Joe Mirabella

Don't Blame MSNBC for Our Poor Messaging on ENDA

Filed By Joe Mirabella | May 29, 2010 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Don't Ask Don't Tell, ENDA, media, Messaging, MSNBC, SLDN

Bilerico Project contributor Rebecca Juro asked a very good question on Friday's post 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?

What else could it be? It's us.

Our own community failed to deliver clear messaging for ENDA. The repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell has been supported by an amazing team of messengers, particularly SLDN who provided the press with enough information to turn out a story in 30 minutes or less. They did so every single day for the last several months.

I'm on lots of press lists, and I have not heard peep about ENDA from any of the LGBT orgs in a similarly organized way.

When Bil was in Seattle he asked a very good question to a group of up and coming leaders, "Who is the face of ENDA? We know who the faces of Don't Ask, Don't Tell are thanks to SLDN, Servicemembers United and HRC."

If we want the big dogs to cover ENDA, we need leadership to drive a concise message and deliver it to big media and the bloggers. If we can fix that, we will see more coverage, and eventually the passage of ENDA.

Like it or not, we can't expect our big media to do the work for us.

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I completely agree, Joe. Our messaging stinks, and I think that's mainly for two reasons:

First, because we don't have a media rock star like Dan Choi promoting the ENDA effort, nor does ENDA have those same patriotic, flag-waving undertones that the commercial newsmedia loves so much, and so all the media attention tends to focus in that direction.

Second, because MSNBC is making a conscious editorial choice to ignore ENDA and focus on DADT. These people are journalists, Joe. They read the same news sources and blogs we do. They know what's going on with ENDA, they're just choosing not to give it any airtime.

What I did was attack in my piece was their reasoning for their editorial decision, and make the argument that it didn't reflect the usual high standard seen in their coverage.

There are a lot of us who are speaking out on ENDA, Joe. Some of us have been doing so for a very long time. The problem isn't really the messaging as much it's getting people in the mainstream to listen to what we have to say in the first place. We can write hundreds of blog posts, do dozens of podcasts and Internet radio shows, shout our message as loudly as we possibly can, but, as we've seen with DADT, a few good segments on the topic from Rachel Maddow or Keith Olbermann will have far more real-world impact than anything we can do.

Personally, I don't believe that it's at all a coincidence that MSNBC's coverage has fully promoted DADT and ignored ENDA, and we're seeing DADT now move quickly in Congress while ENDA is delayed again and again and again.

We've seen over and over how Republicans have been influenced and even publicly humbled by Rush Limbaugh. I have no trouble believing that there's some of that happening on the other side of the aisle, regarding Olbermann's and Maddow's coverage of these issues in particular.

If there's anything those of us who have been covering the ongoing battle for ENDA for a long time know from previous skirmishes such as 2004 and 2007, it's that unless we can get mainstream media's attention, little or nothing will happen in Congress.

In 2004, when we protested HRC at their DC headquarters twice, the only media that bothered to show up were Pacifica Radio and NYC's Gay City News. The Washington Blade, DC's premier gay newspaper (under then-Editor-in-Chief Chris Crain), apparently couldn't be bothered to send a reporter to either event.

In '07, there was a lot more support for trans-inclusion, and that was galvanized into a basic precept of modern LGBT civil rights advocacy by the Democrats themselves by triggering strong negative backlash from progressives when they dumped transgender Americans from ENDA. Hence, a lot more mainstream media coverage than before, but still a relative pittance when compared to the issue of same-sex marriage.

It's the same problem we've always had. We can talk until we're blue in the face, but until we get the mainstream's attention it's all ultimately just shouting in the dark. Some of us have spent a very long time trying to break down that wall but until at least some of these mainstream media folks are willing to listen to what we have to say and to give it some airtime, it's mainly just preaching to the choir.

jami_bantry jami_bantry | May 30, 2010 2:05 AM

Hi Rebecca,

I agree with you.

"First, because we don't have a media rock star like Dan Choi promoting the ENDA effort, nor does ENDA have those same patriotic, flag-waving undertones that the commercial newsmedia loves so much, and so all the media attention tends to focus in that direction."

