A Florida LGBT newspaper is doubling down on their decision to publish an "obscene" political attack ad that features a photo of slain American ambassador Chris Stevens. The ad, paid for by the Broward Log Cabin Republican Club of Florida, has been condemned by the Log Cabin's national office as well as all the other state chapters, but the Broward County branch continues to defend the ad.
The ad depicts the ambassador's body being carried through the streets of Benghazi by Libyan citizens following an attack on the American embassy. It remains unclear whether or not Stevens was deceased at the time the photo was taken.
In a confusing message, the advertisement conflates Sharia law, Israel, the death of the ambassador, and LGBT rights. "If the Obama administration isn't going to protect Gay/Gay-friendly American citizens from the terror of Islamic radicalism, what makes you think they will protect us from Shariah [sic] Law... ANYWHERE?" it asks.
Widely condemned by media professionals and politicos, the Florida Agenda has also responded with a muddled message. First the staff accepted responsibility and expressed regret for publishing the ad, but in follow up emails and phone calls, the paper backed away from that stance and expressly denied any responsibility.
In a phone call this morning, Sales Manager Keith Chamlee repeatedly stressed that he took direct responsibility for accepting and publishing the advertisement. "I have to take responsibility. It was my decision. I shouldn't have made it. They have the right to free speech, but not to publish an ad in a privately owned newspaper. That was bad judgement on my part," he said.
Chamlee said he'd been pressured by members of the Broward County Log Cabin chapter to run the ad. A representative came to the paper's office and forcefully argued that the paper had been too biased toward Democrats in an election year and they should have the right to respond with the advertisement.
However, in an e-mail sent a half hour later, Chamlee took the exact opposite position saying, "The Florida Agenda believes in freedom of speech. This was a paid advertisement. The publishers and/or the owners of the company do not take responsibility, endorse or support any paid advertisements. It is at the sole discretion of the advertiser as long as the paid advertisement fits within the guidelines of the publishing standard industry-wide."
Chamlee didn't respond to follow up emails asking him why he had reversed course on his earlier statement that took responsibility.
Story continues after the break.
Executive Editor Cliff Dunn also defended the outlet's choice to publish the offensive advertisement. Dunn acknowledged that he, Chamlee, and the paper's creative director had all seen the ad before it published. He refused to say how much the group paid for the space.
"Although I may not agree with anything contained in the clearly-intended message of the Broward Log Cabin Republicans' ad, I believe that the primary mandate of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is to protect the kind of inflammatory language and imagery that the Broward LCRs chose to convey," he said. "They don't have the right to publish the ad. But they are a legitimate political group with a right to their own opinions."
While Dunn acknowledged that the First Amendment doesn't apply in this case since they are a private business and not the government, he continued to use the free speech argument to justify his decision. Newspapers can refuse to publish any advertisement they deem inappropriate and commonly do so.
"In terms of a political ad, it's different from an ad for a furniture warehouse," Dunn said. "While both are protected by free speech, our responsibility as a journal is to serve as guardians of the First Amendment. Its true we could have turned down the ad, but I think that a better good will be served in that this message is so beyond the pale that it may have a deleterious effect than what was intended.
"I'd rather live in a nation of free speech than one without it. As a community journal I have to give them a voice. That's how the decision to accept the ad was made."
Other publications in the area turned down the ad and refused to publish it.
Norm Kent, publisher of the South Florida Gay News, said in an e-mailed statement, "Our newspaper is a credible publication that is a member of the Associated Press and the Florida Press Association. The ad was presented to me at our news deadline and I found it irresponsible, deceptive, misleading, offensive, unconscionable and reprehensible as tendered. No credible or responsible publication would run it as is, and I summarily and spontaneously rejected it."
Sadly, the Florida Agenda isn't the only party to this tasteless political attack ad and the local Log Cabin chapter is also doubling down on whether or not the ad was appropriate.
In an exclusive statement to Bilerico Project about whether or not the group would continue to stand behind the ad, spokesperson Andy Eddy replied "If you mean in support of Israel and if it saves one life of a young innocent individual like a Matthew Shepard, or anyone else who was or could be murdered, or will be so badly and wrongly mistreated because of intolerance based on sexual orientation, U.S. citizenship, religion, etc., I personally do."
The group's hardline stance and offensive messaging has put their affiliation with both Log Cabin nationally and the Florida state Republican party in jeopardy.
"LCR national will be looking at punitive action," said Executive Director Clarke Cooper. "To be fair that includes a whole host of things. Depending on the state and state laws, these groups are also sanctioned by their state parties. I don't know this for sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if the state party of Florida takes issue with this as well. Our chapters aren't just accountable to LCR national but also to their state parties."
In a strongly worded letter to the Florida Agenda, Cooper writes "Violence against the LGBT community is a challenge to civil society throughout the world, and America is a beacon for freedom for all minority voices. There are plenty of reasons to vote Republican to protect US interests and human rights abroad, but the obscene ad in this publication is fallacious, grossly inappropriate and irresponsible."
"Further, on a personal level and as a former diplomat, seeing this ad makes me sick. I know Israel's ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, who happens to be a pro-gay rights conservative, and I am deeply embarrassed to have to explain to him and strong pro-gay rights conservative ally, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, that a local chapter of Log Cabin Republicans ran such an offensive ad in an attempt to get voters to the polls and bolster the US bilateral relationship with Israel," he continued. "Our organization's mission is to build a stronger, more inclusive Republican Party, and this ad failed on all fronts."
The only voice of support for the group's offensive advertisement has come from the far right conservative group GOProud. Ostensibly an LGBT group, they are infamous for taking stances directly opposite to LGBT priorities in favor of advancing the goals of conservative homophobic Republicans.
"It's clear that LCR Broward understands, like we do, that the greatest threat to gay people in the world is the spread of radicalized Islam," GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia told the Washington Blade.
National Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Jerame Davis disagrees.
"It is simply unimaginable to me how any political message, let alone the muddy and ludicrous message of this ad, in any way justifies disgracing the memory of a man who gave his life in service to his country. This level of depravity and moral indifference must not be allowed to enter our political discourse," he said.
(Note: Jerame Davis is the longtime partner of the author.)