Dora's Revenge

Editorials that take on gay rights issues

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Buzzflash Interview with Laura Flanders

"Bushwomen" focuses on a subject overlooked by the mainstream press: How the Bush female cabinet members are used to give the appearance of inclusiveness, while they carry out the Bush/Cheney radical right wing agenda.

Author Laura Flanders introduces us to women as cynical, hypocritical and downright nasty as the Bush Cartel men. Like most of the Bush Cartel male members, they all had a helping hand climbing the ladder of success -- and when they got to the top, pulled up the ladder and stepped on the hands of others trying to climb their way up.

All the cabinet women (with special appearances by Laura Bush and Lynne Cheney) have struck a sort of Faustian understanding. The Bush Cartel uses them as "soft feminine" faces to "fuzz up" the extremist, harsh, anti-democracy policies that they are implementing. They, in turn, agree to be used because they enjoy the power and actually support these policies.

The press is often more likely to describe how a female cabinet member looks than what she does, Flanders argues. But they are implementing an ideology that is every bit as extreme as Dick Cheney's or Tom DeLay's.

After you are finished reading the book, you will agree that the Bush women are as scary, opportunistic and dangerous as the Bush men. They are the anti-feminists who got where they are because of feminism. Maybe that's the ultimate equality: women who can act as disgracefully and as dishonestly as the men who chose them.

Laura Flanders is the host of Your Call, heard weekdays, 10-11 am on public radio, KALW, 91.7 fm in San Francisco and on the Internet.

Flanders writes regularly for, The Nation, Ms. Magazine and Znet. Her op-ed pieces have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.

Flanders was founding director of the Women's Desk at the media watch group, FAIR and for more than ten years she produced and hosted CounterSpin, FAIR's nationally-syndicated radio program.

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BuzzFlash: Bushwomen: Tales of a Cynical Species is about the Bush women. Why are they cynical?

Laura Flanders: What's cynical about them is that, from its very first days in office, the Bush administration presented this multi-display, as if to suggest something about its social and economic policy, when most of these women trail a history of undermining the very social justice laws and economic programs that helped put them in power today. It works because of an oblivious media who, I think, will focus on personal history at the expense of any real analysis of these people's political records.

BuzzFlash: In your foreword, you discuss Katherine Harris, and you raise an interesting theory: If the media had spent less time discussing the fact that her makeup was put on with a trowel, or looked like it was, and more about her rather checkered history in politics and fundraising, the story about Katherine Harris wouldn't have been this Cruella de Ville farce, but rather a story about credibility and accountability.

Laura Flanders: Exactly. I started the book by saying George W. Bush might never have snagged the White House if one woman had been laughed at less: Katherine Harris, Secretary of State of Florida. She was well known to the people of Florida as somebody who'd been slip-sliding around election rules for years. There were corporate campaign contribution violations in her first run for office in '94, similar problems when she ran for the state Senate later on. When she sought to become the Secretary of State, the person who monitors elections, the vice president of Common Cause in Florida said: How can you come down on somebody else for violating something when you have a reputation for violating the law yourself?

People knew who she was in Florida. Her record smelled to high heaven in exactly this area. She'd been an active participant in the campaign for the presidency for Bush and Cheney, and bringing Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf from the first Gulf War down to Florida to do two things: produce supposedly non-partisan public service announcements, and also to address Bush-Cheney rallies. She had a record that needed to be looked at. Instead, what we got were press stories about what she looked like. It wasn't what she looked like that was important; it was what she did in that election, and what she'd been doing for years. We, the public, could have come to that election so much better prepared if the press had been paying attention. But they were distracted by the details. And I think the Bush administration counts on the media being distracted in that way.

BuzzFlash: Let me play devil's advocate. But let me take an opposing side, which is: What's wrong with having these women in the Bush Administration? What's wrong with the right-wing women? Don't they have a right to just be like the right-wing men?

Laura Flanders: Absolutely. It's no surprise that a right-wing President would appoint cabinet secretaries who reflect his views. They have every right to be there. We just have a right for them not to be given a free ride. We are in a media environment that tends to sideline women, tends to give short shrift to women and people of color in our coverage. That usually works in such a way that feminist media critics are calling for more attention to the good things that marginalized people have done. In this case, I'm saying we want more attention to the bad things some of these very high-profile people have done.

Fairness works both ways, and I think that what we're seeing is a very cynical deployment of a kind of estrogen shield on an administration that's making policies that leave this country and the world more divided than ever. I think Condoleezza Rice is one; Elaine Chao is another example of that. They have every right to be right-wing women. They just don't have the right to be treated with kid gloves.

BuzzFlash: Let's discuss an issue near and dear to BuzzFlash's heart -- the hypocrisy of the Republican Party. We feel it's probably their most consistent and pervasive trait. In fact, we have an honorary GOP hypocrite of the week. Let's look at the hypocrisy cited in your book. You have Elaine Chao playing, in a way, what you might call the Chinese card. When she's accused of opening up doors to a contributor who was allegedly illegally giving funds to Gore and Clinton, and also allegedly gave illegal funds to Elaine Chao's husband, right-wing Senator Mitch McConnell. When that was brought up, Elaine Chao basically said you're only attacking me because I'm Chinese.

