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Mitt Romney's hire of gay spokesman derided, defended

Published: Friday, April 27 2012 11:59 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate, former Governor Mitt Romney, speaks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011. The cultural conservatives gathered at the summit this weekend care deeply about abortion, gay marriage and other social issues.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

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Last week, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney hired Richard Grenell, an openly gay Republican who served as President George W. Bush's United Nations spokesman, to be his spokesman on foreign policy.

The majority of the media coverage about the hiring was positive.

The Atlantic's Molly Ball made a case Tuesday that the addition of Grenell to Team Romney is a watershed moment for Republican Party politics.

"The recent hiring of Richard Grenell, Mitt Romney's openly gay foreign-policy spokesman, represents a breakthrough in the world of Republican presidential campaigns. … As an openly gay Republican in presidential politics, Grenell joins a small fraternity of out GOP staffers, instantly becoming the highest-profile of the band. His rise signals a remarkable new openness in a party often castigated for its social conservatism; in addition to being out, Grenell has waged some public battles for gay rights that contradict his new boss's own positions."

But most outlets said little or nothing about the hire until after the fact — and only after the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer attacked Romney for the new hire.

"This has all the appearances of a deliberate poke in the eye to the pro-family community, and a clumsy one at that," Fischer wrote, "coming right on the heels of endorsements from Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Dallas and the National Organization for Marriage, and right after the governor accepted an invitation to deliver the commencement address at Liberty University."

BuzzFeed's Ben Smith summarized Fischer's inflammatory rhetoric in an article published Saturday: "Bryan Fischer, the director of issue analysis for the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association, is probably the most straightforwardly anti-gay Republican to appear regularly in the party's mainstream. … He responded yesterday to Romney's decision to hire an openly-gay … Richard Grenell by calling it a 'message to the pro-family community' of 'drop dead.’ ”

Here's a sampling from the chorus of media voices that chimed in with support for Grenell and Romney, and calls for civility after Fischer's comments:

Steve Clemons, an editor-at-large for The Atlantic, wrote an op-ed piece for the Huffington Post: "I have many differences with Romney, as well as Obama — but today, Romney gets a salute from me for hiring Grenell. … One hopes that Romney stands strong — and stands by the competence and capacity of people like Grenell — and that we spend our time battling each other over issues that really matter to the nation."

Washington Post political blogger Jennifer Rubin: "It would be a positive thing for the (GOP) and our country if it was crystal clear there is no place in civil discourse for those fanning the flames of hatred toward gays and egging on fellow conservatives to discriminate against gays in hiring. Unfortunately, not everyone on the right agrees."

Alana Goodman, in an op-ed piece for the conservative Jewish-centric Commentary Magazine: "I do hope that more conservatives come out in defense of Grenell. He seems like a strong addition to Romney’s team, with encouraging positions on human rights issues and Iran (based on a review of some of his recent columns). It is one thing to disagree with gay marriage, as both President Obama and Mitt Romney do. Bigotry and support for discriminatory hiring practices are a completely different story, and should be condemned by conservatives."

For Grenell, it's not just the religious right that is belaboring his hiring — Democrats and feminists are also chirping because of offensive tweets Grenell made about the appearance of liberals such as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rachel Maddow.

"Grenell … has had to scrub snarky tweets aimed at women — particularly Democrats and liberals," the Washington Post reported Tuesday. The feminist-friendly website Jezebel noted that between Friday and Sunday, the number of tweets in Grenell's Twitter account dropped from 7,577 to 6,759 — and included in the 800-plus purge were all the potentially offensive tweets about women and their appearances.

Grenell, 45, already possesses significant experience handling media relations for prominent Republican politicians. In addition to his seven years at the United Nations during the more recent Bush administration, he previously worked at separate times for House Speaker Newt Gingrich and then-Rep. Mark Sanford (who would go on to become the very infamous governor of South Carolina).

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