Media Spotlights ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ as Congresswoman Reintroduces Legislation to Lift the Ban

March 4, 2009
This week U.S. Representative Ellen O. Tauscher of California introduced legislation to repeal the ban on allowing qualified gay and lesbian people to serve openly in the armed forces. The bill is called The Military Enhancement Readiness Act. This action prompted sizable national mainstream news and blog coverage including a feature story on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer and two segments by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. On Monday, Maddow reported: “The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network says an average of two people get kicked out of the military under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ every single day.  Their research indicates that three thousand men and women every year decide not to enlist or not to re-enlist because of this law.” Last night, Maddow interviewed Dr. Nathaniel Frank, a Senior Research Fellow at the Palm Center and author of the book Under Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America. You can check out the clip below:

In addition to the television coverage Politico’s Jen Dimascio posted an item about the issue which unfortunately played up the potential “controversy” this bill could create for President Obama, while leaving out key polling data that shows overwhelming public support for repealing the military ban. A July 2008 ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 75 percent of Americans favor allowing gays to serve openly in the military - up from 44 percent in 1993. And a December 2008 Harris Interactive Poll commissioned by GLAAD found that almost two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults favor allowing openly gay military personnel to serve in the armed forces. The San Francisco Chronicle gave the issue sizable coverage in both a news piece and an editorial.  The news article provided a comprehensive overview of the issue, quoting Representative Tauscher as saying, “I believe that this is one of the last civil rights battles we have in this country." The San Francisco Chronicle editorial strongly criticized the ban and urged its repeal.
“A Government Accountability Office report found that the policy had chased out 12,000 troops since its inception. Nearly 800 were considered especially valuable to the Pentagon, including 300 critically needed specialists in Arabic and other languages. This exclusion came as the military attempted to fill its ranks by lowering standards and admitting noncitizens. The rule has backfired to the nation’s detriment.”
Steve Ralls, Communications Director for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), wrote an excellent critique on the issue for The Huffington Post, arguing that countries around the world have lifted such bans with no problems and the United States is lagging far behind on this issue. And finally the blog PageOneQ weighed in on the issue, focusing on a March 3 breakfast briefing by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with progressive bloggers and writers. PageOneQ reports that Pelosi is not setting a date for the House to consider the measure but said it is a priority “when we have the votes.” Pelosi also told progressive writers and bloggers that Hate Crimes and Employment Non-Discrimination legislation are top priorities as well as the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. From Page One Q:
“‘The American people want us to have the best defense possible,’ she said and then listed a number of prominent retired senior military officers and politicians who have supported the repeal or a review of the law, including former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, John Shalikashvili, former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Senator Sam Nunn.”
Whether the legislation goes to the House floor this year or not the story is likely to get more media play in the months ahead.  GLAAD encourages fair coverage that avoids overstating any so-called  “controversy” about the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and includes polling data that shows the huge growth in public support for allowing gay and lesbian people to serve openly in the U.S. armed forces.