Sunday, June 19, 2005

Star Breaks Silence on Governor's EEO Policy: Reporter Stumbles

More than a month after GayIndy.Org and local blogsites, including Advance Indiana, first reported that Governor Mitch Daniels had approved an EEO Policy Statement for state employees which barred discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgendered persons, the Indianapolis Star broke its silence and reported on the negative reaction to the policy from Christian fundamentalists, including Advance America's Eric Miller and American Family Association of Indiana's Micah Clark. The story, written by veteran State House reporter Mary Beth Schneider, appeared on page 1 of the Metro & State section of the paper and discussed the rift in the Republican Party between moderates and Christian fundamentalists over gay civil rights issues. In a bizarre twist Schneider reported on the formation of a previously undisclosed group by Indianapolis attorney Syd Steele called First Republicans, which purports to favor gay civil rights and to oppose the ban on gay marriages. Schneider did not report the fact that Steele is employed by House Speaker Brian Bosma's law firm, Kroger Gardis & Regas , where Bosma is a partner and Steele is a senior counsel answering to the firm's partners, including Bosma. Bosma, who was the subject of a large protest by gay rights activists at a fundraiser he held at the Rathskellar in Indianapolis last week led by the Indiana Action Network, has been one of the most vocal members of the General Assembly in support of a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriages and civil unions.

Steele is a well-known and respected construction attorney who joined Bosma's firm after the firm he founded dissolved a couple of years ago. He has heretofore not be known for any political activism, let alone a supporter of gay rights. According to the Star report "Steele said the group was formed to give a voice to Republicans who believe the party of Abraham Lincoln (echoing my words) and not be defined by such things as the amendment banning same-sex marriage. " Steele said, "It's amazing the number of people who say that it's about time." The story quotes Steele as saying that "the true base of the party are the centrists." Steele believes "that by backing policies such as Daniels' and the one considered by the City-County council, the party would gain members" according to the story. Steele hopes that Governor Daniels and other Republican Party leaders will be more outspoken in support of gay rights the story reports.

The concept of First Republicans is a very good one; it is afterall exactly what I have been touting on Advance Indiana for the past two months. But as a former Marion County GOP precinct committeeman and past state GOP Platform Committee member, I receive unsolicited offerings from federal, state and local Republicans almost daily and discuss politics with activists on a regular basis. Nowhere have I heard or read about any discussion of First Indiana. Pardon me for being a skeptic, but I simply do not understand why Steele doesn't simply walk down the hall and ask one of his bosses, House Speaker Brian Bosma, to give his campaign of bigotry against gays and lesbians a rest. As Speaker of the House, a single act by Bosma alone could kill future efforts to amend Indiana's constitution to ban same sex marriages and civil unions. I further find it completely unacceptable that a veteran news reporter like Schneider would not make a connection between Bosma and Steele and ask what was really going on. Her readers deserve better from her.

To make matters worse Schneider's report, while acknowledging the vocal protests of Eric Miller and Micah Clark to Governor Daniels EEO Policy Statement, completely ignored the extent of the bigotry reflected in those protests as has been reported on Advance Indiana and other local blogsites for the past several weeks. As reported here, Clark said Daniel's policy "gives special rights to homosexuals and cross-dressers." Clark falsely and hatefully asserted that "policies like this could eventually force churches to hire homosexuals and cross-dressers and damage our free speech rights by outlawing people to speak out against sins like homosexuality." Clark and Miller began urging their supporters to e-mail the Governor's office in protest, just as they did in their successful effort to defeat Proposal 68 before the Indianapolis City-County Council last April. She also missed the Governor's office's reaction to the false attacks by Clark who now appears to be somewhat in retreat. As GayIndy.Org founder Jeff Newman reported on local blogsite, belerico.com, "while it appears they were going on the attack big time after Daniels' statement was issued, Micah Clark and the AFA seem to be doing some serious backpedaling." Newman posted a newsletter item Clark sent to his supporters in which Clark said the following:

