The Advocate’s come a long way, baby! Forty years and counting. That’s an impressive achievement by any standard. But fear of middle-age and remaining relevant in the instant era of YouTube/Blog-o-mania have nudged the onetime national gay and lesbian newsmagazine “of record” into a too-hip-to-be-cool smug self-indulgence that wouldn’t know a hard edge if it got nip/tucked.
How else explain the jaw-dropping cover story on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that passed itself off as news – OK, commentary that had a passing acquaintance with news.
To be fair, publisher Michael Phelps did signal some of the changes to come at the recent National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association convention in San Diego. He seemed very market-driven, talking more about “white space” and re-design than how the magazine intended to contribute to, reflect or even drive the movement, as was its mission in the past. I asked him about that afterwards – noting that in the early 90's I had written for Advocate trend-watcher editor-in-chief Richard Rouilard who trumpeted Queer Nation, outed Pete Williams, then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney’s spokesperson at the Pentagon and participated in the street demonstrations after Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the gay rights bill. After all, the L.A. Advocate started out reporting on discrimination, police raids, and protests. Michaels agreed: the times they have changed. If the magazine was launched today, he said, it would probably not be called “The Advocate.”
And yet they sell The Advocate’s historical reputation as the national LGBT newsmagazine - an LGBT version of the New York Times – to Hillary Clinton’s campaign to get that Advocate exclusive.
Sour grapes? You bet. I’ve been bugging the Clinton campaign (and other campaigns) for an interview for a very long time. I’m sure my LGBT press colleagues have as well. But the mainstream mind-set (and I include assimilated gays here too) seems to be that an exclusive Advocate interview is de rigueur, as if the LGBT community is therefore “handled.”
And what did we get? The Sean Kennedy story – oh, and the big news that Hillary’s not a lesbian! Now I’m sure Sean Kennedy, The Advocate’s News Features Editor, is a nice person and his 4,000-plus word essay might have been a “fun” read for some. But it belonged in Out magazine – not The Advocate. Not in the magazine that was supposed to ask the hard questions not asked or answered during the Logo/HRC forum.
Aside from Kennedy’s startling admission in the story that he has long been a “fan” of the subject he’s supposed to be quizzing, I kept asking myself “Where is Hillary?” throughout the entire piece. Sorry, but I frankly don’t care about Sean’s thoughts, feelings or beliefs. I wanted to know what Hillary Clinton thinks.
At the NLGJA convention, Michaels assured us that the writer had in fact met Clinton face-to-face, not the faxed questions that the magazine passed off as an interview during President Bill Clinton’s tenure. And indeed, we got a lot of sweet details about how she looked and responded to questions. A lot of style, little substance.
Kennedy didn’t even flush out the one question that yielded some “news” – that Hillary is not a lesbian. At my NLGJA panel “Will Gays Matter in ’08?” a lesbian reporter asked openly gay Clinton campaign heavy-weight Steve Elmendorf a similar question – i.e., that a lot of “wishful-thinking” lesbians were claiming Hillary as a sister. He responded that the campaign would consider such accusations to be a right-wing attack, which they have been in the past. But what about a well-meaning lesbian asking the question – would that be considered an attack, too?
Hillary Clinton told Kennedy:
“People say a lot of things about me, so I really don’t pay any attention to it,” she responds. “It’s not true, but it is something that I have no control over. People will say what they want to say.”
A quick follow-up could have revealed much: do you consider being called a “lesbian” an “attack” or are you flattered when lesbians want to claim you as one of their own? If both, how do you reconcile the different responses?
I was also startled at Kennedy’s arrogance, apparently assuming, for instance, that LGBT voters have made up their minds:
“Just why are we so in love with Hillary?…it’s Clinton whom gay voters are carrying the torch for this campaign season….[She’s] the one who captured our hearts long ago, and neither of us will let go. Only Obama has cast a similar spell, but as much as he’s called a “rock star” (so cliché!), it’s Hillary who’s the true megawatt one-named wonder of fame -- and Obama’s record on gay issues pales in comparison to hers.”
I hate to disillusion Kennedy, but many LGBT voters, at least in the Los Angeles area, are very dedicated to Obama, John Edwards, and Dennis Kucinich for their positions on the war in Iraq, poverty, healthcare as well as LGBT issues. For them, the primary is not yet over.
Finally – I know ours is a sexual liberation movement, that we are all about the equal right to chose the one we love and that Kennedy talks about the romance of politics – but does he really have to use the metaphor of getting into bed with the possible next President of the United States? Would he have used the same metaphor with Edwards or Obama?
Kennedy closed out the all-important Advocate exclusive cover story -- representing the national LGBT community -- by first indicating he had not done his homework: would she sign ENDA and a hate crimes bill?
“If they reached your desk,” I press, “you’d promise to sign them?”
“Absolutely, because as president I would be trying to get them to my desk,” she says with an exasperated laugh. “That’s the whole point!”
She sounds like she means it, like the filter is off for once, and I believe her -- I really do. But as I write this, several weeks later, I still don’t know. Commitment is so hard. Do I want to get in bed with Hillary again? I take a deep breath. If a relationship is about trust, I guess she has mine.
Well, 40 years is a good run. But until we are all free from discrimination – not just urban readers who can respond to advertisers – I feel LGBT journalists have a responsibility to report news that informs our electorate. I guess if I want my news from The Advocate from now on, I’ll go to advocate.com or 365gay.com and read their Associated Press reports.