Petrelis won’t quit. Becker’s p.r. skills were indeed legion – especially with her sources.
Archives For: Forcing the Spring
The intrepid FOIA work by San Francisco gadfly and AIDSy role model, Michael Petrelis, gave us proof in Jo Becker’s own words that her book tour and promotion for Forcing The Spring were being jointly “coordinated” by her publisher, Penguin, and the Human Rights Campaign and AFER. So HRC’s head, Chad Griffin, was integrally involved in the promotion of a book that describes him as the gay Rosa Parks on the first page. We also learned that Becker tried to get another much-praised source, San Francisco City Attorney, Dennis Herrera, to bulk purchase the book for sale and hold an event at San Francisco City Hall.
Petrelis has also – through FOIA – made another discovery. Herrera paid Chad Griffin’s p.r. firm $175,000 in late 2008 to help him reach out to donors who may not have seen marriage equality as a cause to support. The conflicts of interest here are myriad. And, given the NYT’s embrace of the book – the cover of the magazine, the Book Review, the first choice of New York Times editors for a book in print, and Becker’s liberal use of her New York Times affiliation, it’s a good thing that the NYT Public Editor has decided to investigate. Stay tuned.
Earlier today I tried to tackle the question of culture, conservatism and immigration – by looking at the British political scene. We got a first-hand account of what it’s like to live on Soylent – the high-tech food substitute that tempts me so. And a reader turned the question around as our first Book Club discussion wound down: what if modernity needs Christianity to survive?
The most popular post of the day was “And Sometimes There Is A Smoking Gun Email,” followed by my post yesterday on the new world and a new era for American foreign policy, “Letting Go Of Global Hegemony, Ctd.”
See you in the morning.
(Photo: Mourners gather to pay their respects as the cortege passes by following the repatriation of five British servicemen who were killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan at RAF Brize Norton, on May 6, 2014 in Brize Norton, near Oxfordshire, England. Captain Thomas Clarke, Warrant Officer Spencer Faulkner and Corporal James Walters, of the Army Air Corps (AAC), who were serving as the Lynx aircrafts three-man team when they died alongside Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan of the Royal Air Force and Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas of the Intelligence Corps, were believed to have been passengers on the flight. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has denied claims by the Taliban that insurgents shot the helicopter down in Kandahar province on April 26, claiming it was a tragic accident rather than enemy action that caused of the crash. By Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.)
If you were in any way troubled by the idea that a journalist would write a book based on exclusive sources, who are portrayed as uniquely responsible for a breakthrough in civil rights, and then those very lauded sources would throw book-parties and events to promote the book, you’re not alone.
I was a little gob-smacked that Jo Becker’s book tour promotion was aided and abetted by those sources – with book parties by Ken Mehlman and Ted Olson. But we are finding out that this was only the tip of the iceberg. An inkling of this comes with the latest, ethically disturbing news that Becker’s lionized sources in San Francisco’s city government have also been promoting the book. Dennis Herrera, SF City Attorney and his aide, Terry Stewart, heroes of the book, were involved in its promotion. How do we know? Well Herrera was hosting a book event for Becker at San Francisco City Hall last week. But we also have other proof. As city officials, Stewart’s and Herrera’s emails on public business are vulnerable to public disclosure. So intrepid activist/pest/gadfly Michael Petrelis did the leg-work to get all the emails that pertained to Becker’s book. They make for interesting reading:
A journalist is offering to give her sources an event to celebrate themselves while also promoting the book. Is that what the New York Times would regard as ethical conduct? Then a second email sent by Becker the next day tells us something equally remarkable:
First up: some pushback on the book from someone at the NYT not apparently instructed to puff the book to the heavens. Frank Bruni:
Right now there’s an impassioned conversation about proper credit for the huge successes of the marriage-equality movement. It stems from the publication of a book by my Times colleague Jo Becker, “Forcing the Spring,” which focuses narrowly on a few key figures from the fight to overturn a 2008 California referendum prohibiting same-sex marriage. In giving them such primacy, “Forcing the Spring” has raised hackles, and it suggests a new corollary to an old adage. Perhaps history isn’t simply written by the victors. Perhaps it’s written by the publicity-conscious participants with the foresight to glue journalists to their sides.
Zing! Meanwhile, The Washington Blade‘s Chris Johnson finally tracked down the truth of Becker’s disputed scheduled attendance at a reception at the Human Rights Campaign on Saturday.
They’re both very adept at manufacturing reality.