"I have no regrets about sounding the alarm. However, looking back, I do think that my tone and my use of the keyboard were, at times, too cutting and harsh. Upon review, I have decided to not directly answer the Governor's reply, which so many of you have asked me about. Instead, I have asked for outside legal verification to see if what I, or AFA's national office,
sent was "misleading" as the Governor's office has charged. I have not yet seen the reviews I requested. I simply sent the Governor's policy, without my comments, to these national offices and asked for their review. I will post those reviews in their entirety next week. I have also been told that the AFA Center for Legal Policy will be sending its own response to its large Indiana e-mail list. Next week, I will simply pass on what a couple of nationally recognized pro-family legal authorities say regarding the Governor's policy. That way, you can judge what they say about the policy in a reasoned manner, without editorial comment. It is my hope that we will be able to work with the Governor and his staff about issues of concern to Hoosier families in the years and months ahead."

Clark himself makes clear the degree to which he was under attack by the Governor's office for his comments. The Star's readers had a right to know the words Clark and his ilk are uttering in their campaign of bigotry against gays and lesbians, not some sugar-coated reporting. What we heard was that Clark thought Daniels was "a disappointment in the family values department." Similarly, Schneider completely ignored the outragously bigoted statements made by City-County Councilor Virginia Cain as reported on Advance Indiana last week and area blog sites for weeks now. If the public at large were allowed to read what Clark, Miller and Cain are really saying about gays and lesbians, their public support would erode precipitously.

Also disappointing was the Star's continued reliance on just two local members of the GLBT community, one of whom has an on-going business relationship with the Star not disclosed in the article. Every single story written on issues pertaining to the GLBT community over the past year has focused almost exclusively on just two individuals. Many members of the GLBT community have expressed frustration with this. It is the same reaction many African-Americans have when every story about black civil rights focuses on the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. I attribute this to lazy journalism. In any cause there are work horses and there are show horses. The GLBT community knows who the work horses are.

A particularly heartening part of Schneider's story was the comments she attributed to Daniels' campaign manager and close advisor, Bill Oesterle. Oesterle heads a successful web-based business, Angie's List, which is well-recognized as a gay-friendly business. Schneider reported that Oesterle gave an "emotional speech before party leaders" in which he "called for inclusiveness and praised Republican City-County Councilor Scott Keller for co-authoring the anti-discrimination ordinance." Knowing that someone with Oesterle's views is close to the Governor's ear has to be comforting to the GLBT community.

Advance Indiana is pleased that the Star is beginning to take notice of the fight for gay civil rights. As Advance Indiana reported yesterday, the Star is under assault by Christian fundamentalists as being anti-Christian towards Christian employees. There's a new set of faces in the management at the Star that is moving the paper back into the mainstream of public thought. This is not the first time I have been particularly disappointed in the reporting of Schneider. I have personally written her in the past about my concerns, all of which went without response. While I applaud her for reporting on this issue, I believe it is my right and duty to challenge her to do better.

3 comments:

Kevin said...

Gary,
you make some interesting points about The Star article. I emailed Ms. Schneider and asked her why she didn't get a more diverse perspective from the gay community. She responded and asked for my phone number to contact me the next time. I would love to give her a pool of names to choose from, including yours. email me if you are interested.
kjf6483@yahoo.com
Thanks!

Rosa said...

I came across this blog looking for information about the “First Republicans” the Star mentioned. I read through this months posts and found them enjoyable and informative. Eric Millers etc. group seems so organized. I desperately hope some kind of counter group like the “first republicans” (even if at the moment the group is only a couple of words printed in the Star) will be able keep pace with the mass email and communication skills of people like Eric—hey at least he is not Gov.-Miller.
Thanks, look forward to reading more

Anonymous said...

Gary,

Great writing out here. You are a wonderful asset to the GLBT community and the fight.

I was particularly interested in your viewpoint regarding the GLBT representation from the Star. I too have noticed that it is the same two (or small group) of people who seemingly represent the whole of the GLBT community in Indiana.

Kevin has a great idea regarding providing the Star with a pool of names and I do think yours should be in that pool.

Keep up the great work.

Pepper Partin
pepper.partin@sbcglobal.net