The Rise and Fall of the National Organization for Marriage

29 months of storm-gathering: Who’s been hit hardest?

September 03, 2011, by Jeremy Hooper

Back in April of ’09, in response to my Tweet pointing out that the “Gathering Storm” ad was going less than well,NOM’s PR person, Mary Beth Hutchins, hit me back with this response:


thought the Tweet was funny then, considering how quickly and resoundingly folks jumped at the chance to prick, prod, and parody that ad back when it first debuted. But how does this comment look now, more than two years later? Let’s think about this.

In mid-August, Stephen Colbert posted an ad for his cheek-tongued SuperPAC, which led off with yet another parody of the “Gathering Storm” spot. But what was so interesting about this one, as opposed to his earlier efforts, was that Colbert didn’t need to make the parody obvious, with styling directly lifted from NOM’s original vid or actors dressed in similar costumes. In this case, Colbert only needed to allude to the earlier clip in order to achieve that instant sense of recognition that is so crucial to good satire. You can watch the clip here.

At this point, NOM’s work can be shorthanded by a “Gathering Storm” reference.  Yes, NOM did get a huge spike in attention, I’ll give Ms. Hutchins that. But all attention is not cut from the same cloth. In politics, where public impression is everything, there really is such thing as bad PR.  There really is such thing as a bad ad (“I’m not a witch”).  NOM chose to ride in on a dark cloud, and that cloud will continue to cast an unshakable shadow for the rest of the organization’s existence and beyond.The reason why Colbert didn’t need to make it obvious is because “Gathering Storm” has now become a part of the political consciousness. To NOM’s detriment, it has.

I have literally had this exchange or its equivalent on more than one occasion:

JEREMYI do a lot of digging on NOM


JEREMYThe National Organization For Marriage


JEREMYHmm. Well did you see that ad where people were acting all scared because a storm of gay marriage was coming?


And that’s always the gist of the response, even when I’ve discussed the stormy spot with friends sand family members who bend right. The reply is accompanied with a snicker or a head shake or an eye roll. Because let’s get real: It doesn’t take all that much to see the ad as ridiculous, over-the-top, and histrionic. 

That dismissive sentiment is emulated on YouTube, where after close to 1.2 million views, the ad is disliked to the tune of 95% (28,212 users):

Screen Shot 2011-09-02 At 9.48.20 Am
With numbers like that, there’s no way NOM can blame the result on some pro-gay, liberal YouTube bomb that swayed the ratings. 95% is not a reasonably achievable figure for even the most dedicated group of poll-pushers.  In truth, this 95% “thumbs down” tally is a fairly good indication of the public’s view, particularly among younger populations (NOM’s needed voters). Even if you take away 20%-30% for some sort of skewing, 65%-75% against would still seem to indicate rough weather patches in NOM’s forecast.


And the thing is: Is anyone really proud of the ad? By which I mean, did outlets like FOX News or evenWorldNetDaily really jump to its defense? Is anyone in the GOP hoping this remains the iconic imagery of this civil rights conversation? Are even staunch “marriage protectors” rushing to define themselves by this storm idea, here in a world where literal storms are constantly reminding us of what real damage looks like?

The answer to all of the above questions is no. Of course there’s no proud defense outside of NOM’s own stable. Not in any marked way, at least. Not in a way to combat the damage done.  And don’t be fooled: This storm caused considerable damage!

So going back to Mary Beth Hutchins’ more-than-two-year-old Tweet: NOM’s PR department might not consider the ad an epic fail, as demanded by the duties of the paid gig. But political consciousness is not determined by press releases, but rather by the public’s own social radar.  As someone fairly in tune with said radar, I honestly can’t imagine a longview where too many anthropologists, sociologists, or meteorologists will look back on NOM’s definitive storm with much regard, much less respect.