By John Wright

Presidential candidate does interview with national LGBT magazine The Advocate, but PGN publisher says it doesn’t make up for snubbing local gay media outlets

Mark Segal

Under fire for repeatedly snubbing the gay press, Sen. Barack Obama this week did an interview with The Advocate magazine.

But the publisher of The Philadelphia Gay News, which called out Obama last week by leaving a blank space on its front page next to an interview with Sen. Hillary Clinton, says it isn’t enough.

"I find it peculiar that he spoke with a publication based in California, 3,000 miles away from the Pennsylvania primary he’s now involved in," said PGN publisher Mark Segal, who was scheduled to appear on CNN to talk about the issue Thursday night, April 10. "Is he not interested in the issues faced by the LGBT community of Pennsylvania? Only the local LGBT publication can ask those questions."

Segal said the newspaper planned to print a graphic symbol on its front page this week denoting that it’s been 1,529 days since Obama did an interview with a local LGBT publication.

Obama talked to The Windy City Times, a gay newspaper in Chicago, during his run for U.S. Senate in 2004. Since then, he’s appeared along with Clinton in a candidate forum on the gay TV network Logo. He also did an interview with The Advocate in October in response to the controversy surrounding Donnie McClurkin, an ex-gay minister who was part of Obama’s campaign gospel tour prior to the South Carolina primary.

Clinton, meanwhile, has talked to The Advocate, The Washington Blade and The Philadelphia Gay News, in addition to conducting a joint interview with Dallas Voice and two gay newspapers in Ohio, the Gay People’s Chronicle and Outlook Weekly, according to campaign spokesman Jin Chon.

"We can’t imagine why Sen. Obama hasn’t granted many interviews with press in the LGBT community," Chon said this week. "Hillary Clinton has no qualms about being asked the tough questions."

In The Advocate interview, which was posted on the magazine’s Web site Thursday, April 10, Obama said he’s chosen not to do a lot of interviews with specialized publications, including those serving African-American and Hispanic readers. But he argued he’s been more vocal on gay issues to general audiences than possibly any presidential candidate in history.

"I don’t think it’s fair to say silence on gay issues," Obama said in response to a question from Advocate news editor Kelly Eleveld. "The gay press may feel like I’m not giving them enough love. But basically, all press feels that way sometimes."

Ben LaBolt, an Obama campaign spokesman, noted that the candidate has taken out advertisements in local LGBT publications including Dallas Voice and written two op-ed pieces intended for them. LaBolt also said the interview with The Advocate was not a response to the blank space in The Philadelphia Gay News, which drew widespread media attention.

Eleveld confirmed that she had a standing request with Obama’s campaign and that the interview was scheduled early last week, prior to publication of The PGN issue on April 4.

"I’m sort of in constant contact with those campaigns, both Sen. Clinton’s and Sen. Obama’s," Eleveld said. "I don’t know why they chose to do this particular interview."

Earlier in the week, Segal blasted Obama for not talking to his paper.

"We are to the gay community what the church is to the black community, and we expect to be treated with respect," Segal said.

Segal, who co-authored the Clinton interview and was behind the decision to publish the blank space, has been accused of bias because he contributed $1,000 to Clinton’s campaign last year.

Segal said this week that he’s personally undecided between the two candidates. He also said he made a mistake by failing to fully disclose the contribution in conjunction with the Clinton interview.

However, Segal said he previously disclosed the contribution in the weekly column he writes for the newspaper. Segal said he paid $1,000 to see Clinton speak at a fundraiser.

But even a full disclosure of the contribution wouldn’t eliminate the perception of bias, according to Bob Steele, a scholar for journalistic values at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a leading think tank in St. Petersburg, Fla.

"When journalists become activists by contributing money or in some other fashion participating in the campaign, they risk eroding their credibility," Steele said. "A disclosure, all it does is shine a light on something. It’s transparency, but transparency is not the same as accountability."

Nevertheless, Segal said he feels he’s accomplished his goal. "I think it will create a change that we will see very clearly four years from now," he said. "I’m taking a stand for the gay press. I want us to be treated fairly. That’s the whole point."


This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 11, 2008.

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