Laura Flanders: Exactly.

BuzzFlash: And we have Lynne Cheney -- you bring up an incident where she was interviewed for a job, and she said it would have been illegal to ask her if she were married and had children, or were pregnant. And yet that is the type of non-discrimination issue she deplores.

Laura Flanders: It's ubiquitous. I mean, these are the very same people who attack the left and progressives for using or referring even to identity politics, for talking about the particular experiences of people of color, and women and minorities. And here they are, using identity politics in their own way. It's all identity, and no politics. Elaine Chao only has to touch the stereotype when she says: "I was a Chinese immigrant. I came to this country from Taiwan at the age of 8, not speaking a word of English." And the American public is pre-programmed, almost, to take the image -- the story -- from there. In fact, in her case, her story has nothing to do with sweatshops and Chinese takeout restaurants, and the kind of immigrant stereotypes that we have. She grew up in an increasingly well-to-do family, very tightly, closely tied to the leadership in China.

She learned English very quickly. I give her credit for that. Credit also goes to the public school she attended in Queens, N.Y. She then went to an Ivy League college, Mt. Holyoke. She was in a golf club. And she went off from one job to another, facilitated by her father's connections to shipping, to the point where now she's one of the best-connected cabinet secretaries in Washington, with a long history of relationships with the Republican right through her work -- the Heritage Foundation and others. And all of which is fine, yet she also said that her experience as a Chinese immigrant equips her to understand the working poor, there at the Labor Department, and their need or lack of a need, for state help as they try to protect themselves in the workplace and seek jobs if they're unemployed. It's the last part of what she does that I take objection to, and that's where the cynicism comes in.

BuzzFlash: I think you point out that Condoleezza Rice is not immune to playing the race card. When Iraq criticism came up, she compared the liberation of Iraq to the civil rights movement or something like that.

Laura Flanders: She said it was the civil rights movement of our time. And again, she drew on her own experience. She grew up in segregated Alabama, in Birmingham, in the 50s and early 60s. She witnessed the children's marches of '61, and saw the violence of the state used against those kids. She drew upon that history as if to say something about her credentials in the area of civil rights. But her credentials are in the area of global trade, of international policy-making, of post-Cold War empire building. Her expertise is not in the area of civil rights. People who worked under her, when she was provost at Stanford, say she didn't really completely understand how federal affirmative action rules worked. And she didn't have to. No reason why she should. But the same attention given to her past in Alabama should be given to the ten years she spent on the Board of Directors of the Chevron Corporation. They named a tanker after her. If you're concerned about civil rights, let's ask, what happened to the rights of Nigerians, in the Niger Delta at the hands of Chevron in the 10 years that she was on the board?

BuzzFlash: Going back to the penchant of the press for describing women's appearance over their policy substance. In the case of Condoleezza Rice, there's great attention to her perfect walk, her very placid smile, her sereneness. And you usually don't see a man described in quite that way.

Laura Flanders: Maybe the time will come when we'll have true equality and equally fluffy and useless coverage of men. But you're right. You don't see Dick Cheney confirmed as Vice President, and the next day's article in the Times focus on how he wears his hair. That's what we found in the Times after Rice was appointed. The day after she was appointed, when she came into office, we had a story that talked about what she eats for breakfast, and how she's impeccably dressed. What the nation, I would suggest, needs to know, while that's interesting, is what is her record on U.S. national security questions and on U.S. foreign policy.

BuzzFlash: One of the most fascinating women mentioned is Lynne Cheney, whom you discuss in a section called "Sisters." You imply there that she is the woman behind the man, in this case. Or am I --

Laura Flanders: That's what she says.

BuzzFlash: She wrote this novel that had a lesbian love scene in it, and she doesn't talk about now.

Laura Flanders: In 1981, this book Sisters was published as a Signet paperback kind of pulp thing and it's horrible. Horribly written -- the stuff that goes right to the remainder shelves. But I did manage to get a copy, and I was amazed. The language is florid, and it's very clearly celebrating a certain kind of free love. It's all set in the American West of the late 19th Century. The protagonist is a woman who's left the convent and joined the musical theatre. It took her to the West Coast, then the East Coast, where she joined the dreaded liberal media. She then returns to Wyoming, condoms in her handbag. And one of the high-point scenes of the novel is her having sex with a man with whom she's not married to in front of a roaring fire. Good for her. All of which again is fine, but Lynne Cheney is now part of an administration that --- for political reasons -- is denying condoms to countries in Africa where there is an epidemic of HIV-AIDS. Those condoms could save lives. Pandering to the Religious Right is coming between people and survival. And Cheney is a part of that.

