The general manager of a television news station in western Michigan has apologized after staff received a memo telling reporters to cover fewer LGBTQ+ events during Pride Month because coverage could be “polarizing.”
The memo to staff at WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids asked them to “do some work to discern the newsworthy-ness” of Pride events, according to the Detroit Free Press, which obtained a copy of it.
“We know that West Michigan is a conservative area in many ways,” the memo read, according to the story. “We need to recognize that some stories related to LGBTQ issues are going to be controversial and polarizing in our community.”
WOOD-TV is owned by Texas-based Nexstar Media which said Friday in a statement that the memo was not consistent with the company’s values, the way it covers the news or the respect it has for viewers.
“WOOD-TV is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion and to covering and reporting the news of the day in an expansive and inclusive fashion, consistent with these values,” Julie Brinks, WOOD-TV general manager said in a statement Friday.
Brinks said Nexstar will “take appropriate action as necessary to address this situation, and we apologize for offending members of the LGBTQ community and WOOD-TV’s viewers.”
Opposition to Pride events and pro-LGBTQ+ literature has galvanized some Republicans and conservatives across the U.S. in national and local politics. When a library in western Michigan refused to remove LGBTQ content from the shelves, residents waged a successful campaign to block some of its funding, in an episode that’s played out in other states.
The backlash is also affecting the bottom line for news outlets.
“If we are covering Pride events, we need to consider how to make the story balanced and get both sides of the issue,” the WOOD-TV memo said, the Free Press reported. “We have also started to hear pushback from viewers who are not happy to see those Pride related stories.”
The memo added that while staff may not agree with a certain position, “people are entitled to their opinions and they are our viewers,” the Free Press reported.
Grand Rapids, Michigan, is in Kent County which saw nearly 52% of its voters cast ballots in the 2020 general election for President Joe Biden, a Democrat, compared to about 46% for then-Republican President Donald Trump.
But in adjacent Ottawa County, nearly 60% of votes cast were for Trump, while Biden received about 38%. Ottawa County is in WOOD-TV’s coverage area.
In January, a conservative Christian group known as Ottawa Impact claimed a majority on Ottawa County’s board of commissioners and made several controversial decisions, including immediately closing the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Department. The board also decided against sending funds to support that county’s largest Pride festival, in Holland.
But an inaugural Pride festival in Ottawa County’s Grand Haven drew thousands of people last weekend.