Yes, for DADT, show a man, a woman, or even a Trans Woman in a military UNIFORM, and most of the US public say, "This just isn't right. These people served our country in the military."

However, for ENDA, show a "man in a dress," a masculine female, or a feminine male, and the US public will have a similar reaction, "This just isn't right."

However, the feeling about what "isn't right" will be totally the opposite.

We can continue to educate at the "grass roots" level, but that takes time.

Some kinds of "images" need to be put into the public eye and mind, via the media, to convince the US public that ENDA "is humanely right."

What kinds of "images" can be used?


Thanks Joe so timely. I know I myself chose to spend more time and effort on DADT simply because the LAW specifies that these ready-to-die-for-us soldiers could not speak for themselves.

In the U.S. WORKERS have always been able to speak for themselves! So go SPEAK. I think ENDA fell behind because today's workers are too afraid they will lose the job they have if they speak up...and there aren't a lot of other ones out there. A severe recession is a bad time to hear worker complaints.

Wait! You mean MSNBC didn't choose Andrea Lafferty as the ENDA spokesperson?

No, that was the WaPo and a few other MSM outlets. Seriously.

kori mika | May 29, 2010 1:05 PM

The only way to get more visibility on mainstream media is to do something news worthy. Such as protests, sit ins, demontrations, and whatever it takes to make the news outside of harming others. It may come to that even, if people won't wake up. It is time to pass ENDA with inclusion and rights for all without any bathroom issues forcing segregation of trans folk. As far as leadership, we could all use a course on working together and not tearing apart our own sisters who don't present the same way we do. Accept CDs and Transvestites for who they are and move on! I have nothing against someone who is a classic transexual, what bothers me is what they have against the rest of us!

Rebecca, I know many of us have been talking til we're blue in the face and we will continue to talk until we are blue in the face but Joe is right. We've not been talking til we're blue in the face in a coordinated manner.

Choi and company made DADT sexy and as crass as it is, sexy sells. I honestly believe that if our messaging was strong and folks involved stayed on message we'd be successful in getting Mainstream Media to cover ENDA.

We can easily create our own "stories from the front lines" considering how many people in our community have lost careers on the sole basis that they were fired. I've noticed in my speaking that when I provide personal stories of people who have been discriminated against, others "get it."

Michael @ | May 29, 2010 2:12 PM

Because there is so much misunderstanding, though I'm not saying Rebecca meant to reinforce it by writing, "we're seeing DADT now move quickly in Congress," while there IS a hell of lot of discussion about it...for the first time in 17 years, BTW.... movement is not necessarily movement forward.

In fact, the opposite could be argued at this point in time .... that we've moved the most recent action involved trashing the explicit BAN on any kind of discrimination against gays in the military that had existed in previous bills. We're statutorially defenseless, and carte blanch power to do whatever they want has been returned to the Pentagon. Erasing DADT...IF it finally happens for which there is no guarantee...but one step.

Yes, there are a lot of people trusting that the foxes will stop attacking the chickens out of the goodness of their hearts but today's theoretical benign foxes can be replaced by bloodthirsty foxes in the future.

Finally, as I've written at length before, and others reference eloquently here, the fastest way to create OPPORTUNITIES for easily digested MSM coverage of ENDA is to identify media-genic "poster girls/boys."

The failure to do that only gives MSNBC or any other MSM outlet an excuse not to cover ENDA. It is the nature of the beast; moralizing about it isn't going to change it, only strategizing is.

I did not mean to suggest that there has not been a huge volume of chatter about ENDA. There are Contributors here who have sacrificed more than anyone should to get the message out -- but, what has that message been?

"Call Congress Now!" Great. That's something we should do, we should call Congress as much as possible. We should lobby Congress, etc. But where is the hook? Who is/are the face(s) of ENDA?

We need to tell a story that captures the imagination of news editors, and ultimately politicians. While there is some journalism on MSNBC and other channels, their primary goal is entertainment that drives advertising revenue.

There is enormous potential for amazing television story telling about ENDA, but we need to start telling that story first.

If you've been fired because you are LGBT, let me know. I want to tell your story.


I would like to see a leading LGBT rights group send letters to all the talking heads and other public opinion makers in the media. That would not be a huge effort. The letter should say......