This story gets less funny. I believe the cynicism, on the one hand, is amusing, (and the novel is amusing,) but the hypocrisy is hurting people. All the women in my book exercised choices about their family size. Very few have any children at all. Many married late. They didn't feel they had to have a married partner to be viable women in society and stable players in their community. They had access to the best education – thanks to years of fights to open the doors to law schools, and schools of political affairs and business, for women. They've benefited from years of work by people in movements whom they now disparage. And when it comes to something like condom use, they're sitting by while religious maniacs in their administration are denying life-saving devises, to people whose lives are on the line, and education around sexuality to generations. That's where it's less funny, because these people know better.

BuzzFlash: When I finished reading your book, I was left with a kind of feeling that these women are -- besides Laura Bush, who kind of seems like another species of person altogether -- but for the most part the Bush women who are there by appointment are like their male counterparts in the Republican Party: opportunists, cynics and hypocrites.

Laura Flanders: Yes.

BuzzFlash: In a way, the men in the Bush administration use them as a front, though in many ways they share the major characteristics of the males of the Bush administration.

Laura Flanders: Oh, absolutely. I think the way they get used is that the spinmeisters can rely on stereotype. Again, if Condoleezza Rice goes in front of the nation and says the war and invasion of Iraq is about the liberation of the Iraqi people, and it's the civil rights struggle of our day, which is what she said --

BuzzFlash: And Laura Bush, of course, said it was about liberating women.

Laura Flanders: That was the bombing of Afghanistan. You don't hear it in the same way; or, rather, you hear it in a way that you wouldn't if it was Dick Cheney or George W. saying it. Dick Cheney, at this point, epitomizes the oil man. You can almost see the oil contracts in Iraq sprouting out of his head when you see his face on the TV. That association is there in people's minds. Condoleezza Rice, for better or worse, doesn't ring those same alarm bells, even though she has a very comparable history in the oil industry. She is an oil man; she just doesn't look like one. And Laura Bush can talk persuasively about liberating women from the Taliban in a way that George W. Bush never could.

BuzzFlash: If there was a time when Bush was accused of being racially insensitive, his response to a question about that was: Well, I was having a meal the other day, and I looked across the table, and there was Condoleezza Rice. And there was Colin Powell. I think that really says it all.

Laura Flanders: Exactly. It's as if his appointments represent something about his policies. And they go along. I think that it's getting more difficult to play the public than it once was -- and that the stories need to be told. I'm hoping that this book will spark more interest in who these people and other people like them, and build more support for better reporting on these kinds of characters.

BuzzFlash: Getting back to Lynne Cheney -- because again, I personally find her among the most fascinating, because she does seem like an extremely intelligent and shrewd person -- but here you have a woman that wrote this book back in the 80s that had a lesbian relationship. And her daughter is openly gay. The administration is supporting this very opportunistic anti-gay marriage amendment, which is sort of backfiring on them right now. And someone who's not in your book, Phyllis Schlafly, has a gay son that came out, I think in the 80s.

Cheney was asked the other day, I believe, how she felt about the President's amendment because her daughter is gay. And she gave some very vague answer -- my daughter's private life is her private life sort of answer. How do these people balance the reality of their personal lives with their policies?

Laura Flanders: Well, there's an interesting phenomenon -- for the most part, they're not required to. It seemed that under Clinton we had nothing but stories about personal lives and political hypocrisy. When it comes to this crew, it's almost as if it's considered beyond the pale by the media to call them to account for their hypocrisy and the contrast between their own personal records and the policies they now espouse.

The George W. Bush National Guard story is just the tip of an iceberg. And that, I think, has been strangely let drop. Lynn Cheney, Dick Cheney, their daughter Mary is another one. Would they deny their own daughter the right to have the same rights as their son, such as marriage? I doubt it.

In fact, we know Dick Cheney's position in the past has been to let states decide. I think this whole Constitutional amendment on heterosexual marriage is a sham. Bush isn't going to take it anywhere. It takes two-thirds of the states. We never had an Equal Rights Amendment. That's never going to get passed. He was, I think, dodging this cup for the longest time. But finally the religious right forced his hand, and he had to go there.

But he's in a very awkward spot. I say go for it, because I see cracks in the right-wing coalition developing around this kind of invasive social policy. And the more they crack up, the better.

BuzzFlash: Lynne Cheney has been part of a movement with David Horowitz and "Republican-light" Joseph Lieberman to try to change the tone on campus, accusing campuses of being too liberal and too leftist, and too politically correct. Again, we have another of the long list of Republican hypocrisies in launching a movement -- and they've had some success -- in essence trying to silence some professors who are considered quote-unquote too liberal. They aren't fighting political correctness, they're implementing political correctness.

Laura Flanders: Yes. It's the political correctness that they used to refer to as implemented by people on campuses throughout the late 80s and 90s that was about broadening the curriculum and introducing more works into the canon that reflected the character of 21st Century of the United States. The political correctness that these right wing people are imposing takes us back to a period of only one kind of acceptable opinion. And the cost for falling outside of their definition of acceptability can be your job, your economic viability, your standing in your community. We've been there before.

