The strange alliance between an influential gay rights group and AT&T is bringing the group's leadership under further scrutiny. Last week, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation drew criticism for endorsing AT&T's mega merger with T-Mobile. "The merger also has nothing to do with defamation," bristled Daniel Villarreal at Queerty, "meaning GLAAD has gone beyond its purported mission and needlessly inserted itself into a political dogfight." Others noted that it appeared GLAAD had been bought off, given that AT&T "underwrites the GLAAD awards" and "has made significant monetary grants to the organization." And still others noted that the endorsement was particularly unusual given that GLAAD is a strong supporter of net neutrality, a regulatory position AT&T is vehemently against. Defending his organization's position, GLAAD president Jarrett Barrios said "We agree with our corporate sponsors sometimes, and we disagree sometimes."
However, today, the Bilerico Project is scrutinizing an official letter GLAAD sent to the FCC in January 2010, in which the organization backs away from its support of net neutrality "in favor of emphasizing AT&T's priority--broadband proliferation."
We feel that there is still much unknown about the consequences of net neutrality on Internet access and usage and we ask that the FCC address this...To this end, GLAAD encourages the FCC to prioritize expanding broadband connectivity to every corner of this country and to every American so that we - and other minority groups - can continue our pursuit of inclusion and have our voices heard. As you continue your review of net neutrality, please remember that the Internet provides an open space and forum for all and it IS critical that we make it more accessible, not less.
When confronted about the letter, Barrios is quoted by Bilerico as saying "We made a mistake. I authorized my assistant over the phone to sign and submit [the] letter... When I realized she had inadvertently submitted an anti-net neutrality letter, I withdrew it." Bilerico pushed the issue further.
When asked if any internal disciplinary measures were taken regarding the January 4 letter snafu, Barrios indicated that none had. "Singling out any individual employee but me doesn't seem fair," Barrios said. "I own it. I'm the CEO. I'm the one to blame for anything that goes wrong with this organization."
For a number of gay rights bloggers, the subject of net neutrality, "the principle stating that all information on the web should get delivered at the same speed, not at different speeds and prices depending on who owns the service," is an important one, as many feel an open web fosters an environment for minority voices to be heard. Barrios's acknowledgement that he knew about the letter is not going over well. And it comes on the heels of GLAAD's former co-chair Laurie Perper describing "ongoing chaos and disorganization within GLAAD." Accusing the group of "trading favors" with corporate sponsors and mismanaging its finances, she called for the group's dissolution. GLAAD fired back in a statement calling her accusations "factually inaccurate, uninformed and misleading." GLAAD's release also went after Perper noting that she "failed to complete her term as co-chair and resigned," but it didn't gain much traction in the blogosphere. "Whatever the details, the fact that Barrios and GLAAD at first tried to cover up the allegations and savage Laurie Perper is outrageous," writes The Gist blog. "The assistant is taking the hit for her boss's incompetence... Jarrett Barrios must resign."
If it's any consolation to dismayed GLAAD supporters, the group isn't the only organization that has received financial support from AT&T and is supporting the merger. Politico reports:
AT&T is lining up support for its acquisition of T-Mobile from a slew of liberal groups with no obvious interest in telecom deals — except that they’ve received big piles of AT&T’s cash....
The NAACP was one of the first groups to announce public support of the T-Mobile acquisition. It received a $1 million contribution from AT&T in 2009 and has received funding in the six figures dating to 2006, according to the group’s annual reports...The Columbia Urban League received a $25,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation in 2009 to provide “underserved populations with resources to help their children achieve academic success,” ... On May 27, the group’s president and CEO, James McLawhorn, wrote to urge the FCC to approve AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile...
The foundation of the National Education Association — the nation’s largest teachers union — received a $75,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation last year, the foundation’s IRS filing shows. On Tuesday, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel issued a statement in support of the telecom merger.
If there's any upside to AT&T's palm-greasing of GLAAD, our commenter JeffreyM said it best last week.
Wow, this is a made-it moment. Now our advocacy groups are selling us out for a dollar. I guess we really have gone mainstream.