Some Loose Ends On Becker

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.

She was scheduled to be at the big donor event, despite the bizarre refusal of HRC to confirm or deny it. But, confronted at a bookstore, Becker said she “was unaware” of any HRC event for her and was scheduled to appear on MSNBC at the same time. Johnson, rightly suspicious of this strange answer, followed up:

The next day, the Blade went to HRC headquarters at 11 a.m. as the Penguin schedule indicated she would speak. An attendee near the desk, who identified himself as “Carl,” said an event was indeed taking place, but it was a private meeting for high-dollar HRC donors and not open to the public. Asked whether Becker would make an appearance, Carl said she was scheduled to come, but she cancelled to appear on MSNBC.

So Becker “was unaware” of an event she had just canceled. Meanwhile, her response to her notion that the marriage equality movement had been “languishing in obscurity” until 2008 is the following:

Mary [Bonauto] talked about this, none of the cases just didn’t garner the same amount of attention. This became a headline in the way that it hadn’t been in part because of the odd-ball, odd-couple pairing of these two straight guys who came from opposite sides of the aisle, fought Bush v. Gore. Mary told me her cases didn’t get that kind of attention.

So that’s it. Because a few court cases had not pierced public consciousness, the entire issue was “languishing in obscurity.” Pathetic. The real reason for Becker framing it that way was to make the case she followed seem more important (when it wasn’t), to further lionize the sources who glued her to their side, and to make her own book more commercially viable.

Update from a reader:

Did you see NY1’s show “NY Times Close Up” on Saturday night? I’m watching over breakfast and incredulous – mostly at the host, who is blatantly dishonest, characterizing the NYTBR cover review as a complete rave, selectively quoting in a really dishonest manner, and going on to act like there’s no controversy. He did get around to asking about what happened earlier in the movement – never mentioning that her book had been challenged, much less lampooned – and she takes the opportunity to praise unnamed predecessors in the first part of her sentence, and then diss them collectively as being against the “controversial” case. And that’s it. She never gives in to even saying this book is about one chapter in a long history or giving any inch about reality. She continues to spin this as THE history of the movement. Incredible.

It’s offensive to everyone who played any little part along the way. When I had a very active blog with a lot of followers in the early days of blogging (early 2000s), I wrote about this fanatically. And when Colorado had it’s ballot initiative, largely funded by Tim Gill, I was a minor community organizer going door to door asking people to put lawn signs up on busy avenues, recruiting them, creating and distributing literature – very small-time stuff, but devoting big chunks of months to it along with hundreds of others across Denver, and thousands more joining us in other ways, in one state along the way, where we actually lost.

And in a then-red state like Colorado, it was THE issue of the election in all the news coverage, and THE rallying issue for both the left and right. The idea of whitewashing it into “obscurity” because it was before 2008 is comical and insulting. Yet here she is on NY1, sticking to her line.

I realize that with a book on the line, and four years of her life on the line, she has a lot at stake and has to be careful. But I think she would be wise to step back, realize she has over-reached and try to reframe the book the way she should have IN the book: that this is a vivid, up-close account of one important chapter in the struggle. But she’s not ready to do that.


I appreciate your pushback on the Becker book and her claims that the fight for marriage equality did not really begin in earnest until 2008. As we now have a few well-positioned players jockeying to claim the title of “gay liberators”, I can’t help feel that unknown individual contributors that have led to the success of final obtaining marriage equality are left out of this discussion entirely.

For example: My very first “gay marriage” took place in Grant Park Chicago, on September 4th, 1982, during a Jazz Fest no less. It was a VERY public ceremony, and cake was shared with guests and complete strangers alike. It still strikes me in retrospect, how bold such a move was, yet we felt fully supported by all the strangers in our midst and did not encounter one negative reaction from the crowd assembled for the jazz festival.

Unfortunately, this “training” marriage ended up in “divorce”, and like many straight peers, I chalk it up to being simply too young.

My second marriage, came after the marriage equality window was opened up in 2008 here in California. My husband and I had already been together for nearly 10 years, and we flew down from Canada to California to tie the knot. We have since relocated here. We were part of the island of 18K “legal gay marriages” that took place here before Prop 8 made this illegal once again.

So even before Virtually Normal was published, and decades before Becker’s unfortunate book, there were many of us unknown activists forcing the issue, and in very public ways. Today, I would like to claim for us unknowns, our activist contributions and partial success, for the advancement of marriage and other equality, as well as for those of us who were out and proud and creating very public as well as private marriage ceremonies, long before Boise and Gay Inc came on board.

And Sometimes There Is A Smoking Gun Email

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:

becker to stewart

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:

becker to herrera

Note the following: “HRC and AFER are going to be coordinating w/my publisher, Penguin Press, to promote the book, and Penguin has asked me to list everyone who might be willing to help so that can put together a press/tour plan.” Becker wanted to sell books at the City hall event, but this raised ethical issues about using City Hall for a private commercial enterprise. How were those resolved? At Becker’s original suggestion, Herrera was inclined to place a bulk order under his “campaign/office-holder account.”

So to recap. A key and celebrated source in the book is placing bulk orders and holding a reception at City Hall for the tour, at Becker’s request. At the same time, HRC and AFER are integrally involved in the entire book tour. Both groups are part of Chad Griffin’s Hollywood-DC p.r. empire. So the main source and central hero for Becker’s book was integral to its publicity and promotion. While publicly writing that he disowned being called the Rosa Parks of the movement, Griffin has been actively and aggressively promoting the very book that says that in its first paragraph! And he was using HRC’s and AFER’s money – money donated to advance gay equality, not Griffin’s personal profile – to promote his own hagiography.

If you want more evidence that this book was access journalism at its unethical worst, here it is. Quite why the NYT Public Editor has not weighed in on this is beyond me. It’s a disgrace.

The Best Of The Dish Today

Repatriation Of Soldiers Killed In Afghanstan Helicopter Crash

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.

herrera committee payment to chad 2Petrelis 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.)