Lynne Cheney, I think, started off in her capacity as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities under the first George Bush by taking it upon herself to play the role of kind of cultural warrior. Who is acceptable? Who isn't? And she wrote a book about how deconstructionists studying Foucault were destroying truth on campus, even as an idea. Cheney, in her own history, has a lot of contradictions, as do we all. But it's frustrating how she got that job at the NEH. How? Because she was a published author. Well, what had she written? Things like Sisters. What gives this person the right to be the cultural advocate, not just of what is interesting and educational, but what it is that can get you blacklisted and pushed out of a job?

BuzzFlash: She's fundamentally, as are most of the Bush women you write about, anti-democracy. They believe -- and this seems the fundamental motivating factor in the extreme right wing that Bush represents -- that their view of what America should be should be imposed upon America.

Laura Flanders: The great thing, or one of the things to remember, is that those who are now representing the Republican Party do not represent all conservatives; they do not represent even all Republicans. And I talked to several for this book those who said "Our party is being stolen from us. Our party was the party that first embraced equality for women, that believes in independent thinking and all sorts of good things. The people who now lead this party do not represent the conservative values that we cherish – values of small government and independence," and so on and so forth.

You may not share their views of what Republicanism is, but it's interesting to know that the Republican house is very divided right now. And these women, I think, are deployed as a kind of band-aid solution to try to present a kinder, gentler, more moderate image on what is really an extremist administration in power in Washington.

BuzzFlash: Let's move on to Laura Bush. BuzzFlash readers constantly write to us about her.

She's viewed as the quintessential Stepford Wife. I don't know if I read it in your book or somewhere else, but when she met Barbara Bush or something, when she was asked "What do you do?" she said, "I read. I smoke. I admire." She plays the perfect role. If we follow George Lakoff's model of Bush representing the white male, the restoration of the patriarchal model, she's the deferential wife, as compared to the "uppity" Hillary Clinton being an equal to Bill. In the case of Laura Bush, who's always walking either hand-in-hand with her husband or behind her husband, and never overshadows him, never says anything that's of much significance unless it's planted by Karl Rove. But otherwise, she has the traditional role of a First Lady. She has her little library project and literacy project.

Laura Flanders: I think that's the image, and I think it's carefully cultivated. But this is a woman who has been raising money hand over fist for her husband's reelection. No one except for Dick Cheney is more sought after for campaign fundraisers than Laura Bush. She raised more than $5 million just in the six months between June of '03 and January of '04. She again can go out on the campaign trail, raise millions of dollars, and set off none of the alarms that Dick Cheney would when he pulls into town. She has, I think, cultivated this image of herself as a former Democrat, the pro-choice person, pro-library. And yet every time she says she's for something, the government under her husband slashes that almost the next day. She came out in favor of libraries. His budget, released the next month, slashed funding for the very programs she endorsed.

Again, I don't think that she's a Stepford Wife. I think it's that she is spinning a different constituency from W. And I think it's done knowingly. I think it's done simultaneously. And I think it's done for a purpose. He'll say: "I don't read any papers," as he did on Fox TV. She'll go on the morning news the next day and say: "Yes, of course he reads. He reads three papers. We read five papers over breakfast every day."

He says one thing to one constituency. She speaks to another. Around the marriage amendment, he said: "I support traditional marriage," and he sounded like he was going to be for a Constitutional amendment when he gave the State of the Union. She, the very next week, talked to The New York Times and said: you know, he just thinks the states should decide. Quite a different view. I think it's intentional. I think her role is a very powerful one, in fact, to kind of lull moderate American voters into believing the White House is not in the grips of the radical right, because she acts as his kind of character witness in very much the same way that you saw Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife act as his kind of character witness to the concerned, moderate voters of California.

When Maria Shriver said: You have to believe me, this is a good man, it was invaluable to him on the campaign trail, because she had the reputation. He did not. Same thing with Laura Bush. She has a reputation. When she says: You know, George is a good guy. Karl Rove isn't really such a maniac. The religious right doesn't have us all in thrall. There are people who will allow that to leaven their impression of the administration as a whole, and of her husband, in a way that could comfort them.

BuzzFlash: You kind of alluded to this one: You said, here are women that really don't have large families, or any children, and so they're not exactly exemplars of family values, except for Karen Hughes, who allegedly left her position for her family.

Laura Flanders: Even though she describes, right after she had a child, she was out in the field, covering a hurricane for her television station. She didn't let having a child hold her back.

BuzzFlash: But she claims she left the White House to be with her family. That is an exception, whether it's true or not. As a story, it's an exception. We have to assume it's true, although she's stepping back into the fray now. But I guess the personal lives of Republicans often are an extreme contradiction to what their political philosophies are, and what they're trying to impose politically on the rest of the country.

George and Laura bully the press into not focusing on their daughters. We haven't felt that at BuzzFlash because their daughters' lifestyles seem totally in contradiction to what Bush proposes -- for example, denying Pell Grants to any college students who have even been accused of the most misdemeanor drug offense, meaning marijuana use.

