Friday, May 28, 2010

Insightful Yet Still Blind: MSNBC Just Doesn't Get the LGBT Civil Rights Movement

I mean, what else could it be? How else can you explain the logic involved in presenting the kind of excellent coverage MSNBC has been doing on Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the virtually absolute silence from the network on its "Big Sister" bill, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act?

Surely, it can't be about the policy itself. Both efforts if successful would do essentially exactly the same thing: Open the workplace to more LGBT Americans (it should be noted that the repeal of DADT would allow gay and lesbian but not transgender soldiers to serve (read: work) openly in the military, while ENDA's protections for civilian workers would cover both sexual orientation and gender identity). It can't be about the relative impact (and therefore potential audience interest), either. If we're talking sheer numbers, it's absolutely ludicrous to even try to compare those who could be potentially directly affected by the repeal of DADT against the rest of the United States LGBT workforce, most of which would be impacted by ENDA to varying degrees depending on current state and local laws.

Could it be that MSNBC really isn't quite as progressive as some of its pundits like to make it out to be? Well, first and foremost, as with all commercial media, MSNBC exists to make money, to keep you entertained long enough to sit through the next block of commercials, and the next, and the next. That said, however, MSNBC, like Fox News, has chosen a side. While MSNBC is infinitely more even-handed and comprehensive in how they present the news to their viewers than Fox, their choice of which commentators and perspectives run on their air speaks as much to the audience they're seeking to attract as Fox's choices do to theirs.

So what's the real difference between DADT and ENDA for MSNBC? When you get right down to it, there's really only one: On DADT, MSNBC has their very own ratings-generating rock star, Lt. Dan Choi. Lt. Choi came out publicly to great media fanfare on The Rachel Maddow Show, and since then has become the recognized public voice and face of the effort to repeal DADT. Choi and other gay and lesbian soldiers actively or formerly serving in the military have appeared on the network numerous times to tell their stories, thus effectively promoting that effort but also apparently unintentionally ensuring that whatever MSNBC airtime might be devoted to covering the LGBT civil rights movement is virtually exclusively devoted to covering DADT, no doubt to ensure (what NBC believes will be) the maximum ratings boost from the coverage.

When Keith Olbermann got his viewers to donate millions to fund nationwide heath care fairs, MSNBC demonstrated that they understand that the real impact of government law and policy (or the lack thereof) isn't felt most deeply at the highest levels of Washington, but rather at ground level, by the true victims of these failures of government, by average Americans still being squeezed to the bone financially by this "economic recovery" of ours.

What's most interesting here is that it seems that when an issue directly impacts the lives of average Americans like health care or the BP oil spill, MSNBC takes its coverage to "the streets", covering in great detail the efforts being made to help Mom and Pop America deal with this ongoing problem, but when the issue at hand is one that chiefly concerns LGBT Americans, MSNBC heads straight for the big shiny like a crow on meth.

Average Americans in desperate need of health care get the coverage they deserve on MSNBC.

Average LGBT Americans serving in our nation's military and in need of civil rights protections get the coverage they deserve on MSNBC.

Average LGBT Americans in our civilian workforce, a far larger group of American citizens who are just as desperately in need of civil rights protections as our soldiers, don't get so much as even a causal mention from MSNBC.

How does this make any sense at all? How is it consistent? How is it credible? How is it comprehensive? Most of all, how can it possibly be considered progressive?

We in the LGBT media often treat DADT and ENDA as separate stories in our coverage because we cover these issues in far greater detail and with far greater frequency than is generally seen in any straight mainstream newsmedia. Despite that, we know and understand that both of these efforts are really just two aspects of the very same issue: Ensuring full equality in the workplace for all LGBT Americans.

How can it be that MSNBC gets it on health care, gets it on environmental issues, gets it on DADT, gets it on so many important issues, but doesn't get it on ENDA, nor apparently understand how completely it intertwines with DADT? You have to ask yourself if anyone at MSNBC has ever thought to investigate exactly what kind of lives these soldiers will come home to once they've left the service.

All that said, I want to make it clear that this isn't an attack on MSNBC. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm a loyal viewer of both The Rachel Maddow Show and Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and MSNBC is always my go-to channel for coverage of big stories. It's precisely because MSNBC has demonstrated that they can consistently meet such a high standard that I feel compelled to call them out on this and ask why this standard isn't being met in their coverage of the LGBT civil rights movement. In short, we know MSNBC can do better than this because they already are doing better than this on any number of the important issues which fill their airtime. The question that must be asked is why aren't they doing better here?

In the end, it comes down to just one point, one which I hope will resonate with the folks at MSNBC should any of them actually read this, and that point is this: When you focus solely on the shiniest, sexiest part of a story and completely ignore the rest of it, the dirty, unpleasant parts where there are no brass buttons shining in the sun or American flags flying proudly in the background, just the unattractive, unsexy daily lives that most LGBT Americans struggle to live, you then become that which you spend so much of your airtime condemning: Hypocrites.

If it's sauce for Fox, it's sauce for MSNBC.

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