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AFA-Michigan urges WOOD-TV to reverse ban on video, questions station's ties to national homosexual activists

February 21, 2009

Former WOOD-TV news editor/producer who campaigned against state
Marriage Protection Amendment is now spokesman for Washington, D.C.
group that claimed credit for pressuring station to drop paid documentary

Flint, Traverse City stations aired AFA program without controversy

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The state affiliate of the American Family Association Thursday urged a Grand Rapids television station to reverse its breach of an agreement to air the group’s one-hour documentary on the threat posed to religious freedom by homosexual activists’ political agenda. The American Family Association of Michigan, in an e-mail to NBC affiliate WOOD-TV Channel 8, questioned whether the station’s decision was unduly influenced by its relationship with former WOOD-TV assignment editor and producer Trevor Thomas, now a public spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a national homosexual activist group that last week claimed credit for pressuring the station to cancel the broadcast.

AFA-Michigan President Gary Glenn said in a statement delivered Thursday to WOOD-TV General Manager Diane Kniowski that “the irony of station management’s on-again, off-again gymnastics was so transparent that it would be amusing if the issues addressed by the documentary were not so serious.”

“The documentary details the threat homosexual activists’ political agenda poses to religious freedom and such activists’ efforts to demonize, silence, and eventually criminalize any expression of public opposition to that agenda,” Glenn wrote Kniowski. “Its title is ‘Speechless: Silencing the Christians,’ and your capitulation or perhaps even collusion with homosexual activists’ demands that you censor and cancel the broadcast proves the point. To reassure the public that WOOD-TV is not in collusion with homosexual activists, including a former high-level WOOD-TV staffer, we urge you to reconsider your decision.”

Glenn wrote Kniowski that he “initially thought station management’s clumsy path to censorship resulted from a combination of politically correct handwringing, lack of professional objectivity, or perhaps even incompetence.”

“Now, however, we learn that a public spokesman for the so-called Human Rights Campaign — the national homosexual activist group that claimed credit for pressuring your station to censor and breach its agreement to air AFA’s paid documentary — is a former long-time WOOD-TV newsroom executive who while holding that position was allowed by the station to actively and publicly campaign against the Marriage Protection Amendment approved by Michigan voters in 2004,” Glenn wrote.

“That new information leads us to question whether the real story is that WOOD-TV management was unduly influenced by or even acted in collusion with a former high-level staffer who you allowed to openly campaign for homosexual activists’ political agenda while with the station and who now promotes that agenda full-time nationwide,” Glenn wrote. “The broader question raised by that relationship and your censorship of AFA’s pro-family documentary is whether viewers can trust WOOD-TV to be a fair and impartial source of news regarding the homosexual agenda.”

Glenn cited the Human Rights Campaign’s website which reports that Thomas has served since October 2007 as the group’s deputy communications director.

“Thomas, a journalist by trade, worked as an assignment editor and news producer at West Michigan’s NBC affiliate – WOOD-TV” from at least September 2001 through November 2004, HRC’s website reports, and was allowed by station management while on staff to actively campaign against Michigan’s Marriage Protection Amendment, which in 2004 was overwhelmingly approved by voters including a two-thirds majority in conservative west Michigan, WOOD-TV’s viewing area.

HRC’s website states: “In July of 2004, Thomas served as a guest essayist for The Grand Rapids Press, speaking out against an anti-gay marriage amendment on the Michigan ballot. Following its publication, he served on a number of (Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender) panels at Grand Valley State University, Western Michigan University, (and) Aquinas College.

“WOOD-TV initially agreed and accepted payment to air the AFA-produced documentary on Monday, Feb. 9th, at 7:00 p.m. Station management breached that agreement, however, claiming they were concerned about unspecified ill effects of airing it immediately preceding President Obama’s news conference the same evening. Management initially said they were merely delaying the broadcast until Wed., Feb. 11th at 7:00 p.m; however, prior to that time slot, the station announced it was again delaying the broadcast until 2:00 p.m. Saturday.

Wednesday of last week, the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign, which claims to be the nation’s largest homosexual activist group, issued a nationwide e-mail alert urging its members to send e-mails to WOOD-TV demanding the station cancel the broadcast altogether. Within an hour of HRC’s alert, WOOD-TV announced they would do just that.

HRC immediately claimed credit for the decision, issuing a news release titled “Michigan Television Station Pulls Misleading AFA Program Following Announcement of National Action Alert By Human Rights Campaign,” in which HRC President Mark Solomnese boasted: Within an hour of (HRC’s) action alert announcement, the Grand Rapids station which had planned to air the deceptive programming rescinded that offer. …I am so proud of our members who answered the lies and distortions of the AFA and stopped this campaign of hate and deception.”

The timing of HRC’s action alert and WOOD-TV’s announcement of the documentary’s cancellation — coming within an hour of each other — suggests that there may have been coordination between the two, Glenn said.

He said WOOD-TV’s claim that it cancelled the broadcast to avoid controversy “is simply nonsensical in light of the station’s actual actions, which were tailor-made to generate as much controversy and publicity as possible.”

He said WOOD-TV’s announced delay of the broadcast generated media attention and opposition from homosexual activist groups opposed to the broadcast. The station’s repeated delays and public statements over a matter of days invited additional pressure from both sides of the issue, he said, then its decision to cancel the broadcast ensured that local viewers who supported the broadcast would be upset.

AFA’s e-mail system confirmed, for example, that 2,199 e-mails were sent to the station urging it to air the documentary, all from AFA e-mail subscribers who live within 75 miles of Grand Rapids, WOOD-TV’s viewing area.

“Given that station management handled this in the way guaranteed to generate as much controversy and publicity as possible, it’s simply not believable that your decision to censor the broadcast was based on trying to extricate yourselves from a fight you yourself — by your own actions — created,” Glenn wrote Kniowski.
He pointed to the dramatically different experience of two other Michigan television stations — WSMH Fox 66 in Flint and NBC’s WPBN Channels 7&4 in Traverse City — which aired the program Sat., Feb. 7th at 7:00 p.m. as scheduled, without incident.

“The lesson for WOOD management would seem to be that if you want to avoid getting hammered by both sides of the debate on any issue, it’s simple,” Glenn said. “Be professional and impartial, keep an arm’s length relationship with all parties, and run paid programming when you contract to run it. That’s not a difficult concept to understand, and it’s what stations in Flint and Traverse City did without incident and without managing to make themselves the subject of a national news story.”

“The question,” he said, “is whether WOOD-TV was influenced by its former editor and producer to handle it this way on purpose to make sure its censorship of the AFA video got as much publicity as possible and their former newsroom executive’s new employer got the credit.”

Thomas remains involved in the homosexual movement in west Michigan, despite now living in Washington, D.C., HRC’s website reports:

“Thomas’ work also includes a three-year tenure on the board of directors for the Network of Western Michigan: a non-profit that aids the local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. While in college, he served two years as chair of education for Grand Valley State University’s Gay-Straight Alliance – a position he created. He’s also credited with starting a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender speaker’s program aimed at educating students on sexual orientation and gender identity. Thomas currently serves as an alumni advisor for (GVSU’s) newly created GLBT campus center, expected to open in the fall of 2008.”

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