Karen Ocamb

All the News That’s Fit to Swill

Filed By Karen Ocamb | September 25, 2007 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics
Tags: Hillary Rodham Clinton, LGBT politics, The Advocate

The Advocate’s come a long way, baby! Forty years and counting. That’s an impressive achievement by any standard. But fear of middle-age and remaining relevant in the instant era of YouTube/Blog-o-mania have nudged the onetime national gay and lesbian newsmagazine “of record” into a too-hip-to-be-cool smug self-indulgence that wouldn’t know a hard edge if it got nip/tucked.

Hillary Clinton on the cover of the AdvocateHow else explain the jaw-dropping cover story on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that passed itself off as news – OK, commentary that had a passing acquaintance with news.

To be fair, publisher Michael Phelps did signal some of the changes to come at the recent National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association convention in San Diego. He seemed very market-driven, talking more about “white space” and re-design than how the magazine intended to contribute to, reflect or even drive the movement, as was its mission in the past. I asked him about that afterwards – noting that in the early 90's I had written for Advocate trend-watcher editor-in-chief Richard Rouilard who trumpeted Queer Nation, outed Pete Williams, then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney’s spokesperson at the Pentagon and participated in the street demonstrations after Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the gay rights bill. After all, the L.A. Advocate started out reporting on discrimination, police raids, and protests. Michaels agreed: the times they have changed. If the magazine was launched today, he said, it would probably not be called “The Advocate.”

And yet they sell The Advocate’s historical reputation as the national LGBT newsmagazine - an LGBT version of the New York Times – to Hillary Clinton’s campaign to get that Advocate exclusive.

Sour grapes? You bet. I’ve been bugging the Clinton campaign (and other campaigns) for an interview for a very long time. I’m sure my LGBT press colleagues have as well. But the mainstream mind-set (and I include assimilated gays here too) seems to be that an exclusive Advocate interview is de rigueur, as if the LGBT community is therefore “handled.”

And what did we get? The Sean Kennedy story – oh, and the big news that Hillary’s not a lesbian! Now I’m sure Sean Kennedy, The Advocate’s News Features Editor, is a nice person and his 4,000-plus word essay might have been a “fun” read for some. But it belonged in Out magazine – not The Advocate. Not in the magazine that was supposed to ask the hard questions not asked or answered during the Logo/HRC forum.

Aside from Kennedy’s startling admission in the story that he has long been a “fan” of the subject he’s supposed to be quizzing, I kept asking myself “Where is Hillary?” throughout the entire piece. Sorry, but I frankly don’t care about Sean’s thoughts, feelings or beliefs. I wanted to know what Hillary Clinton thinks.

At the NLGJA convention, Michaels assured us that the writer had in fact met Clinton face-to-face, not the faxed questions that the magazine passed off as an interview during President Bill Clinton’s tenure. And indeed, we got a lot of sweet details about how she looked and responded to questions. A lot of style, little substance.

Kennedy didn’t even flush out the one question that yielded some “news” – that Hillary is not a lesbian. At my NLGJA panel “Will Gays Matter in ’08?” a lesbian reporter asked openly gay Clinton campaign heavy-weight Steve Elmendorf a similar question – i.e., that a lot of “wishful-thinking” lesbians were claiming Hillary as a sister. He responded that the campaign would consider such accusations to be a right-wing attack, which they have been in the past. But what about a well-meaning lesbian asking the question – would that be considered an attack, too?

Hillary Clinton told Kennedy:

“People say a lot of things about me, so I really don’t pay any attention to it,” she responds. “It’s not true, but it is something that I have no control over. People will say what they want to say.”

A quick follow-up could have revealed much: do you consider being called a “lesbian” an “attack” or are you flattered when lesbians want to claim you as one of their own? If both, how do you reconcile the different responses?

I was also startled at Kennedy’s arrogance, apparently assuming, for instance, that LGBT voters have made up their minds:

“Just why are we so in love with Hillary?…it’s Clinton whom gay voters are carrying the torch for this campaign season….[She’s] the one who captured our hearts long ago, and neither of us will let go. Only Obama has cast a similar spell, but as much as he’s called a “rock star” (so cliché!), it’s Hillary who’s the true megawatt one-named wonder of fame -- and Obama’s record on gay issues pales in comparison to hers.”

I hate to disillusion Kennedy, but many LGBT voters, at least in the Los Angeles area, are very dedicated to Obama, John Edwards, and Dennis Kucinich for their positions on the war in Iraq, poverty, healthcare as well as LGBT issues. For them, the primary is not yet over.

Finally – I know ours is a sexual liberation movement, that we are all about the equal right to chose the one we love and that Kennedy talks about the romance of politics – but does he really have to use the metaphor of getting into bed with the possible next President of the United States? Would he have used the same metaphor with Edwards or Obama?

Kennedy closed out the all-important Advocate exclusive cover story -- representing the national LGBT community -- by first indicating he had not done his homework: would she sign ENDA and a hate crimes bill?

Kennedy wrote:

“If they reached your desk,” I press, “you’d promise to sign them?”

“Absolutely, because as president I would be trying to get them to my desk,” she says with an exasperated laugh. “That’s the whole point!”

She sounds like she means it, like the filter is off for once, and I believe her -- I really do. But as I write this, several weeks later, I still don’t know. Commitment is so hard. Do I want to get in bed with Hillary again? I take a deep breath. If a relationship is about trust, I guess she has mine.

Well, 40 years is a good run. But until we are all free from discrimination – not just urban readers who can respond to advertisers – I feel LGBT journalists have a responsibility to report news that informs our electorate. I guess if I want my news from The Advocate from now on, I’ll go to advocate.com or 365gay.com and read their Associated Press reports.

