GLAAD Burned by Blogosphere in AT&T Scandal

After exploiting the internet for victories against everyone from Tracy Morgan to Kobe Bryant, GLAAD and its leader, Jarrett Barrios, are undone by the blogosphere

Last Updated: July 13, 2011 @ 11:28 AM

Live by the internet, die by the internet. 

Under the leadership of president Jarrett Barrios, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation deftly exploited the net to pull off a string of high-profile public victories, shaming Tracy Morgan for his recent homophobic rants and movie studio Universal for gay slurs in the Vince Vaughn comedy “The Dilemma." But GLAAD's momentum — and Barrios' career — were derailed by the blogosphere last week.

Also read: Is GLAAD Hollywood's Latest Bully?

The same blogs and bloggers who helped GLAAD pressure Morgan into his rainbow tinged public apology tour with stop-offs to visit homeless gay teens, pummeled the advocacy group over corporate donations from AT&T. The net-roots firestorm that ensued led to the resignation of Barrios (below) last weekend.

Come Monday, GLAAD was still struggling to control a burgeoning public relations crisis after bloggers and SiriusXM radio host Michelangelo Signorile unearthed evidence that the group had lobbied the Federal Communications Commission on behalf of AT&T's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile, while also coming out against net neutrality.

Further, the dogged reporting of a cadre of lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) bloggers, uncovered a $50,000 donation from AT&T to GLAAD in 2010 that brought the group’s support into question.

Also read: Tracy Morgan's Gay Rant: NBC Isn't Happy, but '30 Rock' Star Still Has a Job

Word of GLAAD’s troubling endorsement of the T-Mobile purchase first broke on John Aravosis’ Americablog, while news of the AT&T donation spread across LGBT blogs and websites such as The Bilerico Project, before seeping into Politico and the mainstream media.

“The blogs … were able to expose the matter, connecting the dots and (taking) pertinent information from our sources to get the story out there,” Pam Spaulding, who runs the LGBT blog Pam’s House Blend, said in an email to TheWrap.

For Aravosis (below) and others, the blogger bite-back demonstrates the widening gap between entrenched organizations such as GLAAD and the activist communities they claim to represent.

“I remember the cool, edgy stuff they used to do, but when have you heard of anything like that in the last 10 years,” Aravosis said. “They’re doing some back-room stuff, but they haven’t communicated it with the net-roots.”

When the more unsavory elements of all that political glad-handing and fundraising get exposed, that can be a big problem for groups such as GLAAD.

“There’s more accountability now than ever because of the blogs,” Aravosis said.

Yet, some activists and bloggers believe that under Barrios, GLAAD was doing more to move outside the Capitol Hill back rooms and corporate boardrooms and into the digital age.

Bil Browning, founder and editor-in-chief of The Bilerico Project, argues that after Barrios took over in 2009, GLAAD started finding its way again as digital agitators.

That sure grasp of how to use the internet to advance GLAAD's agenda was noticeably absent in the way Barrios' tried to control the AT&T scandal. Barrios could never adequately explain why GLAAD strayed from its mandate to police popular representations of gays and lesbians, and instead initially denied knowledge of one of the letters to the FCC regarding net neutrality and tried to shift blame to subordinates.

Had Barrios owned up to the group’s controversial behavior earlier, instead of offering half-truths and shirking responsibility, it’s possible he might have survived the blogo-blood bath that he unwittingly helped inspire.

"It's not just GLAAD who has been duped by AT&T, and no one else is stepping down. It's a shame he lied," Browning said.

Browning is right. GLAAD was not the only organization that went to bat for AT&T after the telecommunications giant filled their coffers.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has justified its own endorsement of the merger by noting that the company has been a long supporter of its efforts.

But GLAAD's membership seemed to take more umbrage over Barrios' waffling than the rank and file of other advocacy groups. 

"Gay money is hard to come by — the LGBT community wants to know organizations are doing what they're paid to do," Gigi Sohn, president and co-founder of the public advocacy group Public Knowledge, told TheWrap.

Barrios’ departure seems unlikely to quell the controversy. Throughout the weekend and into Monday, bloggers and gay activists were ramping up the calls for the resignation of Troup Coronado, a former AT&T lobbyist, now a GLAAD board member.

Roxanne Jones, co-chair of GLAAD's board of directors, declined to say if Coronado would resign. Jones said the board would discuss its next moves at a Wednesday meeting. As Barrios and co. found out last week, that's a lifetime in the short-fuse world of digital scandals.

Compounding GLAAD’s headaches, the calls for Coronado’s resignation and fallout from Barrios’ ouster come at the same time that the group is trying to pressure the New York State Senate to pass a pro-gay marriage law.

That's a Herculean task that will no doubt involve the same net-roots groups that spent the better part of last week unseating Jarrett Barrios.