New York Times columnist David Brooks ignored his paper's reporting to defend Indiana's controversial new "religious freedom" law, misleadingly equating it with its federal version and misrepresenting the reason it has sparked such widespread opposition.
Indiana has been embroiled in controversy since it passed its version of a "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" (RFRA), a law that has been used to provide a legal defense for individuals and businesses who cite their religious beliefs as a justification for discriminating against gay people, even in lawsuits that don't involve the government.
In his March 31 column, Brooks joined a number of conservative defenders of the law in falsely suggesting that Indiana's measure is no different than the federal RFRA signed into law in 1993. Brooks also erroneously stated that opponents of Indiana's dangerous expansion of the federal RFRA (and previous state versions) are not respecting the "valid tension" between religious belief and permissible discrimination, when in fact the main objection to the law is that Indiana has upset the previous balance to further undercut antidiscrimination protections:
The 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was supported by Senator Ted Kennedy and a wide posse of progressives, sidestepped the abstract and polarizing theological argument. It focused on the concrete facts of specific cases. The act basically holds that government sometimes has to infringe on religious freedom in order to pursue equality and other goods, but, when it does, it should have a compelling reason and should infringe in the least intrusive way possible.
This moderate, grounded, incremental strategy has produced amazing results. Fewer people have to face the horror of bigotry, isolation, marginalization and prejudice.
Yet I wonder if this phenomenal achievement is going off the rails. Indiana has passed a state law like the 1993 federal act, and sparked an incredible firestorm.
If the opponents of that law were arguing that the Indiana statute tightens the federal standards a notch too far, that would be compelling. But that's not the argument the opponents are making.
Instead, the argument seems to be that the federal act's concrete case-by-case approach is wrong. The opponents seem to be saying there is no valid tension between religious pluralism and equality. Claims of religious liberty are covers for anti-gay bigotry. [emphasis added]
Fox's Megyn Kelly misleadingly compared Indiana's controversial anti-gay "religious freedom" law to laws in other states and claimed that the measure wouldn't allow for anti-LGBT discrimination.
On the March 30 edition of The Kelly File, Kelly invited Tony Perkins - president of the anti-gay hate group the Family Research Council (FRC) - and Truman National Security Project partner Mark Hannah to discuss Indiana's recently adopted "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" (RFRA). The law, which has triggered a national backlash, provides a legal defense for individuals and business owners who cite their religious beliefs while discriminating against LGBT people.
During the interview, Kelly suggested that Indiana's RFRA was similar to federal law and RFRAs in other states and denied that the measure could be used to justify anti-LGBT discrimination:
Fox News anchor Bret Baier debunked the network's defense of Indiana's discriminatory "religious freedom" law, explaining that the law is broader than both federal law and similar measures in other states.
Last week, Indiana became the center of a political firestorm after the state legislature passed its version of the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" (RFRA), a law that allows private individuals and for-profit business owners to cite their religious beliefs as a legal defense against claims of discrimination from consumers who have been wrongfully denied services based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity. As the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana explained, Indiana's RFRA "may embolden individuals and businesses who now feel that their religious liberty is 'burdened' by treating a member of the LGBT community equally and that their 'burden' trumps others' rights to be free from discrimination."
Proponents of the law, including Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence, have downplayed these potential consequences by incorrectly claiming that the law is noncontroversial because it merely mirrors the federal RFRA and RFRAs in other states. It's a talking point that has been repeated on Fox News, which has so far depicted Indiana's law as a benign attempt to protect the devout from government encroachment on religious freedom.
But during the March 30 edition of Happening Now, Baier deflated his network's defense of the law, explaining to host Eric Shawn that Indiana's RFRA is "broader" than both federal law and other state RFRAs:
ERIC SHAWN: You know, the law was intended to protect personal religious liberties against government overreach and intrusion. So what happened?
BAIER: Well, Indiana's law is written a little differently. It is more broad. It is different than the federal law that it's close to, but different than, and also different than 19 other states and how the law is written. In specific terms, Indiana's law deals with a person who can claim religious persecution but that includes corporations, for profit entities and it could also be used as a defense in a civil suit that does not involve the government. That is broader than the other laws. This is where it's a little different in Indiana's case. You saw governor Mike Pence try to defend the law and say it's just like the 1993 federal law where it's just like 19 other states, but as you look in the fine print, it's not really, and it may be something that Indiana deals with in specifics to line up with the others.
SHAWN: Obviously, it had good intentions. What do you think happened to make it kind of go off the rails this way?
