Fox News continued its habit of downplaying major advancements for LGBT equality after last week's election, underreporting three states' adoption of marriage equality through popular vote and ignoring Wisconsin's election of the country's first openly gay senator.
The most widely circulated papers in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington struggled to hold anti-gay groups accountable while reporting on their respective marriage equality battles, according to a new report from Equality Matters.
Though all four of the states' leading papers endorsed marriage equality in the weeks before Election Day, they all committed the same mistakes that plague mainstream media coverage of marriage equality debates.
By far, the most obvious deficiency in mainstream coverage of marriage equality battles has been the failure to accurately expose voters to the animus and hostility that motivates anti-gay groups.
The groups fighting against marriage equality in all four states each had long, extensive histories of extreme anti-gay rhetoric long before they began their 2012 campaigns:
All four groups toned down their anti-gay rhetoric once they began their public campaigns against marriage equality and instead and began trying to appeal to moderate voters. One Minnesota newspaper, for example, noted the "low-key" ads being run by opponents of marriage equality.
And in all four states, they largely got away with it.
Though spokespersons from these groups were quoted ad nauseum by local media outlets in the weeks before Election Day, a total of just three news items mentioned the groups' extreme anti-gay rhetoric across the four most widely circulated state newspapers.
To its credit, the Baltimore Sun also published an editorial condemning the pastor who argued that gay people are "worthy of death."
For the most part, though, readers were left unaware of the kind of fringe bigotry that motivated the groups behind the anti-equality ads that bombarded the airwaves.
The failure to report on the animus driving these state anti-gay groups significantly alters the public debate on same-sex marriage. Opponents of marriage equality insisted that "supporting marriage as the union of a man and a woman does not make you anti-gay but pro-marriage." The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) even released a video explaining that opposition to same-sex marriage is driven by "biology (not bigotry)."
These groups know that whitewashing their own anti-gay views is essential to swaying on-the-fence voters. By failing to hold these groups accountable, state media outlets deny their readers the information they need to determine which sources of information are credible and trustworthy.
The second major problem with the way state newspapers covered their marriage equality battles has to do with the way that these outlets resolve (or fail to resolve) factual disputes about the consequences of legalizing same-sex marriage.
Anti-gay groups consistently rely on misleading horror stories in their ads to convince voters that same-sex marriage will be taught in schools, threaten religious liberty, etc. Each of these horror stories can be easily debunked, and even opponents of marriage equality have admitted that their ads are not "completely accurate."
When it comes to reporting on those ads, unfortunately, papers frequently shirk away from serious fact-checking, preferring instead to quote both sides of the argument and allow readers to decide for themselves. The Baltimore Sun's news coverage of an incident at Gallaudet University - in which the school suspended its Chief Diversity Officer after discovering she had signed a petition to put Maryland's marriage equality law up for a vote - clearly demonstrated this tendency, even as the editorial board confirmed that the incident had nothing to do marriage equality.
This form of "he said-she said" journalism does a disservice to voters and ends up lending credibility to completely baseless anti-gay talking points. Failing to resolve factual disputes leaves readers feeling confused and unable to separate truth from fiction.
The aversion to aggressively fact-checking anti-gay ads is understandable for print outlets that want to avoid looking like they're taking sides. But it isn't "bias" to debunk misinformation, even if that misinformation is only coming from one side of the debate. Public opinion on the issue of same-sex marriage may be evenly divided, but the truth about same-sex marriage is not.
When it comes to important civil rights issues, "he said-she said" journalism does real damage to those who are targeted by right-wing misinformation. As Kate Riley, editor of the Seattle Times editorial page, said while discussing her paper's support for marriage equality:
"Going back to this idea of exceptional circumstance," Riley said, "I would hope we would have supported the emancipation proclamation. Women's suffrage. These are different. These deserve muscle power."
Pro-equality activists thankfully prevailed in all four states on Tuesday. Had they failed, they would have been justified in turning their ire towards the news outlets that allowed their opponents to get away with being depicted as credible and fair-minded. As LGBT equality continues to come before voters in more and more states, state media outlets should recognize that telling the truth about a major civil rights issue is more important than trying to seem "fair and balanced."
