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA) executive director Alan Van Capelle wrote to his board members urging them to withhold donations from a March 2006 fundraiser aimed at Clinton’s Senate re-election campaign. The reason was Clinton’s failure to support marriage equality for same-sex couples.

And nationally syndicated columnist Rev. Irene Monroe – who is based at New England’s IN Newsweekly – has criticized Obama for using his religion to justify his opposition to gay and lesbian nuptials on the campaign trail. In response, she endured ongoing harassment from an Obama supporter. (For the complete story, see “Columnist harassed for anti-Obama comments” in last month’s issue of Press Pass Q.)

Boston-based Bay Windows has played a pivotal role in the campaign on the Republican side. The newspaper published a series of articles late last year documenting the pro-gay overtures Romney made during his failed 1994 U.S. Senate bid as well as his successful 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

Mainstream media picked up on the story, which has fed into the narrative that Romney is a “flip-flopper” on issues such as gay rights and abortion. As result, some social conservatives remain largely skeptical of his record.

Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff speculated that Romney would generate even more headlines if he does well in early caucus and primary states. “If he gains traction in Iowa and New Hampshire, well then, that’s a gay story,” he said.

Naff, who plans to launch a website dedicated to gay campaign issues by the end of the year, said his publication – based in the nation’s capital – plans to continue keeping readers informed about the candidates’ positions as the election kicks into high gear.

“We’re covering things as they develop,” he said. “[We are] really parsing [the candidates’] words on our issues to make sure their positions conform to what they’ve done in the past.”

Baim, of Windy City Times, agrees that the campaign will keep her and her staff on their toes: “Things change all the time. We’re definitely covering it as much as we can.”

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