On his blog The Daily Nightly, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was horrified that someone would think he sounded like a member of the religious right – you know, the ones Brian describes as stridently "anti-gay, pro-Jesus, and anti-abortion and no gray matter in between." He had used the phrase "marriage is under attack," which outraged gay-left bloggers:
I was the recipient today of several emails from well-intentioned people, telling me I was being attacked in parts of the blogosphere for something I wrote and said on the air in last night's broadcast. It was a closing piece about Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip celebrating their 60th anniversary. I noted this accomplishment, especially in this era when, as I put it, marriage seems "under attack" as an institution. My meaning? Our national divorce rate, which is currently somewhere between 40 and 50 percent. Others took it upon themselves to decide that I was somehow attacking gay marriage. The simple fact is that nothing could have been further from my mind, as many others easily understood. In fact, one comment shared with me today came from a respected member of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, who said, "It seemed to me he was talking about the sky-high heterosexual divorce rates. Marriage IS under attack -- by straight people. It had nothing to do with the gay marriage movement."
Gays even objected when Williams tried to get out of the controversy by switching to his habitual attendance of Springsteen concerts with his wife and he joked about the underlying "tacit defense of marriage."
Apparently, the NLGJA member Brian Williams was quoting was Steve Friess of the Strip Podcast blog, who was flattered:
Some gay bloggers and fellow members of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association pointed to it as a reference to the same-sex marriage movement. It's not that farfetched because "under attack" is a phrase used routinely by anti-gay activists.
But in this context, it seemed to me like something else. So I wrote on the NLGJA list-serv: "It seemed to me he was talking about the sky-high heterosexual divorce rates. Marriage IS under attack -- by straight people. This was a story about a surprisingly durable straight relationship. It had nothing to do with the gay marriage movement."
And Brian Williams responded tonight on his blog. And he quoted... ummm... me!
Hmm, Brian somehow left out the part about "a surprisingly durable straight relationship." The Williams kerfuffle also spurred commentary from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Debate (well, they say Defamation). GLAAD president Neil Giuliano wrote a public letter to the NBC anchor appreciating his explanatory blog, but a lecture was still necessary:
However, the primary issue is whether a phrase that has been used predominantly in an ugly anti-gay context can be used in another, tangentially related context (here, marriage in a general sense) without invoking the stereotypes that imbrue [sic] its common usage.
The phrase "marriage under attack" -- like "defense of marriage," which you use elsewhere in your blog entry -- is a meme designed and used by far-right anti-gay activists to scare people into opposing legal protections for gay couples. Media professionals who talk about marriage-related issues in their reporting should simply and factually discuss them, rather than uncritically repeating rhetoric calculated to make people feel threatened by and afraid of loving, committed couples.
GLAAD's work is rooted in the fundamental understanding that words and images matter. We expect that future NBC News reporting on marriage -- both generally and for gay couples specifically -- avoids these kinds of linguistic pitfalls.
Claiming to be the first to object and post video, Good As You blogged that Brian Williams sounded like the 700 Club:
Really, Brian?! Because we're pretty sure that sort of terminology is less the stuff of balanced journalism and more that of far-right, social conservative code-wording. And even if the gays are not the specific destructive force to which Williams or his writer are referring in this intro, the hyperbolic idea that this institution is being "attacked" is one that is most often associated with anti-gay marriage campaigns. So at best, this was bad news writing; at worst, it's a prominent journalist and news outlet taking some irresponsible rhetorical bait. Either way, we're less than thrilled.
We're hoping Brian will choose to acknowledge this verbal slip-up and nip this is in the bud. We can handle getting in fights with the scrappy Couric or the more buttoned up Gibson. But it breaks our heart to be mad at our little B.W.