To see the full Equality Matters report, click here.
The most widely circulated papers in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington covered the debate over same-sex marriage in their state extensively in the weeks leading up to Election Day. Though all four publications endorsed marriage equality, their news coverage largely ignored the extremism of anti-equality groups and often devolved into "he said-she said" journalism that failed to correct anti-gay misinformation.
Fox News inaccurately stated that same-sex marriage had "failed" in Minnesota this morning. In reality, Minnesota defeated an anti-gay amendment to its state's constitution.
During the November 7 edition of Fox News' America's Election HQ, the network ran a segment noting the success of marriage equality efforts in Maine, Maryland, and Washington. Fox's chyron for the segment read "SAME-SEX MARRIAGE PASSES IN WASHINGTON, MAINE AND MARYLAND, FAILS IN MINNESOTA."
In fact, Minnesota voters rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage remains illegal under Minnesota law, but the defeat of the state's anti-gay amendment is a victory for proponents of marriage equality, not a failure.
Fox News management claims to have a "zero tolerance for on-screen errors" policy.
A number of Fox News personalities showed their support for Spirit Day by wearing purple on Friday, despite the fact that the network's coverage of anti-LGBT bullying has only served to worsen the problem.
Several Fox News personalities and reporters dressed in purple on air Friday, ostensibly to show their support for Spirit Day - an event during which millions of Americans wear purple to stand against anti-LGBT bullying.
A spokesperson from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) -- the organizer of Spirit Day -- confirmed that Fox News was sent information about Spirit Day in advance. The network called GLAAD to thank them for the information to participate and said that they would pass it along to News Corp, which owns the Fox network.
Fox's history of covering the issue of anti-LGBT bullying, however, has been dismal. The network has depicted the bullying problem among youth as an exaggeration, ignored bullying-related teen suicides, condemned tolerance and diversity lessons in schools, and aggressively criticized anti-bullying efforts. Even a number of Fox's employees have used their national platform to demonize and bully LGBT people.
Here are a few of the Fox News personalities wearing purple today:
Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade, who has previously joked about "the one part of Chaz [Bono] that hasn't been operated on":
Happening Now anchor Jenna Lee and Fox News reporter Catherine Herridge:
The Five co-host Bob Beckel:
Fox News senior national correspondent John Roberts:
Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky:
It's encouraging that Fox News is at least giving a nod to opposing anti-LGBT bullying, but its history of lobbying against anti-bullying efforts says a lot more about the network's stance on the issue than a few pastel neckties ever could.
UPDATE: Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee also donned purple on Spirit Day:
He's suggested that AIDS patients should be quarantined and has called homosexuality "unnatural" and "sinful." He's cited child molestation as a justification for upholding the Boy Scouts' ban on gay troop leaders. He's called same-sex marriage a threat to "stable society" and stated that his opposition to marriage equality is partly based on the "ick factor."
In April, Huckabee criticized a Kansas non-discrimination ordinance by suggesting that predators would use the law to commit sexual assault.
Earlier this year, Huckabee called the Family Research Council (FRC), "one of the most respected family organizations in America," even though the group has been labeled as an anti-gay hate group. He also hosted FRC president Tony Perkins on his radio show to condemn "It Gets Better" founder Dan Savage as "an apostle of division and intolerance."
As millions of Americans wear purple in support of LGBT youth for Spirit Day today, it's probably safe to assume that few people at Fox News will be participating in the event, as the network remains a constant critic of anti-bullying efforts while promoting hostility towards LGBT people across the country.
Here's how Fox works to undermine the fight against anti-LGBT bullying:
In April, Fox & Friends hosted a segment on whether school bullying had become "an exaggerated epidemic." The network invited Reason.com editor Nick Gillespie to argue that the national effort to crack down on bullying is "causing as many problems as it solves."
