How Gay Media Helped Sink the AT&T/T-Mobile Merger

There are many stories to be told about the collapse of the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger. One of them underscores, once again, the vitality of an advocacy press and bloggers who ask questions and hammer away at the truth in a way that much of the media simply does not. And while there were many involved in that effort, LGBT bloggers and gay media in particular were critical.

The merger blew up for a variety of reasons: AT&T's timing was horrible, with Occupy Wall Street focusing on corporate injustice as President Obama heads into a tough reelection; the promise of massive job creation just didn't add up; and the Justice Department was on a winning streak with antitrust cases.

But another reason attributed is the backfiring of AT&T's aggressive lobbying, getting nonprofit organizations and civil rights groups to support the merger -- in what looked like an exchange for cold, hard cash.

It was in early June when gay bloggers first got wind of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation's endorsement of the merger. As Towleroad put it, "GLAAD Touts AT&T-- T-Mobile Merger as 'Social Justice' in Bizarre Endorsement Letter to FCC." The letter from GLAAD to the FCC indeed connected "faster wireless" to "social justice": "The LGBT community has a longstanding commitment to all forms of social justice. That is why we look at the deployment of faster wireless Internet options not only from financial and technological viewpoints but also in terms of how this improves society."

Americablog asked, "What is a gay rights organization doing weighing in on a phone company merger?" Queerty and The Bilerico Project bore in as well. Many noted the $50,000 donation that GLAAD had received from AT&T, one of several groups, like the NAACP, that backed the merger and got cash from the telecommunications giant. It also came to light, as Dan Savage at Slog noted, that GLAAD had apparently written another letter to the FCC opposing net neutrality -- AT&T's position -- only to send a second letter on the topic asking that the first be withdrawn, implying it was forged and noting that the signature was not that of the GLAAD president. Something very strange was going on.

A few days later, Laurie Perper, the former GLAAD co-chair, appeared on my radio program on SiriusXM, making serious allegations: GLAAD's president, Jarrett Barrios, had supported the merger and, initially, opposed net neutrality, because he was trading favors with a GLAAD board member who'd backed him in various battles at the group -- a former AT&T lobbyist named Troup Coronado, who was still working with the company.

The following day, after refusing to come on my show and respond, Barrios gave an interview to The Bilerico Project in which he basically admitted to a cover-up: the initial FCC letter opposing net neutrality was not a forgery but was sent by his office, though mistakenly, supposedly by his assistant. (What would be revealed in the days to follow was that another board member, after seeing the anti-net-neutrality letter filed with the FCC -- a form letter AT&T had apparently written itself -- went ballistic and forced Barrios to withdraw the letter. ) More details surfaced in the Washington Blade, on FiredogLake and in other gay media about the past involvements of Coronado, the former AT&T lobbyist on the GLAAD board, as an uproar ensued among LGBT activists nationwide. Pam Spaulding at PamsHouseBlend and others -- including me -- called for Barrios to resign. Within days he was out, as were six GLAAD board members, including AT&T's Troup Coronado.

Media organizations that hadn't covered any of the controversy (at least, not until the end), like The Boston Globe and The New York Times, wrote editorials commending gay bloggers for pressuring Barrios to resign and certainly noted that the events were highly troubling. (GLAAD later reversed its position, withdrawing support of the AT&T/T-Mobile merger.) The embarrassment for AT&T, already seeing its merger beginning to teeter for various other reasons, only helped to escalate the problems, bringing attention to how the company was buying off civil rights groups. And none of that would have happened without a vibrant gay press and LGBT blogs and websites shining a light on it.