Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 21 July 1997

VERSACE & CUNANAN IN THE MEDIA:

A GLAAD CRITIQUE
Watchdog Organization Focuses on News Coverage from Best to Worst


Compiled by Badpuppy's GayToday

 

The recent brutal murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace and the hunt for prime suspect Andrew Cunanan has brought out both the best and worst in the media during the past week. While many outlets have explored the impact that these events have had on a frightened and angered lesbian and gay community, some reports have served to fuel the fear and ignorance of the general public towards lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people. Please contact any of the following choices in the media and explain that our communities deserve and demand respect.

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Blaming Victim Versace

Less than 48 hours after the senseless death of Versace, both Cindy Adams and Hard Copy set their sites on demonizing the victim, a highly respected and regarded man. In the July 16 New York Post, gossip guru Cindy Adams told readers that "come nightfall, the workaholic (Versace) played...Often in what the uptight might term dens of iniquity. Props in those places included leather harnesses and young studs. Joints where 'a second date' was only a phrase not a reality." That day the tabloid television show Hard Copy showed topless men dancing together at Miami events, and promised to explore "more about Versace's private playland...a world some say may have led to his untimely death." According to them, Versace threw parties that "included scantily clad men as servants...the kinds of parties that Cunanan reportedly trolled for fresh victims." Going even further, the show claimed that "some speculate he (Cunanan) may have AIDS and is exacting revenge on all the men who could have possibly given it to him."

How do these items help the general public understand the motives of a man like Cunanan? They don't. They only serve to blame the victim and sensationalize a crime that has horrified everyone, especially the lesbian and gay community. These stories play on the fear and ignorance that many have about who gay people are.

Please contact Cindy Adams and Hard Copy and let them know that demonizing based on his sexual orientation is downright offensive to Versace' memory and the community at large. Contact: Cindy Adams and Marc Kalech, Managing Editor, New York Post, 1211 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036-8790, fax: 212.930.8540, e-mail: newyorkpost@delphia.com; Harley Tat, Supervising Producer, Hard Copy, Paramount Pictures, 5555 Melrose Ave. MAE W. Bldg. #120, Los Angeles, CA 90038-3197, fax: 213.956.1940.

Who is Antonio D'Amico? While the majority of media outlets ignored him, both The New York Times and the Miami Herald mentioned that Gianni Versace had a life partner (or companion). Both papers made mention of Antonio in their Wednesday, July 16 coverage of Versace's murder. "As witnesses arrived (at the crime scene)," the Herald reported, "Antonio D'Amico, Versace's longtime companion, was frantically running back and forth between the house and the sidewalk...D'Amico got into a car with police to look for the killer." The Times identified D'Amico as Versace's companion for 11 years as well as a designer for Versace Sport, a line of the fashion empire.

Often, when a gay man or lesbian is written about, especially when they pass away, the fact that they had a partner is completely ignored. This type of invisibility only lends itself to a lack of understanding that the community does have many long-term, committed relationships in it. By ignoring these unions, the media is ignoring the facts and does a disservice to the true memory of the deceased and their grieving companion.

Please thank the New York Times and the Miami Herald for getting the story right. Also, please encourage your local media outlets to include the life partners of gay men and lesbians when reporting on them. Contact: Eugene L. Roberts, Jr., Managing Editor, New York Times, 229 W. 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036-3959, fax: 212.556.3690, e-mail: letters@nytimes.com; Saundra Keyes, Managing Editor, Miami Herald, One Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132-1693, fax: 305.376.5287.

"Speculation Fuels New York Post Frenzy..."

The New York Post's coverage of Versace's murder and the hunt for Cunanan reached new peaks of sensational sleaze; doubly unfortunate since in the last GLAADAlert, GLAAD praised the Post for its coverage of a same-sex wedding between two female New York City police officers. Among the alarming (and alarmist) points:

The continued use of the phrases "gay killer," "gay serial killer" and "bloodthirsty gay serial killer," among other variations, link Cunanan's sexual orientation to his suspected murders, and serves to place "guilt by association" on the lesbian and gay community. Contrast this with coverage by Cynthia McFadden on ABC's PrimeTime Live, which discussed Cunanan's sexual orientation only when it was relevant, resulting in a balanced story that took the high road in discussing Cunanan's alleged activities.

The linking of Cunanan's supposed HIV status and the murders-the New York Post headline on July 17 read "AIDS Fuels His Frenzy." Inside, a story based on pure speculation conjectured that Cunanan may have killed because he "fear[ed] he had AIDS" and that he was targeting people he thinks may have infected him. There is no evidence of Andrew Cunanan's HIV-positive status; the willingness of the New York Post to swallow such theories without evidence alludes to an ignorance that needs to be dispelled. People all over this country find out that they are HIV-positive every day-and they don't turn into "spree killers." As with sexual orientation, it connects HIV with murderous intent, feeding into the old stereotype of gay people as both "sick" and "mentally unstable."

The wholly unnecessary use of a "beefcake" photo to illustrate a column by Steve Dunleavy, in which he interviews Louis Kelleman, a Versace model. Obviously, using a photo of a model to illustrate a story is fair, but with the continuing portrayal of Cunanan as a "gay killer" in the Post's pages , along with Kelleman's pose (wearing underwear and soccer cleats), it adds up to at the very least bad taste.

GLAAD was founded in response to the New York Post's irresponsible and alarmist AIDS coverage in 1986. Sadly, in 1997, it seems that they've resorted to the same scare tactics with the death of Gianni Versace, in an effort to sell newspapers. Tell the Post that their tabloid-style hyperbole needs to be replaced with responsible coverage of a complex story. Contact: Marc Kalech, Managing Editor, New York Post, 1211 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036-8790, fax: 212.930.8540, email: newyorkpost@delphia.com.