We discover today that CNN’s documentary series on Chicago under Rahm was coordinated in ways big and small with the mayor’s office. And – surprise! – it turned into a major propaganda coup for the ambitious Democrat. What you see is how a public figure can effectively get the media to burnish his image by leveraging access. This access-journalism in a very competitive climate can become propaganda very easily - and is a win-win for both parties. The media entity gets a high profile product which it can use for ratings and ad money; the politician gets the kind of coverage no ad campaign could ever deliver. The only loser is the viewer.
And the more you see the Becker book’s roll-out continue, you see how brilliantly Chad Griffin has leveraged access-journalism as well – with a special Hollywood twist. Griffin, after all, is a product of Hollywood – a former agent and prodigious fundraiser. And so I’ve come to think that it’s best to see the Becker book and the coming HBO documentary as ways to manufacture a Hollywood-ready story that begins in 2008 and ends in 2013. That’s what Becker’s book is really about. It reads like a screenplay, packed full of emotional subplots, and quirky characters. In interviews, she has even referred to real people, like Dustin Lance Black, as “characters” in her story. In the big positive front page review in the New York Times (that’s two NYT cover-pieces on this book) Linda Hirshman sees the book and the HBO documentary for what they are:
Perry was more than a lawsuit; it was a Hollywood production. Griffin’s outfit, Americans for Equal Rights, was started by professional P.R. consultants — Griffin and his business partner, Kristina Schake — at lunch with the Hollywood actor, director and producer Rob Reiner. AFER was always about changing the culture; it even had its own writer and producer, Dustin Lance Black and Bruce Cohen, from the acclaimed gay-themed biopic “Milk.”
My sources tell me that the HBO documentary that Griffin also gave exclusive access to is as breathless, as fawning and as narrowly focused as Becker’s book. The entire movement for marriage equality is distilled into a five-year courtroom drama for perfect dramatic effect. Hirshman notes who the star of that future movie will be:
Supreme Court civil rights landmarks have an irresistible narrative arc. First, the protagonists are oppressed; in the marriage equality story, the protagonist who started the revolution was “a handsome, bespectacled 35-year old political consultant named Chad Griffin,” and he had spent most of his life “haunted by the fear that if he told anyone he was gay, his friends and everything he dreamed for his future would evaporate.”
“The protagonist who started the revolution.” Now, Hirshman is very well aware that this is a massive distortion, and she correctly notes that the Perry case was a failure and trivial compared with the Windsor case and that the book doesn’t just ignore the work of the real pioneers, like Evan Wolfson or Mary Bonauto, but actually sleights them in order to puff up Griffin’s role. But when even Hirshman finds herself echoing the tropes that Becker has used, you see how the truth in the end will not matter.
Griffin knows that for most people who have no grip on the history of the movement, this five-year movie narrative will be it.
I ask because of this – now deleted – calendar from Penguin, Becker’s publisher, which we stumbled upon three days ago:
We called the HRC building and press office and, after several attempts, we could not get an answer. They told us that the only event planned this weekend is private and they cannot give us any details about it. Blogger Will Kohler tried to get an answer too and tells the Dish that the HRC spokesman wouldn’t deny or confirm a Becker event. But HRC rents the space out and would presumably get reimbursed for hosting an event. So this is a genuine question for HRC members: is HRC honoring a book that trashes everyone else in the marriage equality movement?
We can’t get an answer from them, which is par for the course. But maybe you can: email@example.com. Be nice.
Update: we’re not the only ones getting the run-around. From Metro Weekly’s Justin Snow:
— Justin Snow (@JustinCSnow) April 25, 2014
Update: A reader writes:
What about Becker also being hosted at Gibson Dunn, Ted Olson’s law-firm, for a private event on April 28 (as shown in your screenshot)? Even more inside access.
Indeed. An author who is hosted at book signings and events by the “characters” she fawns over in her book is crossing an ethical line. Another one. And, yes, I think, given the refusal of HRC to confirm or deny that the Becker event is canceled tomorrow, we can assume that it’s a party for Becker, and a thank you for the public relations job she has done for the organization. It’s all win-win-win. Except for the truth.
One last update: Because HRC would not respond to requests for clarification, Chris Johnson asked Becker herself at her DC book-signing at Politics and Prose if HRC was hosting her on Saturday:
I ask Jo Becker if she'll be at HRC tmrw. Her response: No, will be on MSNBC. I ask if there was ever an HRC event. Says she's not aware.
— Chris Johnson (@chrisjohnson82) April 26, 2014
The head of the Human Rights Campaign doesn’t take on the distortions and exaggerations in the Becker book, but he does necessary damage control by saluting just a few of the countless individuals who, far from allowing marriage equality to “languish in obscurity” for years, actually made everything we are tackling now possible. The statement is made under obvious duress, but it’s also graceful. And true.