And then whenever that's brought up, Laura Bush just says: Oh, we want to create a zone of privacy for our twins. Then you had Ronald Reagan – although, of course, you don't cover this – who didn't know his two children by Jane Wyman really until his Presidency. There's this amazing anecdote in Michael Reagan's autobiography from seven years ago noting that when President Reagan came out to his prep school in Arizona, where he was at the time, to give a graduation speech, Michael Reagan went in the reception line. His father didn't recognize him. I guess my point is this: Republicans, including the Bush administration, have personal lives that often are very much at odds with what their public policy is.

Laura Flanders: I would say in this case what I say in the book -- that hypocrisy is rank. You have a Vice President and his wife running on a blatantly homophobic platform while their campaign is run by their openly lesbian daughter. You have the President talking up a storm about getting tough on lawbreakers when his own family would be a really rotten way if there hadn't been compassion shown to them. His two daughters have been caught drunk, drinking underage, and their cousin Noel, Jeb Bush's daughter, found with cocaine at the rehab center where she was undergoing treatment -- she wasn't clapped in jail. Noel's mother, was caught by immigration officials trying to sneak $19,000 worth of jewelry into the country without paying tax on it, and Laura Bush was shown mercy in '63, two days after her 17th birthday, when she was involved in a fatal car accident. She drove through a stop sign, hit another car, and killed the young man, who happened to be a school friend. She called it very tragic. No charges were ever brought. I'm not against these people being shown compassion. I am against them, with their history, not showing comparable compassion to others, now that they're in power.

BuzzFlash: The thing about Pell Grants, of course, is that minorities are hit hardest because they tend not to be able to afford lawyers who can get them off, like wealthier people, and so then they lose their grants. And they're the ones that need the grants. And so Bush, as you've pointed out, is very hard on everyone else's family but his own.

The Secretary of Agriculture, Ann Veneman, is hardly known to the public at large. She briefly had her profile heightened with the mad cow incident. Why did you choose to write about her?

Laura Flanders: I took on a project of writing about all the cabinet secretaries, and she was in there. Part of what's interesting, I hope, about it to readers, is that it provides a kind of glimpse of history of the last 20 or 30 years of policy in these arenas, which some of us haven't looked at all that carefully. And in the area of agriculture policy, I learned a whole lot researching this book and came to believe that it's one of the most critical areas of policy-making that we face today. And I think food issues and agriculture issues are going to be key across the board, right and left, in the decades to come. Veneman is someone who's told the story repeatedly about growing up on her family's peach farm, in the central valley of California. She grew up at a time when farm workers were organizing for their rights, and the first-ever female Agriculture Secretary of California, Rose Bird, angered growers to no end by actually granting farm workers the right to organize, and banning these back-breaking, short-handled hoes that were ruining the lives of farm workers in the fields.

Ann Veneman, from her very first years out of college, took the side of the growers, and teamed up with those who were out to make sure that nobody like Bird would ever have power in California agriculture again.

BuzzFlash: Now Bird became the chief judge of the Supreme Court under Jerry Brown, right?

Laura Flanders: And then she was hounded out of that job by a growers' coalition who besmirched her name in every way they could. Veneman then went on to be one of those negotiated masters. She's been at the table for the global trade treaties that have been signed over the last 20 years or so. She was in Seattle during the protests. While people were being tear-gassed outside in the rain, she was inside. She was this lobbyist for some of the biggest grain corporations in the world. She was in office in the first Bush administration as Undersecretary for Agriculture, when the first license was given to the corporation Calgene to produce a genetically modified crop – the Flavor-Savr tomato. The tomato was a flop, but Ann Veneman got a post on the board of directors at Calgene just months after leaving office, after Clinton was elected.

It was really revealing to me to look at this person who I hadn't paid much attention to either, and I don't have any personal beef against. But to watch how somebody could play such an instrumental role in successive Republican administrations, and even become Agriculture Secretary, and nobody really looks at her record and talked to farmers; specifically, to farm workers and small family farmers. They know who Ann Veneman is. And the rest of us should get to know her too.

BuzzFlash: My final question is about Karen Hughes. She did disappear from the limelight for awhile when she surprisingly left the White House to, she said, return to Texas with her family. And she has reemerged recently to defend Bush's controversial, to say the least, campaign ads. If Rove is Bush's brain, she seemed to be Bush's drill sergeant.

Laura Flanders: Good way of putting it. In the words of one of the campaign managers for Ann Richards, who worked on the critical governor's race in Texas in '94 –"From the Democratic point of view, we always expected we'd get negative reporting from the journalists, but we never thought of actually taking reprisals against those journalists." In the opposing George W. Bush campaign, Karen Hughes punished journalists that stepped out of line.