BAIER: Well, how it was structured, Eric. And I think that, you know, there may be good intentions behind it but how it's being interpreted is being a little bit more forward leaning than any other Religious Freedom Restoration Act on the books. What this does politically, obviously Mike Pence has been talked about as a governor thinking about a 2016 run. We don't know if he's going to do it or not. But that interview with Stephanopoulos over the weekend was obviously not a great back and forth in defense of this law that likely is going to have to be at least tweaked, if not changed. [emphasis added]
CBS produced an informative, well-researched, and compassionate segment about the military's ban on transgender service members, setting an example for other networks on how to properly cover transgender stories.
The March 17 edition of CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley featured a segment on the military's current ban on transgender service members, a policy that's coming under increasing scrutiny. The segment followed the story of Landon Wilson, a former Navy sailor who was discharged after his commanding officer discovered he was transgender in 2013:
The segment was a remarkably simple example of how major news networks can and should discuss transgender issues. It allowed transgender people, including Wilson, to speak for themselves. It highlighted the extreme levels of discrimination faced by the transgender community. And it took time to provide basic information about being transgender to its audience, including dispelling the myth that transitioning requires hormone therapy or surgery.
CBS medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook ended the segment by stating, "It's difficult for people to understand that a person's biological sex can be different from a person's gender. Ignorance about that has led to discrimination for transgender people in all walks of life, not just the military."
In a piece about the segment at The Huffington Post, LaPook explained why he felt it was necessary to educate viewers about being transgender, writing, "if we're going to have a meaningful national conversation, we have to start by understanding the vocabulary."
Fox News commentator and serial anti-LGBT misinformer Todd Starnes rushed to the defense of a Navy chaplain who was disciplined after allegedly "discriminat[ing] against students who were of different faiths and backgrounds." According to a Navy document, the chaplain shamed a female student for having premarital sex and told another student that "the penis was meant for the vagina and not for the anus."
On March 9, Starnes published a report on the chaplain, Lt. Cmdr. Wes Modder, who was given a "detachment for cause" from his unit after an investigation concluded that he had discriminated against students at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command (NNPTC) in South Carolina.
Modder is now being represented by the anti-gay legal group Liberty Institute, which alleges that Modder is being discriminated against because of his religious beliefs. In his report, Starnes echoed the Liberty Institute's allegation that Modder was punished for his Christianity:
Michael Berry, a military veteran and attorney with Liberty Institute a law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases is representing Modder. He accused the military of committing a gross injustice against the chaplain in a letter to the Navy. He told me they will respond forcefully and resolutely to the allegations -- which they categorically deny.
"We are starting to see cases where chaplains have targets on their backs," Berry said. "They have to ask themselves, 'Do I stay true to my faith or do I keep my job?'"
He said Modder is being punished because of his Christian faith.
Fox News criticized Planet Fitness for its policy allowing transgender members to use the restrooms and locker rooms they feel comfortable with, inviting discredited psychiatrist and Fox News contributor Dr. Keith Ablow to peddle bogus stereotypes about transgender people
Last month, a Michigan woman named Yvette Cormier complained to the management of the Midland Planet Fitness gym after she saw a transgender woman named Carlotta Sklodowska using the women's locker room. When management informed Cormier that transgender members were allowed to use the locker room of their choice, Cormier spent four days approaching other women at the gym and informing them that a "man" was using the women's locker room. Planet Fitness asked her to stop. When she refused, the gym cancelled her membership, stating the she had violated the company's trademark "no judgment" policy.
During the March 10 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck invited Ablow, the Fox News contributor notorious for making grossly inaccurate, misleading, and offensive claims about the transgender community, to criticize Planet Fitness's policy. The segment, which labeled the situation "Legal INSANITY," began with Hasselbeck referring to Sklodowska as a "man" and quickly devolved into transphobic stereotypes:
ABLOW: It's tough to speak about because we're so politically correct now that we get tongue tied. We can't say the obvious, which is this is craziness. You're kicking out members because they feel uncomfortable that someone who seems to be a man to them and is genetically is looking at them naked when they're unclothed as women? That's craziness.
ABLOW: We are being bullied into accepting things that are untrue to our core feelings.
Throughout the debate over Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), the Fox TV affiliate in Houston, KRIV, has uncritically repeated the widely debunked myth that HERO would allow sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms, contributing to public misunderstanding of the ordinance.
For the past year, Houston has been embroiled in a debate over the ordinance. HERO, which passed in May, bans discrimination on the basis of characteristics like sex, race, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Opponents of HERO have since fought to put the measure up for a public repeal vote, baselessly claiming that the law would allow male sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms by pretending to be transgender. Experts in states and cities that have similar laws on the books have debunked this horror story, calling it "beyond specious."