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I am kinda getting tired of this gay/clinton love fest, and it's good that someone is calling Kennedy out on furthering it. Sure, she's doing well fundraising in gayborhoods and polls well among LGBT people, but that doesn't by any means mean that we've decided with out gay hive mind to support her.

And good point with his preparation. He seemed like he watched the HRC debate since he knew about her coral outfit, but then why does he ask if she'd sign the ENDA or hate crimes leg? It's just like, the debate isn't there, and we're all a bit beyond that.

Awesome post, Karen.

Boycott the Advocate | September 25, 2007 5:03 PM

The Advocate has been hollow for several years now; its pages fewer and fewer; its articles shorter and shorter. And this juvenile interview, along with the recent ridiculous “heroes” issue, demonstrates that they’re sinking lower and lower. I know that the Advocate still has such a long turnaround time for their print edition that one would think they’re still using pre computer and Internet technology but responses by all the Dem candidates to a written HRC questionnaire were available online weeks ago.

The only way they can begin to restore any credibility is to fire all the exiting staff (the current editor was promoted from PHOTO editor), replace them with people who are proud of what they know not what they don’t know and maybe, as they should have done years ago, decamp from LA LA Land.

But the noises being made by the new publisher and others suggest they’re going to become more shallow not less. Total bankruptcy in 10...9...8...7......

As I said on Steve's post yesterday, I'm just not excited about Team Hillary. I'm sure I'll end up supporting her when the opponent is a Republican, but for now I keep hoping someone - anyone - makes a damn move.

The Advocate article was a puff piece. Watch for next month's issue where Michelle Obama shares her quiche recipes with the bois and don't miss the "John Edwards goes to the LPGA tour" photoshoot...

If Hillary Clinton makes it get ready for a long war; she’s for Bush's plan to attack Iran. She voted for and votes to sustain the unlawful genocidal invasion of Iraq and insists that the 'surge' is working.
She and Bill Clinton have a lot in common with Mitt Romney. Running for office in Massachusetts he begged the GLBT communities for votes but turned on us when samesex marriage was legalized. Clinton did the same; asked for our votes and then enthusiastically signed the federal DOMA bill, giving bigotry the force of federal law and pandering to bigots. (It's totally legitimate to mention his record discussing Hillary Clinton; she unashamedly runs on his record.)

That was eight years ago and the question of samesex marriage is still in the news, still determining the strategies of the twin parties, still the focus of the bigots, and still the most effective weapon used against our GLBT communities.
Recently Hillary Clinton, like most candidates of the Democratic and Republican Party adopted the wacky idea that samesex marriage claiming is a question of state rights. That concept began with Southern claims that the Federal government had no right to regulate slavery. We beat their asses into the ground to prove it did but ever since states rights has been the rallying cry of national politicians who want to avoid taking 'controversial' (read principled) positions and by state politicians bent on denying deny rights to minorities. Her adoption of a states rights position is a clear signal the she understand she Clintonesque precept that politics is a give and take game. We give and she takes us for granted.

Samesex marriage isn’t my central issue. I think campaigns to get a strong ENDA and a Matthew Sheppard bill with harsh penalties for those who commit OR incite violence are more important and I favor a campaign to end tax exemptions and federal handouts for hit back at cult bigots. Nor should gay and lesbian questions should be our sole focus. We have to be involved in the fight to end the oil piracy in Iraq, against union busting, for immigrant rights, for the absolute untrammeled right to abortion, and etc.
Still, the question of samesex marriage remains vital because the Republicans and the cults use it to IMPOSE second class citizenship on us. The 2008 elections, like 2000 and 2004, will focus on denying us equality under the law. We'll be scapegoated by the Republicans and the cultists. At the same time the Democrats say they agree that we shouldn't have the right to marry. The candidly antigay Republican message and the slimier Democratic message are the same. They're saying that we're an inferior class of citizens who aren't worthy of equality.

That message comes through loud and clear for antigay bigots and thugs. Watch for spikes in beatings and lynchings just like 2000 and 2004. If you recall the attacks and killings of the last month or so, you can see it's already starting.
Romney knows that and so do the Clintons. They're playing a very sick game with our lives, our families, our futures, and our security.
We have to send our own message to these politicians; abandon us, turn on us, and you'll regret it to the end of your days. We can't afford to be meek or timid about this. Too much is at stake. We need to step out of that final closet, the political closet, and into the fight for our lives.
I can't imagine voting for someone lie Clinton or Romney. What a wasted, frivolous vote.

great post, karen! We need to ask for more from our journalists than lame diva-worship.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | September 26, 2007 9:37 AM

I love puff pastry as much as the next gay, but the Hillary story was a little too light for even my tastes. There wasn't much there there. I don't care about the lesbian rumors. I want to what she would do to advance LGBT equality and what political capital is she willing to expend to make it happen.

The Advocate like a number of LGBT publications in struggling for relevance with the explosion of the new media landscape. Unfortunately, they have chosen to go fluffier rather than be more innovative and provocative.

The Ragvocate is a joke and has been a joke for years. How long did it take them before they even bothered mentioning the existence of transgender people, much less actually covering us? It doesn't surprise me that it's becoming even less relevant than it already was. They're the HRC of popular gay media.

The 80's are long over, and the Advocate has been over for just as long. It's the GLBT newspapers, blogs, and radio shows where the real cutting edge community journalism is being done in our community now. Slick mags like this one, all flash and no substance, are just as out of date and out of tune with what's really going on in this community as Hillary is.