Gay Rights in the News
4 - Number of weeks “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” has been a top-ten story since 2007
On September 21, Senate Democrats failed to break a Republican-led filibuster that blocked efforts to repeal the controversial “Don't Ask, Don’ Tell” (DADT) law—thus ending, at least temporarily, attempts to allow openly gay men and lesbians to serve in the U.S. military. The maneuvering over the bill and the reaction to its defeat—as well as a speech by pop icon Lady Gaga in support of repealing DADT—filled 4% of the media newshole the week of September 20-26. That made it the third-biggest story in the mainstream media that week.
While last week saw a spike in coverage, gay issues tend to generate only modest attention in the mainstream press. Indeed, coverage of gay rights-related topics has never filled more than 5% of the weekly media’s newshole since PEJ began tracking news coverage in January 2007.
But on the occasions when they do generate coverage, DADT has often been at the center of the narrative. Since 2007, three of the biggest weeks for gay issues—filling at least 3% of the newshole—revolved around the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
The first time that occurred was March 11-16, 2007, (3% of the newshole) when then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace told a Chicago newspaper that he felt homosexuality was “immoral.” That sparked a debate about DADT and Pace quickly expressed regret over the remarks.
Another significant week of coverage followed President Obama’s endorsement of a repeal of DADT in his January 2010 State of the Union Speech. The issue accounted for 4% of the newshole the week of February 1-7, 2010, when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen both testified in favor of repealing DADT before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The other major gay rights storyline in the past several years has focused on the battle over same-sex marriage in California.
The first such week was May 12-18, 2008, when the California Supreme Court struck down the ban on same-sex marriages and the story filled 3% of the weekly newshole.
Nearly a year later, May 25-31, 2009, the subject accounted for 5% of the newshole when the California Supreme Court upheld a prohibition against gay marriage following the passage of Proposition 8, which banned such unions. More recently (August 2-8, 2010), the subject filled 5% of the newshole when a federal judge in California ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, but a stay was granted pending appeal.
Tricia Sartor of PEJ