It’s difficult for some journalists, especially LGBT journalists, to figure out how they feel about the GLAAD Commentator Accountability Project. While it has been praised by some, it has raised concerns from others.  Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute–who focuses on ethics and has appeared at NLGJA conferences–takes a look at the project and raises questions about the purpose and impact.

  • Of course, the danger is that journalists will use lists like this in the same way they would use a black list. If GLAAD is sincere about its intentions, the organization could add a short, instructional paragraph to the site, offering up some ideas about the best way to use the database. Because there is a range of egregiousness, such language would be helpful to journalists and to citizens who might come to the site looking for more information about a voice they heard. GLAAD also might include names of people who do “accurately represent the ‘other side’ of those issues,” as they say these commentators do not.

McBride questions whether the comments of some of the people on the GLAAD list have really committed what GLAAD considers “hate speech” and suggests that journalists and bookers may come away uncertain about why someone shouldn’t be interviewed or interviewed without being viewed as an expert.

She quotes GlAAD’s Aaron McQuade in describing the purpose of the list, and defending the criticism that it isn’t a blacklist.

If you are going to offer vile, hateful rhetoric in one forum, then show up on MSNBC as a scholarly expert, we want the audience to know the full context of who you are,” he said. And he hopes that anchors and reporters will challenge such commentators on things they say in other forums.

McBride’s column comes as GLAAD announces that the National Organization for Marriage and Pat Robertson have been added to their list of questionable commentators.  NOM’s sin, of course, is the release of internal documents outlining the group’s political strategy that included exploiting hostility between the gay community and African Americans, as well as Latinos. But the inclusion of NOM raises the inevitable question: if GLAAD thinks journalists should be suspicious of the largest, most well-funded anti-SSM group in the country, who does GLAAD think journalists SHOULD call to balance out pro-SSM activists and commentators?

This is questions we’ve wrestled with before, when it came to the infamous Southern Poverty Law Center’s hate group designations.  While clearly they are fringe groups on the SPLC list–and there are fringe people on the GLAAD list–there are also many people on both lists who have significant constituencies and a track record of significant support from the public.  So how do you exile such people from your coverage?  Should you?

Maggie Gallagher is rather fearless in her willingness to debate anyone and talk to any media.  But she’s also not a fringe voice or someone without a significant constituency.  It’s difficult to imagine any better advocate for the anti-SSM position than Gallagher if you are trying to book a guest or get a quote.  So why shouldn’t be considered credible and interviewed?  She’s said some crazy stuff, but so have some pro-SSM activists who are routinely interviewed.  Her group has put out some controversial statements and taken some unsavory positions, but so have groups that support SSM and gay rights.

This leaves journalists in a real jam. I agree that journalists should ask hard questions and commentators should be called on controversial statements. But is creating a list of suspect commentators really the answer?