Fox 26's reporting is symptomatic of the kind of "he said, she said" journalism that often derails public debates about even basic legal protections for LGBT people. In order to appear balanced, news outlets will uncritically repeat both sides' talking points in their reporting without resolving which side is actually telling the truth.
Journalism is about more than just repeating talking points and hoping audiences can figure out the truth. It's about actually doing the work to dispel falsehoods about issues that are important to the public. Fox 26 should be working to expose lies about Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance, not peddling them to a broader audience.
Video created by Coleman Lowndes.
Top executives from Facebook and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment spoke at a conference for right-wing media personalities that features a number of anti-LGBT groups and Islamophobes and is co-sponsored by a right-wing birther website that has suggested President Obama is secretly gay.
National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) is holding its International Christian Media Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, from February 23-26. According to the convention's website:
The NRB International Christian Media Convention is a four-day, jam-packed event that connects, equips, and edifies thousands of Christian communicators.
The bottom line is that when you leave the NRB International Christian Media Convention you will be energized, empowered, and made more effective in reaching the lost for Christ.
In an interview with Radio World, NRB President Jerry Johnson said the conference would focus on training attendees to better use new-media platforms to reach young people with their messages. In the interview, Johnson specifically expressed his concern about "a new tone on the marriage issue, on sexuality, on so-called same-sex marriage and even on Islam" that could supposedly threaten broadcasters' freedom to speak about those topics.
Perhaps in service of the goal of reaching young people, NRB enlisted the help of top executives from Facebook and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Simon Swart is the executive vice president of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and helped launch Fox's "Fox Faith" movie distribution label targeting the Christian community in 2006. On February 23, he spoke at the NRB conference's "Film & Entertainment Summit," leading a talk on "Successfully Distributing and Marketing to the World."
Katie Harbath is manager for policy at Facebook. On February 25, she spoke at the conference's Digital Media Summit, which Johnson specifically cited as a way to get his organization's message to reach the "current generation." Habath spoke on a panel led by Eric Metaxas, a conservative author who has written in defense of "ex-gay" therapy and pointed to gay-affirming churches to compare conditions in America to those in Nazi Germany.
Both Swart and Harbath agreed to speak at the conference despite the presence of extreme anti-gay hate groups, Islamophobic figures, and the co-sponsorship of a right-wing publication that has repeatedly suggested that Obama is secretly gay and wasn't born in the United States.
Fox News rallied behind a Washington state florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, continuing the network's defense of the right to discriminate against gay customers.
On February 18, a Benton County Superior Court judge ruled that florist Barronelle Stutzman had illegally violated the state's Consumer Protection Act when she refused to provide flowers for a same-sex couple's wedding ceremony. Though Stutzman claimed her actions were religiously motivated, the judge made clear that religious belief did not create a blank check to violate the state's non-discrimination law, writing:
For over 135 years, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that laws may prohibit religiously motivated action, as opposed to belief. In trade and commerce, and more particularly when seeking to prevent discrimination in public accommodations, the Courts have confirmed the power of the Legislative Branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief.
Following the ruling, Washington's attorney general offered Stutzman a settlement - stop discriminating, pay the law's $2000 penalty, and pay $1 to cover the cost of the case - but Stuztman refused the deal.
On the February 23 edition of The Kelly File, guest host Shannon Bream conducted the first ever television interview with Stutzman, along with an attorney from the extreme anti-gay group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is representing her. Bream has a history of championing the right to discriminate against gay customers, coming to the defense of business owners who violate non-discrimination laws and suggesting that gay customers should "just go down the street" and find someone who is willing to serve them.
With the cancellation of Ronan Farrow Daily, MSNBC is losing a show that for months represented the gold standard in cable news coverage of transgender issues.
On February 19, MSNBC announced that it was cancelling Ronan Farrow Daily, which has occupied the network's 1 pm slot since premiering in February 2014. The show, along with The Reid Report, will be replacedby a two-hour block of news programming hosted by Thomas Roberts, while host Ronan Farrow will go on to launch "a new series of primetime specials."
For nearly a year, Ronan Farrow Daily stood out for its remarkable coverage of transgender stories and issues. Farrow worked to bring national attention to the fight for transgender equality, which he called a "nascent enough rights movement that you can see change on almost a daily basis." And he did it by inviting actual transgender people to discuss issues facing their community -- a practice that even many progressive news commentators have been hesitant to adopt.