[EDITOR'S NOTE:] This guest post comes to us from Eric Resnick. Eric is a reporter for the Gay People's Chronicle, Ohio's LGBT newspaper of record. Eric recently interviewed Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Occasionally, the stories behind what went into reporting the news are as informative as the news. This is one of those times. Additionally, the stakes are high, and the LGBT community needs to have discussions like these before the result, not after.
Immediately following the February 18 Wisconsin presidential primary, I began, on behalf of the Gay People's Chronicle, to work on getting interviews with Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
By that time, two things were clear.
First, that Ohio was going to be far more important to the nominating process than anyone previously thought, and that the LGBT community would critical to the outcome because the race was so close. Secondly, the New Jersey Civil Union Review Commission report was available, and to say the report was merely damning to both candidates' absurd claims in favor of civil unions for us - or more likely in favor of their political benefits, is an understatement. Both candidates needed to address that report.
Both candidates were approached for interviews through multiple routes, including calls and e-mail directly to their Ohio and national press offices, through the Ohio Democratic Party, and through LGBT individuals working at high levels with the campaigns.
Initially, both campaigns were thrilled to be asked for interviews.
I didn't want to sell out too cheaply, so I set the rules:
- No surrogates. I can talk to surrogates any time.
- Live interviews only. No written statements or written questions. The Chronicle has policies against publishing anyone's equivalent to an infomercial, and written questions would be researched and answered by communications staff. Even if the candidate approved the final version, it is not really their response.
- Although it is extremely rare that I tell a potential interviewee what I want to talk about in advance, I didn't want the candidates to be able to avoid answering questions about the day-old New Jersey report by saying, "I'm not familiar with that." I told both campaigns to make sure the candidates were ready to discuss it.
That was Wednesday. On Thursday, the Obama campaign offered an open letter in lieu of an interview. I told them no. I can't ask a letter questions. Then they suggested written questions, even though I told them earlier that wouldn't be acceptable. Again, I told them no.
By Friday, about the time it would take for them to figure out the New Jersey report contradicts their candidate, the Obama campaign stopped returning my calls. When I was lucky enough to reach press staff, they were very quick to tell me they didn't think they could work an interview into the candidate's schedule.
My editor says we couldn't speculate in the article as to why the Obama campaign got cold, but reasonable people can come to reasonable conclusions.
This is a good time to be clear. I am not in either candidate's camp. I supported and voted for Dennis Kucinich. I was elected the Kucinich convention delegate in the 16th Congressional District of Ohio.
With Kucinich out of the race, my only dog in the fight is that the LGBT community has the best information with which to make the best choices. As a community, we are not at a point where we can afford fair weather friends. I think my colleague, Tony Glassman, reported the concerns of the LGBT people we need to hear in his report "Worries of fair-weather support are revealed at town hall."
Having candidates only speak through open letters and privately to small groups offering endorsement does not build confidence.
When I covered the candidate debate at Cleveland State on the 26th, I wasn't sure there would be any real LGBT news. To my surprise, there was. That Senator Obama, when pressed by his opponent and by the moderator, 'denounced' and 'rejected' the support of Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan was an opportunity to pry open the candidate's psyche a little more.
"Donnie McClurkin" was my only thought.
There are some differences, of course. Farrakhan's support was not solicited by the campaign. McClurkin's was. It was the hope that the anti-gay McClurkin could solidify conservative black Christian support in southern states.
Obama has explained and minimized the decision to seek McClurkin's support in an open letter and in an Advocate interview, but has never 'denounced' nor 'rejected' him. Had Obama used the same rationale to explain Farrakhan, the Jewish community would have been irate. That's the other difference.
It is also apparent that Obama sees his obligation to the LGBT community as fulfilled since his Martin Luther King Day speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church where he called on African-Americans to work against homophobia.
Asking the campaign to explain the difference between McClurkin and Farrakhan is a fair question.
The Obama campaign, however, treated the question with indignation, claimed that the reporter mischaracterized events, and erroneously claimed that "Senator Obama spoke out against the hateful views of both Donnie McClurkin and Louis Farrakhan."
Obama spokespeople pivot to the MLK Day speech as though it settles every debt to the LGBT community, past and future.
In my 12 years as a reporter, I have never experienced anything quite like Obama's national communication director Robert Gibbs, either.
I wasn't biting on the crap he tried to feed me, and he got offended.
When I stood there not writing any of it down, Gibbs said to me, "Let me tell you how this works. I talk and you write down what I say."
"I'll write down what you say when you answer the question," I responded, adding that "I'm no campaign's stenographer."
Gibbs actually took the pen and pad out of my hands and wrote his own answer!
He also asked for the Donnie McClurkin letter to be e-mailed to him, claiming he didn't remember what it said. It was. He didn't comment further.
Would Gibbs treat a New York Times reporter this way? How about a Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter?
Look, both senators Obama and Clinton are opportunists. Either would throw us under the bus for their own political advancement. That's why, both lawyers who know that separate is not equal, continue to claim that civil unions are equal to marriage.
It is incumbent on us to use the campaigns and their records to figure out which buses we will be thrown under and when, which brings me back to the original point.
Both campaigns knew that talking to me wasn't going to be like the made for Saturday Night Live performance of Melissa Etheridge on the Logo forum. (This is not an insult to Etheridge. I can't sing. We should all do what we're good at.)
Nonetheless, it was Hillary Clinton, with her much longer record of talking to our community, who stepped up to the guillotine, and Obama who refused.
Regardless of what was said, Clinton gets points in my book for her willingness.
It is somewhat troubling that it appears that LGBT people are starting to flock to Obama, despite his lack of vetting.
This has nothing to do with Obama. It's good politics. It has everything to do with the LGBT community. It's stupid citizenship. We deserve better and we need to demand that candidates at least answer our questions.