It worked perfectly in 1994, and again in campaign 2000, where journalists on the campaign trail following Bush knew that they had to play along or be left behind. Karen Hughes policed it without blinking. If you asked an awkward question, you would never get your question answered again. We've seen that now in the White House with veteran reporters like Helen Thomas banished to the back of the press conference room. It was really pioneered under Hughes and Rove, and it worked in such a way that Bush, the candidate, is left very comfortably chumming up to the reporters, knowing that his drill sergeant, as you put it well, was there policing who was allowed in. It was a very different scene on the Gore bus, from the people that I talked to there. I kick myself for not paying more attention to the '94 Governor's race in Texas, because that was really the dry run for the act they put on the road nationally in '99-2000.

BuzzFlash: James Moore, the author who wrote Bush's Brain and has an upcoming book on Bush, and occasionally contributes to BuzzFlash, has mentioned on more than one occasion, and I believe it was in the '94 race, he was a reporter that had brought up a follow-up question on Bush's National Guard duty, and he basically recounts that Karen Hughes, afterwards, went ballistic on him.

Laura Flanders: Yes, that's a very typical story.

BuzzFlash: The legacy of that was Ari Fleischer saying to reporters -- and I'm paraphrasing what he said -- that rather chilling statement that questions like this will be noticed around THIS house, and you have been warned. It's not the stuff democracy is made of. You mention in the acknowledgements -- and we should note this before we finish this -- that none of these women agreed to an interview. So you requested an interview from all them?

Laura Flanders: I requested more than once. And Karen Hughes, to her credit, was the only one who actually got back to me and gave me a reason why she couldn't talk to me. The others simply blew me off.

BuzzFlash: So you thank them in absentia.

Laura Flanders: They're the most private public citizens you've ever met, and they contribute to the fogginess about them because there are people they won't talk to. At least that's my impression. I went to no end of loops submitting questions, submitting faxes and e-mails, only to be completely ignored.

BuzzFlash: Well, thank you for this wonderful book, and for your wonderful work on the radio.

Laura Flanders: You, too. Your work at BuzzFlash is invaluable. Keep it up.

The Video Strategy of the Fundamentalist Right by Laura Flanders

It was the military and the media that made The Gay Agenda popular, says Bill Horn, once a CBS sportscaster, now video maker for the Springs of Life charismatic Christian church that produced the tape.

"Since The Gay Agenda was featured on Larry King Live and ABC World News Tonight, calls have poured in on the 1-800 sales number requesting a copy," boast the producers. After appearing on Pat Robertson's "700 Club" with clips, Horn says he gets 500 requests a day.

The Gay Agenda poses as a teaching tape, revealing what Horn calls the "hidden" side of gay life. Using amateur footage from gay parades and demonstrations, the tape stars doctors and scholars and "recovered" homosexuals who recite lists of unsourced statistics on what they say are the unhealthy practices of gay men.

Ten thousand copies were distributed to voters in Colorado and Oregon in the fall of 1992, in time to influence voting on anti-gay initiatives that were on the ballots in those states. According to Horn, exit polls in Oregon showed that 70 percent of "yes" voters said they were influenced by the tape.

Then in December 1993, Marine Commandant General Carl E. Mundy received a copy. "After viewing it, I reproduced copies for each of my fellow service chiefs, the chairman and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," he told Representative Pat Schroeder in a letter. "It appears to be extreme, but its message is vivid and, I believe, warrants a factual assessment."

Eventually, each senator and representative in Washington has received a copy, and Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association distributed tapes to every legislator in the states of Washington, Maine, New Mexico, and Montana, where voters faced anti-gay initiatives.

Dueling Videos

Yet Bill Horn is right when he says that The Gay Agenda received little or no media attention until the gay and lesbian community launched its response.

Though writers for the gay and lesbian press had reported on the use of The Gay Agenda in the campaigns of 1992, and footage documenting the mass distribution of the tape was available from the award-winning filmmaking collective Testing the Limits, mainstream editors did not consider the Religious Right's anti-gay video a national story.

Only in February 1993, when the Gay and Lesbian Emergency Media Coalition (GLEMC) launched its own video response, Hate, Lies and Videotape, did the mainstream media react. Hate, Lies and Videotape compares the Religious Right's anti-gay effort to crude KKK films attacking African-Americans and Nazi propaganda vilifying Jews. With its release, the media had what USA Today dubbed "A Videotape Duel" and, ipso facto, a story.

"The dueling videos amount to a direct trade of volleys between the religious right and the gay rights movement, each now aggressively staking out its ground," reported the Washington Post. Quoting John C. Green, a monitor of grassroots movements, the Post suggested that the far right's tactics were reactive: "The gay-rights movement has become very organized and seems to be making strides, so they are a good target" for the Religious Right.

"Both sides in the [gays in the military] debate have been working hard trying to influence public opinion, using a variety of techniques," announced Diane Sawyer on ABC "World News Tonight." "A battle of dueling videotapes," CNN declared that same day.

The fact that the video war, rather than the human war, attracted mainstream attention exposes much of what is chronically wrong with the media's response to the anti-gay, anti-civil rights movement. The Gay Agenda is not a "volley" traded between equivalent players (as CNN put it, "Gay Rights vs. Religious Right"). This kind of "balance" equates vicious lies about gay and lesbian people (e.g., "92 percent of homosexuals engage in rimming. . . .You couldn't do it without some ingestion of feces") with the response to those lies.