Off-Key Coverage

During NBC's extensive coverage, Tom Brokaw and Edna Buchanan made wrong-headed, and in Buchanan's instance, blatantly homophobic, comments during NBC Nightly News and The Today Show respectively. Brokaw, in opening an otherwise excellent story on Versace's murder, described Andrew Cunanan as a "homicidal homosexual." Edna Buchanan, a respected crime reporter and novelist had an interchange with Matt Lauer, host of The Today Show:

Matt Lauer: "The Mayor and police down there said yesterday that this could have happened anywhere. That Miami is a safe place. How do you feel about that?"

Edna Buchanan: "... I think the Mayor and the Commission some years ago decided to appeal to the gay element -the gay community, with the tourism advertising. They [the governmental leaders] thought they [gay tourists] have more disposable income, they're well-behaved, and would make wonderful tourists. They deliberately sought out that market, and South Beach did in fact become a gay mecca. Now they're complaining that this happened here. Well, where else? Obviously he [Cunanan] was drawn here, that's his M.O. Obviously Mr. Versace's here. Now, they're unhappy about the whole thing. But they're the ones that sort of put this in motion."

Using "homicidal homosexual" links Cunanan's sexual orientation to his alleged murders and is offensive and contributes to stereotypes of gay men as "sick." Brokaw, otherwise a friend to the lesbian and gay community, might have questioned this before going to air. Buchanan's assertion that gay tourism contributed to Versace's murder is on its face homophobic. Would she have felt as comfortable asserting that Asian tourism "set this in motion," since Cunanan is Filipino? We think not. Her statement also ignores the enormous financial and cultural contributions that the lesbian and gay community, among others, have made to South Beach, a community that Versace himself belonged to. Again, we see a willingness to blame the victim for being in the "wrong place," as well as implying that gay men and lesbians are predisposed towards crime.

One of the difficulties that journalists have confronted in reporting this story may be their own discomfort around lesbian and gay issues, along with a need for a solid base of information about the community (for example, as some outlets continually refer to a "gay underworld," lesbians and gay men wonder what fantasy land the reporters are talking about.) Unfortunately, what may result from this is an inability to challenge those who may be fueling fear and loathing by speculating openly about Cunanan's HIV status and the private life of his victims. By not responding to a guest's inaccuracies or flimsy theorizing, an anchor or host may let stand conjectures which are not simply defamatory, but are patently false.

Please contact NBC Nightly News and The Today Show and let them know how you feel. Contact: Jeff Gralnick and David Bohrman, Executive Producers, NBC Nightly News, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112-0002, fax: 212.664.6044; Beth O'Connell, Senior Producer, The Today Show, NBC, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10112-0002, fax: 212.664.7234.

When in Rome...Ask the Romans

While reporting on a story that has impacted the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community so deeply, a number of media outlets have explored that impact in significant ways. The Washington Post's "Long Skeptical of Law Enforcement Efforts, Activists Now Are Working in Partnership," explored the growing number and role of gay and lesbian anti-violence groups across the nation and the violence against the community that has spearheaded that growth. On Thursday, July 17, USA Today included the story entitled "Gay Groups Worry About a Backlash," and in The New York Times appeared a lengthy story on the gay community in South Beach, Miami entitled "Loss and Concern in the Gay District."

The death of Gianni Versace and the events surrounding Cunanan have garnered worldwide press. However, only a handful of outlets are paying close attention to the community that these crimes are affecting the most. News reports are generally neglecting to include quotes from gay and lesbian anti-violence groups, who have been concerned and have invested in the capture of Cunanan for months. These three outlets took the next logical step with their coverage, they looked at the impact on the community at large. Those that neglect to explore this impact are neglecting to address the issues of its gay and lesbian readership, and therefore are not representing the lives of all the people in their market.

Please thank the Washington Post, USA Today and The New York Times for taking the next logical step, and for recognizing that Cunanan does not represent the community at large. Contact: Robert G. Kaiser, Managing Editor, Washington Post, 1150 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20071-0002, fax: 202.334.4475, e-mail: webnews@washpost.com; David Mazzarella, Editor, USA Today, 1000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22229, fax: 703.276.6585, e-mail: editor@usatoday.com; Eugene L. Roberts, Jr., Managing Editor, The New York Times, 229 W. 43rd Street, New York, NY 10036-3959, fax: 212.556.3690, e-mail: < href="mailto:letters@nytimes.com">letters@nytimes.com

Alert GLAAD to further good or bad coverage of the Cunanan case in your area by calling 1-800-GAY-MEDIA or by e-mailing GLAAD at glaad@glaad.org.

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The GLAADAlert originates with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. GLAAD is a lesbian and gay news bureau and the only national lesbian and gay multimedia watchdog organization. GLAAD promotes fair, accurate and inclusive representation as a means of challenging all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity. Contact GLAAD by e-mail at glaad@glaad.org or by phone at 213.658.6775 (Los Angeles), 212.807.1700 (New York), 415.861.2244 (San Francisco), 202.986.1360 (Washington, DC), 404.607.1204 (Atlanta) and 319.472.4520 (Kansas City) Report defamation in the media by calling GLAAD's Toll-Free AlertLine! 1-800-GAY-MEDIA (1-800-429-6334) Visit GLAAD's Web Site at http://www.glaad.org "GLAAD" and "Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation" are registered trademarks of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Inc.

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