There are bills pending before both houses of Congress that would prevent this but they are fortunately stalled. The majority of the stockholders of this corporation are now Gays and Lesbians and will soon be replacing the board of directors and top management. The new management is not heterosexual friendly and considers your sexual orientation an abomination. Therefore effectively immediately with the change in management you will be terminated. We thought it only fair and respectful of your long service to provide you with some advance notice of this pending change.


Yeah, lgbt orgs haven't been on the ball when it comes to enda. Why don't we ask why that is?

People aren't talking about ENDA like they are talking about DADT, and those "people" are in the media, activism, everything. It's partly because several changes to our economy and legal system over the last few decades have made antidiscrimination legislation less useful. But DADT is a sexier issue for everyone, both media orgs and lobbyists.

Plus MSNBC isn't progressive.

But but but! I thought they were Faux Snewz for the left! (Seriously though, they most certainly are NOT. We don't have a MSM news channel that is. And why is that? Look at their owners.

The ENDA fiasco is not just the fault of organizations, it is the fault of everyday gay and lesbians. Conservatives rally for their causes, not just the official organizations, but Main Street Mom and Pop conservatives. They write their congressmen, flood talk shows with their calls, write letters to the editor, march on Washington, and demand that their organizations press their officials. Everyday gay and bisexual Americans are largely comatose to ENDA and other issues, failing to even call their Congressmen and demand they vote for this. It is the lack of activism by average gay and bisexual Americans that is to blame.

Believe it or not, when I mention to someone I am unemployed, and that I was let go of my job because there is no protection in place to stop someone such as myself from being fired for being LGBT many do not believe me. They think it is already in place. A fairly high percentage of people claim they did not know that such employment protection was not law already. So I do not know as the message about ENDA as a bill even existing is getting out to the general population. I think it is also a political hot potato that no politician wishes to deal because there is little positive for them from doing so and the possibly of a great deal of downside from the Right wing social conservatives to them for supporting it. Until the LGBT community makes it a bitter pill not to support ENDA we will continue to see wishy washy support or just support "if it comes to a vote" uttered away from cameras so it is not on the record. The Right does not need to bother trying to defeat it, because it seems for the most part the LGBT community and it's normal allies have not insisted loud enough that it be passed. So the bottom line is no the message is not getting out. I personally believe that anyone who is LGBT should avoid writing checks to any politician until ENDA is passed myself but I do tend to be a bit radical I guess.

What about posting an open call online (here and elsewhere) looking for folks who have lost a job b/c they are lgbt (and/or gender non-conforming) who would be willing to speak to the media? Sometimes even one very effective person can be the face of an issue; Dan Choi showed that. No, not everyone is in a position to do this -- but is no one?

Would anyone here be up for writing such a call?

Is there any kind of media stunt that might shame the Dems who are against trans inclusion in the bill - part of what it seems is keeping it stalled in committee? (And good for Frank if that's the case.)

The sign says ladies, stupid (to paraphrase Clinton's famous 1992 Presidential debate quote). The momentum on ENDA changed when the focus of the hearings turned to the sexual identity issue.

I am not recommending tossing people under the bus but let's face the fact that mainstream America is very uncomfortable with the fuzzy concept of sexual identity. There are no simple answers to fears of "a man in a dress" teaching children even if such things are unfounded. Elected officials need to be able to say "this is both fair and makes sense for the country". It is the part about making sense for the country that is difficult when dealing with an undefined broad spectrum sexual identity concept.

Now when you layer on massive Gulf oil pollution, Nuclear Iran fears, 2 wars and an economic Depression people just aren't too concerned with defining who can pee where.

The media, including MSNBC, understands ENDA as a transgender civil rights bill. They don't know how to cover that.

Please don't read too much into what I'm saying. This is just an observation. I don't have any personal problem with ENDA being thought of as a transgender rights bill. I'm just aware that it's going to be harder to get people to report on it because it's sort of a new story to mainstream media whereas "gay rights" is an old story.

Every week day morning the Rachel Maddow Blog asks for readers to submit articles of interest. I've posted articles about ENDA there, and they've linked to ENDA articles from there. But I don't think it's going to get on the show until it has a cohesive message. Neither Keith nor Rachel are going to write the narrative.