Grassroots Camouflage

Presenting the tape as a new, grassroots response to an advancing gay movement is misleading and inaccurate. "To make local anti-homosexual campaigns appear to be exclusively grassroots efforts when they are guided by major national organizations" has been one of the New Right's primary objectives, according to Jean Hardisty, director of Political Research Associates. So, too, has the camouflaging of the religious content behind the secular "defend the family" theme.

While magazines such as Vanity Fair are writing about "the Gay Nineties" and "an influx of openly gay people in the corridors of power," the media's focus on gay gains obscures the assault organized by the right and veils its sources.

The far right has been using video for decades. Don Black, a former Imperial Wizard of the KKK, appears in the GLEMC tape lecturing on the prospects for VCRs and the need for Klan supporters to build "our own private network."

At the GLEMC press conference, Loretta Ross of the Center for Democratic Renewal, which researches hate groups, pointed out connections between the Religious Right and other far right groups. For example, Billy McCormick, a founder of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, which is selling The Gay Agenda over a 900-number telephone line, is also a key supporter of David Duke.

The far right routinely capitalizes on public fears generated by AIDS, Ross said, as when a Georgia-based Klan leader claimed that "interracial couples are an open door to infecting white people."

Documenting the political and historical connections of the Religious Right's attacks would be valuable work for the mainstream media. Instead, even when "Larry King Live" showed parts of The Gay Agenda , the GLEMC video, Hate, Lies and Videotape, was not excerpted. Instead, stand-in host Frank Sesno played on the discomfort that exists around gay and lesbian images and behavior. After screening clips from The Gay Agenda , Sesno turned to Rachael Williams of GLEMC and asked, "Do you condone that kind of behavior? It seems a fair question."

Our Own "700 Club"

Jessea Greenman, co-chair of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), helped to organize a community forum to discuss The Gay Agenda. "We have to learn a sense of entitlement," she says. "Whenever we get an article printed or a documentary produced, it is seen as advocacy and [conservatives] call up and complain."

Tongues Untied, a documentary on black gay male culture produced by Marlon Riggs and aired on PBS after much controversy, was seen as pornographic, Greenman points out. "No one's saying The Gay Agenda is porn." On the other hand, it's not very sexy to say that gay and lesbian lives are normal, and for that the gay community pays a price in the sex-obsessed media.

DeeDee Halleck of Deep Dish Television, an independent satellite distribution network, says that progressives need their own media. "Until we have our own '700 Club,' we'll continue to be the victims in the public theater of this society." GLEMC's new tape was distributed on the Deep Dish satellite in early May 1995.

Meanwhile, The Gay Agenda has its clones. In New York City, home of the world's largest gay and lesbian community, a Christian Right group is circulating its own video, a 30-minute tape called Why Parents Should Object to the Children of the Rainbow . According to the New York Observer, the tape was shown at P. T. A. meetings and in private homes, in some cases with the approval of school principals, to mobilize parental opposition to Schools Chancellor Joseph Fernandez, who supported a pro-tolerance curriculum. Fueled by their success in ejecting Fernandez from office, the tape's makers, Concerned Parents for Educational Accountability, used the tape in similar meetings around the New York City school board elections. Since then, Horn has made sequels to The Gay Agenda, and there are dozens of similar videos being circulated by the right.

"We have to begin to control the message," says Ann Northrop, once a producer for CBS TV, and now the executive director of GLEMC. "They're way ahead."

Friday, June 23, 2006

Gay-Haters to Look Out For

(I started this "blog" as a collection of articles on gay rights - some by me, but most by others - which I gleaned from magazines and websites; I found it very frustrating to wade through reams of bad writing and wishy-washiness, etc. trying to find a few gems, thus it was all done with the aim of having things where I could find them easily. If anyone happens to read them and like them, that's all the better. I at some point got depressing news overload and took a hiatus (oh, and I found a job), so I haven't posted anything in a long time. I've been very aware of politics in general, though, and I find it increasingly hard to see gay rights as separate from all of the other crimes being perpetrated by the bush crime family which must somehow be righted. In listening to Air America (it's saved my sanity!), I've stumbled upon Laura Flanders, who is a goddess of sorts, and makes all kinds of sense. She happens to be gay, which is awesome, and I'm going to try to compile her articles here in future (most of which are not on gay issues, however) - again, mostly for myself, unless someone happens to come upon them and, hopefully, will like them. She's written a ton and I find her viewpoint refreshing and powerful. I could start another blog, but frankly I can't be arsked, so that's that for now. If I do happen upon some good gay rights articles written by others, I will put it in, but I feel a lot healthier knowing what's going on in that area but not putting my whole heart in it. Those righties are too bastardy - it makes a girl crazy. This first Flanders piece IS regarding gay rights and it, like many of the others I'll post, are not current. Still, I think they ring true now; in this article, as far as I know, all of the people she warns the community about are still lurking around in high places pointing their trollish fingers in our direction and doing all they can to destroy the dignity of our lives.)

