Don't Ask, Don't Tell Coverage: The Good (and the not-so-good)

Ever since the Senate’s vote to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Saturday, various media outlets have gone beyond simple reporting to start studying citizens’ and politicians’ reactions, and to speculate on its significance regarding future bills and civil liberty issues.

Rachel Maddow talked to four former service members who had been affected by the law. Jonathan Hopkins, a former U.S. Army Captain, commented, “It’s not too often that members of the Senate get to vote on something that really changes people’s lives and reaffirms the very special American right to treat everyone the same. And it made me very proud.” She asked them about any advice they had, and Major Michael Almy urged LGBT service members not to let the law’s harmful past prevent them from rejoining the military, but to serve again for the love of their country.

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The Los Angeles Times also profiled several LGBT former service members, including Becky Kanis, the founder of “Knights Out,” and a Marine named Julianne Sohn, who represents one of many individuals for whom repeal comes too late after her military career ended.

NBC Nightly News talked to retired U.S. Navy Captain Joan Darrah, who recently married her partner after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” forced her to hide her relationship from her military colleagues for years and ultimately influenced her retirement.

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ABC News talked to several troops who plan to re-enlist as well, and reports an estimate that up to 25% of those who were discharged could serve again, depending on age and physical fitness requirements.

Moreover, various media outlets are contemplating the future of LGBT rights and advocacy now that the goal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal has been fulfilled. A comprehensive article in the New York Times considers the struggle for marriage equality and employment non-discrimination, but fears that fewer than half of Americans support the former, and recalls that the latter “remains stuck on Capitol Hill,” due to its inclusion of transgender protections. Still, it notes, although President Obama has opposed marriage equality in the past in favor of civil unions, he recently commented that “attitudes evolve, including mine”—suggesting that he might change his position. “There have been enormous and important shifts in public attitudes, and those are a hopeful sign,” said Tobias B. Wolff, a law professor who advises the Obama administration on LGBT rights. It also suggests that efforts may shift to the states, such as New York, Maryland, and Rhode Island, which are all considering marriage equality legislation.

CBS News agrees that marriage and employment non-discrimination are the two “overarching legislative goals” that remain for LGBT advocates, and reports that repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act may have a better chance through the courts. It also quotes Richard Socarides, the new president of a media initiative called “Equality Matters,” who says that over 50% of Americans now support marriage equality. The Los Angeles Times calls Saturday’s vote “the culmination of a decades-long campaign” that “reflected changing attitudes that can be credited not only to gay rights campaigners but also to ordinary gay and lesbian Americans who, by embracing their identity, made it harder for their friends, families, and co-workers to cling to anti-gay prejudices.” Like CBS and the NYT, it referenced the same two major issues remaining, calling them “unfinished business for advocates of equality.”

Other media believe that equality in the military will affect non-LGBT issues as well. An editorial in the San Jose Mercury News speculates that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal may provide hope for the passage of the new START Treaty in the last days of the Senate session. This treaty would require Russia and the United States to reduce their nuclear arsenals, and to resume inspections of Russian nuclear facilities. It is supported by military leaders and nuclear experts, and opposed only, according to the article, for political reasons.

Finally, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post suggests that the repeal will be “a pretty terrific start” to breaching the strained relationship between President Obama and many Democrats. He called it an important milestone for the president and his party, and a reminder that Washington can still create “real hope and change.”

However, any media that claims that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed at this current time is incorrect. The Service Members Legal Defense Network has released a statement informing citizens that in spite of the vote and President Obama’s signature, “repeal is not final” until after certification and a Congress-mandated 60 day implementation period. LGBT members of the military are still at risk of investigation and discharge in the meantime, and therefore must continue to remain cautious about coming out. “We need the media’s help to let troops know they remain at risk,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of SLDN, in an appeal to reporters.

The Associated Press also clarified that the ban is still in place, even though the military is currently drafting new regulations. “The implementation and certification process will not happen immediately; it will take time,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz. “Meanwhile, the current law remains in effect. All Air Force members should conduct themselves accordingly.” A 67-page report from last month contains recommendations for the new rules.

GLAAD encourages the media to continue reporting the reactions and stories of Americans affected by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and to be wary of using misleading language or rhetoric that suggests complete repeal has taken place. We will continue to monitor coverage of future developments to ensure that it is fair and accurate.