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Media Roundup: The Debate Over "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Media outlets are increasingly reporting on yesterday’s release of a study regarding openly gay and lesbian service members in the military by the Department of Defense. As a vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during the Senate’s lame-duck session becomes a greater possibility, the fair and accurate content of this coverage to American citizens is critical.

The New York Times covered the report as well as Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ appearance at a news conference yesterday morning announcing its release, in which he called a vote on the law “a matter of urgency.” PBS News Hour ran a special segment summarizing the progress of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to this point, and interviewing the two chairmen of the survey—Jeh Johnson and General Carter Ham. “Most service members simply don’t regard this as an issue at this point, and many see positive effects,” said Johnson. Ham believes it can be repealed “with low risk to the force.” The footage appears below:

President Obama has subsequently released an enthusiastic response to the report, reiterating his belief that the law “weakens our national security, diminishes our military readiness, and violates fundamental American principles of fairness and equality.” He is “absolutely confident” that the armed forces “will adapt to this change and remain the best led, best trained, best equipped fighting force the world has ever known.” He and other supporters of the repeal hope to bring the issue to a vote in Congress this month. FOX News featured Senator Joe Lieberman, who said that the defense authorization bill containing the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” within it is one of his top priorities. He says in the following video: “The Pentagon said yesterday that their survey of our troops and their families says that we can do this without inhibiting military effectiveness, and that means we ought to do it, and do it quickly.”

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow notes the report’s importance because “a lot of the objections voiced by members of the Congress … have been hinging on this,” and without a vote in Congress, change will take place through the courts, making implementation much more difficult. She argues that the report’s findings are “unequivocal—the risk of repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to overall military effectiveness is low.”

Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Rep. Buck McKeon of California are indeed, as the Wall Street Journal points out, questioning results of the study. “I’d like to know who these 70% are,” said McKeon, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee. “I’m doing everything I can do defeat it.” Editorial staff of the New York Times called these Republican lawmakers “shameful” for not being “as respectful of … eliminating what Mr. Gates called a ‘legally and morally fraught process.’”

Furthermore, Media Matters for America criticized a Washington Post article that made references to a harmful minority of opinions in the study for the first half of the article, before it even mentioned quotes from the 70% that favor repeal. “Instead of emphasizing views that are consistent with the study's findings, the Post … privileges inflammatory rhetoric and anti-gay stereotypes,” Media Matters stated. Another Washington Post editorial—ironically in its attempt to support open military service—makes the argument that gay service members are seeking to “prove their masculinity” and “male virtue” in the military, just like their straight counterparts. Although the article was well-intentioned, these notions of rigid gender stereotypes often contribute directly to anti-LGBT discrimination, especially against gay men.

Unfortunately, while media praise this hopeful win for the LGBT community, most outlets have failed to mention that the actual repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would have few implications for the transgender community. The National Center for Transgender Equality clarifies that “transgender people are currently considered medically disqualified for service and can face other roadblocks if they come out while serving. … “They will no longer run the risk of being falsely caught up in an investigation about their sexual orientation if DADT is repealed, but they still remain at significant risk for discharge if they reveal their gender identity.”

GLAAD will continue to monitor coverage on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and ensure that media both praise and criticize these recent findings in a fair way.

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