The most dangerous people in America

In this election year, gays and lesbians need to pay closer attention than ever to friend and foe, because who we don't know can definitely hurt us. Here's a primer on nine people who put equal rights at risk by their actions or inactions.

The Advocate, June 22, 2004

by Laura Flanders

9. Sean O'Malley, archbishop of Boston. Even as his archdiocese is closing three dozen parishes to pay for legal settlements in the worst child abuse scandal in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, O'Malley's pouring money into fighting marriage equality in Massachusetts. Ominously, he's forging new links with the most extreme Protestant evangelicals. It's hard to know whom he most endangers: mainstream Catholics, LGBT people, or Catholic kids.

8. Randall Tobias, U.S. global AIDS coordinator, faces pressure from the World Health Organization and international AIDS groups to spend U.S. AIDS money on cheaper generic drugs. But Tobias, a former CEO of Eli Lilly and Co., resists. With 40 million people infected with HIV worldwide (about two thirds of them in impoverished sub-Saharan Africa), Tobias disparages generics and sexual transmission education--and supports condoms only as a last resort for "high-risk" populations. "Condoms haven't been very effective," he has said, contradicting the science. It's a recipe for global disaster, say activists.

7. Terry McAuliffe, chair of the Democratic National Committee, counts on incoming dollars from loyal LGBT voters. But unlike Karl Rove [see page 69], McAuliffe takes without giving. Democrats pledged to kill the antigay Federal Marriage Amendment; with 48 senators and an unpopular measure, defeat should be a snap. But now they're going weak over lesser-not-equal civil unions, and at-risk Dems (including the minority leader) are said to be "off the hook." At every level the party needs a push: Of the 14 legislative bodies in seven stales that have passed anti-gay-marriage amendments (which are subject to voter approval), six were Democrat-dominated; two state legislatures had both houses controlled by Democrats. (Fun fact: Voters have already OK'd four of those amendments.)

6. Laura Bush, first lady. Former librarian Laura lulls socially moderate voters into believing that--all appearances notwithstanding--the White House is not in the clutches of an extremist religious cult. Her statements on Roe v. Wade or the Federal Marriage Amendment seem to contradict her husband's, but that's no coincidence: Her job is to temper his frat-boy image and woo critical on-the-fence voters to his camp. On homosexuality, she's said that most Americans find same-sex marriage "very, very shocking." But she's also said that the Bushes have gay friends: "Everybody does." With friends like Laura, LGBT Americans don't need evildoers.

5. Tom Coburn, cochair, Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS. The council's "advice" has helped to get scientifically sound information on condoms removed from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site while a censorious abstinence-only message gets millions of government dollars. Moreover, AIDS researchers are under investigation by the National Institutes of Health. It's old hat for Coburn: As a Republican congressman from Oklahoma, he tried to have the head of the Centers for Disease Control fired for advocating condom use to prevent AIDS. Coburn moonlights as a board member for the far-right Family Research Council. Next, Coburn wants a seat in the U.S. Senate.

4. Marilyn Musgrave, Republican U.S. representative from Colorado, believes concealed handguns deserve a place in schools but comprehensive sex education does not. The prime sponsor of the Federal Marriage Amendment, she's successfully persuaded more than 100 House members to sign on. A congressional freshman, she's the epitome of an ambitious politician who's ridden the antiabortion, antigay platform to prominence.

3. James Dobson, founder, Focus on the Family, the mammoth international religious-right group and media empire. Once it was abortion; now gay marriage excites Dobson's subscribers. Dobson's heard by 200 million people on more than 3,000 U.S. radio outlets and 80 TV stations and in 15 languages in 116 countries, including China. With $128.8 million in annual revenues, Focus is putting all its weight behind the Federal Marriage Amendment. The nation's security hangs in the balance, Dobson says, and he's told his listeners that it's a sin not to vote.

2. Antonin Scalia, U.S. Supreme Court justice. In his furious June 26, 2003, dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, Scalia fumed that the court's decision to overturn Texas's antisodomy law "signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda" and in effect legalized bigamy, bestiality, and incest. As Bush's favorite justice as well as the vice president's duck-hunting pal, Scalia, 68, will be on the bench for years yet, and he's the judicial model for any future Supreme appointment.

1. Karl Rove, George W. Bush's chief political adviser, plays tough. (In 2000 he spread rumors that Republican presidential challenger John McCain was gay.) Rove knows that in a tight election, every evangelical counts: In 2000 religions voters made up 40% of Bush's support. This year the man known as "Bush's brain" will promise evangelical Christians whatever they want--from a marriage amendment to more faith-based cash--if only they'll turn out.

Most-dangerous also-rans: LGBT slackers--people who see all this and do nothing. Not everyone has to love the electoral process or adore organizing or registering to vote, but in times like these, those who choose to sit out the struggle are part of the problem.