NOTE FROM PAM: I'm front-paging this diary because of the disagreements over what the press access policy is or isn't regarding the upcoming Equality Summit. The title of the diary itself suggests blogs that published journalist Rex Wockner's piece about whether a decision has been made to restrict portions of the conference from the media are wrong (“Queerty dug deeper and got to the facts of the situation“), so I thought that I would respond where the charge was made so you can decide for yourselves. Reporters Karen Ocamb and Rex Wockner, stand by their comments and reporting. Ocamb will have a piece out tomorrow in IN Los Angeles magazine about this issue.
The Blend has obtained minutes from the 12/18/08 Equality Summit Planning Call and source emails, and there is little doubt that a decision was made about media access. From the minutes:
Media will have access to cover only a portion of the summit. Co-chairs will determine which section that is.
That doesn't seem ambiguous at all; some part of the summit is off limits to the press. Rex Wockner has asked for information about what would not be open to media; he hasn't received any reply so far. That could be because the programming has not been settled upon, of course, but it's not true that a decision wasn't made about access.
Prior to arriving at that decision, the comments shared during the call included consideration of:
* no press at all
* full press access
* press access for part of the day
* less than full access (the winning option)
There was also sentiment expressed that they “can't let media air dirty laundry” and desire to avoid a “media zoo.” I think that's sufficient information to determine that the concern was less about pro-Prop 8 forces learning about strategy than being able to tightly control messaging and avoid any clashes that would be reported by the media. Robin Tyler asked the committee to re-visit the question on a subsequent conference call, but her request was denied and she resigned. So limited press access is still the operating principle until the planning committee votes otherwise.
Honestly, I'm not sure why there's this dance around the obvious — it's not uncommon for groups/orgs/corporations under the gun to want to avoid the media and tightly control what is released to the public. The bottom line is that organizers believe transparency is problematic for this Summit and weren't keen on saying why once Rex's report went up. The whole thing is odd, given committee folks had to know that any kind of unexplained media restriction was going to raise journalistic hackles and, well, journalists were going to report on it. That's a no brainer. How this will roll out in the end is anyone's guess.
So, with that in mind, here's The Mad Professah (Ron Buckmire)'s POV…
There's been drama on the LBGT blogs after my friend and blogger Rex Wockner sent out a piece decrying that the Equality Summit scheduled for Saturday January 24th in Los Angeles had voted to not have the entire conference open to media.
A Jan. 24 summit in Los Angeles to strategize about “winning back marriage rights” in California will be only partially open to media — a decision that has led to the resignation of one member of the organizing committee and to complaints from California gay media figures.
The Equality Summit apparently will bring together some 150 activists to organize and strategize in the wake of the passage of Proposition 8, the Nov. 4 ballot measure with which voters amended the state constitution to re-ban same-sex marriage.
But according to summit coordinator Anne Marks of Equality California, “the planning committee decided that at some portions of the summit where sensitive strategy discussions were to take place, it could only be advantageous to our opposition if those discussions and plans were
made public, so limiting press, or making these sessions off-the-record, would make sense.”
That decision isn't sitting well with some folks, especially given that the failed No on 8 campaign, in which Equality California was the biggest force, has been widely criticized for its insularity.
Joe.My.God, Pam's House Blend, TowleRoad all ran with the story which was clearly fueled by Robin Tyler who was unhappy when the vote on whether to not have a strategic planning summit open to the media went against her.
But wait, some blogs actually did some digging to find the root of the story and were not so quick to jump to conclusions and question the motives of people involved…
Most bloggers were critical of the organizers, but Queerty dug deeper and got to the facts of the situation. In a “Queerty Exclusive” they actually talked to Anne Marks the Equality Summit organizer and Andrea Shorter one of the (four unpaid) Equality Summit Executive Committee co-chairs:
Shorter tell us she is “appreciative of what people like Robin Tyler has done for the community” and she acknowledges that the No on 8 campaign had a reputation for being a “closed door campaign,” but says of Tyler's decision to resign, “You can't have it both ways.”
You can't complain about transparency and openness and reaching out to as many different groups as possible and then circumvent the process that's working to make those very things happen. We can continue to stay stuck in a pattern that suggest that nobody can trust anybody or we can move forward and certainly learn from the mistakes of the No on 8 campaign, but this is meant to be a serious and honest discussion with community leaders and groups about winning marriage equality. Are we more concerned with how to move forward or are we going to stay stuck?
Shorter says that while no decision regarding press access has been made, the question is not an all-or-nothing proposition, saying:
We want to be transparent, but we don't want to be stupid about it.
You're going to have a bunch of equal right activists, some of them neophytes, meeting an talking for the first time and the question is, “Do we want to be operating in a fishbowl? Are we going to have CNN, MSNBC standing there at every plenary and meeting session?”
The point is we all want marriage equality and we have to have honest discussions to do that.
We asked whether gay media outlets with a vested interest in the issue should be allowed to attend, even if only in an off-the-record position (only a question, and not something Queerty agreed to sign on to). Shorter laughed: “Like I said, we haven't had this discussion yet, but what's funny is that there's also the argument that reporter's journalistic integrity and objectiveness mean that they can't really be considered part of the community.”
And since Queerty is not an objective news source, here's our two cents:
We were as critical of the failed No on 8 campaign as anyone. In fact, if you look at our coverage since last year's election it's safe to say Queerty is probably the No on 8 campaign's biggest critic (it's a toss-up between us and the L.A. Weekly, really). We stand by those criticisms and will continue to explore why that campaign failed so that the same mistakes are not repeated.
That said, the Equality Summit is an important and useful thing. From all appearances so far, any group wanting to take part is welcome — that's inclusiveness. As much as we're advocates for journalistic access, inviting all media to all sessions would turn the summit into a press conference, not a strategy session. Do you really want Sean Hannity attending the Equality Summit? (Or a roving Bill O'Reilly producer ready to ambush?) Of course not, but if don't want them, you must agree, then, that some decisions regarding press access need to be made — and by all accounts the planning committee of the Equality Summit will do so, but haven't yet.
Anne Marks tells us that right now, the planning process is just restarting from the holiday break and that there should be an agenda by next Monday. Before branding the planners of the Equality Summit an evil, power-mongering, hermetic cabal, why don't we give them a chance to act first?
The gay blogger kangaroo court yesterday sentenced the Equality Summit before it's even had a chance to commit a crime. We know you all want a piece of the Prop. 8 action, but try to get both sides of the story before rushing to judgment.
And there, ya go, folks! That's journalism.