With any luck, we can get past this ugly, unnecessary spat and get on with the business of making marriage equality a reality in every state. Internal debates about strategy are inevitable and usually good things. But the point must never be about who’s getting credit. It must always be about getting the job done. We owe it to this vital moral cause not to lose sight of that.
Update – a reader writes:
This reader comment on his parva mea culpa made me spit coffee on the monitor:
Truly, he stands on the necks of giants.
He made a nice first start, but it’s not nearly enough, IMO.
— Maria Popova (@brainpicker) April 22, 2014
Never forget E.B. White!
Today, I argued that Obama was on the verge of another meep meep in foreign policy with Syria and Iran; that Rand Paul’s criticism of Reagan’s spending and deficits is a vital part of resuscitating conservatism; and that the Onion should have the last word on the circumcision debate. Plus: climate change’s threat to global security; and the power of psilocybin in tackling anxiety.
Some brief links on the Becker book. Ronan Farrow had a terrific interview with Becker today – tough but fair. Check it out. Lisa Keen has a superb takedown, as does Kevin Jennings. Petrelis piles on to HRC’s spin. I think it’s safe to say that there have been episodes of the 700 Club that have gotten a better reception in the gay community.
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And see you in the morning.
A timely reminder of how old the struggle for marriage equality really is in the US:
And this is how revolutions begin:
HRC is the world’s most masterful marketer in turning their logo into the symbol for something they fought against for so long
— Jon Berry (@jonberrydesign) April 19, 2014
I spent the day monitoring the latest p.r. push by the Human Rights Campaign (i.e. the Becker book on the marriage equality movement), and absorbing the debates among the earliest Christians about how exactly they came to believe that Jesus was God. The fruits of Dishness, I guess.
On the HRC front, another one of them pops up on HuffPo to defend their record on marriage. Steve Fisher insists that HRC was front and center under Elizabeth Birch in the 1990s. How?
To build a movement of Americans on the side of LGBT equality, she led the creation of a slick logo built on a carefully calibrated message about equality … With the logo as a calling card, HRC built a membership base of hundreds of thousands who have been called upon to lobby, take action and help move the bar in their home states, neighborhoods and workplaces … She and her team created the Corporate Equality Index, a mammoth project that annually graded (and thus coaxed) corporations on their LGBT employment policies.
Look: I’m not denying that these were decent initiatives and helped us all in the long run. But logos aren’t arguments. And on marriage, in the early and critical years, HRC said close to nothing and refused repeatedly to do anything. When some of us begged them to spend money on Hawaii’s marriage breakthrough, we were told to go raise the money ourselves. Pity all the donors had been told by HRC not to bother. For that matter, try and find a speech given by Birch in those years making the case for marriage equality. Try and find a clip of an HRC official on television making that case. Good luck.
As for Fisher, take a look at this NYT story from December 2004, reporting that HRC had decided even at that late date to drop marriage equality as an issue. And who in that piece is quoted backing this surrender? Steve Fisher!
Some gay rights activists, including the leadership of the Human Rights Campaign, said they believed that aggressively pursuing same-sex marriage only played into the hand of Republicans and religious conservatives, who skillfully used the issue this fall to energize their voters. Steven Fisher, the campaign’s communications director, said the group’s emphasis in coming months would be on communicating the struggles of gays in their families, workplaces, churches and synagogues … He also said the group would adopt a selective and incremental approach to winning rights rather than reaching for the gold ring of marriage right away.
You can spin but you can’t hide.
Today, we covered American oligarchy and Iraqi “democracy.” We took a look at responses – here and here – to Thomas Piketty’s new book on inequality. And we wondered what Chris Christie has been smoking lately. The Window View contest was a real, if romantic, teaser.
There’s still time to join this month’s book club – just download the e-book version of How Jesus Became God here. This reader did:
I just want to point that even before the book discussion begins, you are already doing what Ehrman specifically warns us not to do; you are treating the book as if it addresses the question of whether or not Jesus was (or is) ACTUALLY God.
Over and over and over – until I was ready to throw up my hands and scream “YES, I get the point already” – Ehrman emphasizes that he is investigating what early Christians believed about Jesus. He repeats endlessly that historians cannot make judgments about theological truth, only about historical investigation.
And as others have pointed out, the ideas in the book are not controversial among biblical scholars – except among those like the authors of the “response” book, who begin their investigation with the conclusion already determined.
I know, I know. But stay tuned for a Christian response (mine) to the book – and then our debate.
A post update you might have missed: a reader in tiny Latta, SC gives his perspective on the firing of the town’s lesbian police chief. You can leave your unfiltered comments at our Facebook page and @sullydish.
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And see you in the morning.