When Fox has actually acknowledged the problem of school bullying, it's failed to mention the fact that the victims of bullying are often targeted for their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. As one Fox guest stated while discussing a school's gender diversity lessons:
Bullying is such an excuse because kids do not bully each other based on gender. They bully each other based on, you know, all sorts of things, not just gender. So using that seems to me like an excuse really.
When bullied gay teen Jamie Rodemeyer took his own life last September, both MSNBC and CNN covered his death extensively. CNN launched its own efforts to combat anti-LGBT bullying, including a "Stop Bullying: Speak Up" website and a CNN-commissioned study on schoolyard bullying. Fox, on the other hand, mentioned Rodemeyer's death only once in the weeks following his death, as part of a segment on proposed anti-bullying legislation in New York.
The suicide of another gay teenager, Asher Brown, has received widespread publicity as a rallying cry for the It Gets Better Project, a campaign aimed inspiring hope for harassed LGBT youth. While discussing his death, however, Fox failed to mention his sexual orientation, ignoring evidence that much of the bullying he experienced was motivated by homophobia.
Fox News has been vocal in opposing even the tamest efforts to teach students to be more tolerant and accepting of their LGBT peers.
Last year, as California neared the passage of its FAIR Education Act, which would require public schools to teach students about historical contributions of LGBT people, the network rushed to depict the bill as a "shocking" effort to expose students to pro-LGBT "propaganda." Fox ran segment after segment misinforming viewers about the bill, including a blitz of misleading segments the day after it was signed into law. One Fox Business guest even joked about how students would determine if a historical figure was gay or not, commenting "Do you have to turn him over?"
When a California school tried to institute gender diversity lessons to teach students about gender variance, Fox ran three segments in two days criticizing the program. The network invited anti-gay hate group leader Tony Perkins to argue that the lessons would indoctrinate children into homosexuality. Fox host Martha MacCallum piled on the unfounded criticism, warning that trying to teach students about gender diversity could cause them to fall behind in math and science.
The network also lashed out at new curriculum proposed for Michigan's Muskegon Public Schools that would teach students about sexual orientation and gender identity, calling the lessons "topsy-turvy."
When it wasn't busy criticizing programs meant to prevent students from bullying, Fox also attacked efforts meant to punish those who engage in anti-gay discrimination.
Last September, Fox devoted five segments to criticizing New Jersey's newly enacted anti-bullying law, accusing the measure of being too strict and overly expansive. Fox also attacked Vanderbilt University for prohibiting student groups from denying leadership positions to students on the basis of sexual orientation, with one Fox Business guest stating that gay people "will not stop until you're forced to accept their lifestyle."
When a Wisconsin school apologized for running an anti-gay student column in the school paper, Fox suggested that the school may have violated the student's freedom of speech as a result of its "broadly worded anti-discrimination, anti-bullying policy." Fox's coverage failed to mention that the student's column included anti-gay junk science and cited Bible passages calling for the execution of gay people.
Fox's implicit support for LGBT bullies is also evidenced by who is on the network's payroll. A number of Fox employees routinely use their national platform to mock, demonize, and bully LGBT people.
Fox News contributor Todd Starnes, for example, has made a number of disparaging comments about the LGBT community. He has called a transgender college student a "mary," mocked the attendees of a gay pride parade, and joked that transgender people would have to explain "why they've got extra parts" when they arrive at "the pearly gates."
Keith Ablow, one of the members of Fox's "Medical A-Team," is notorious for his transphobic attacks on Chaz Bono, who is transgender. The Fox employee accused Bono of suffering from a "psychotic delusion" and compared transgender people to anorexics, heroin addicts, and people who believe they are zebras.
The list goes on and on. Whether it's Bill O'Reilly laughing at his own homophobic jokes, Andrea Tantaros referring to President Obama's "tranny nanny," the Fox & Friends crew joking about "the one part of Chaz [Bono] that hasn't been operated on," or Fox Nation's reliably transphobic headlines, demonizing LGBT people is a habit that's deeply ingrained into Fox's network culture.
This month marks the one-year anniversary of the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Unsurprisingly, not a single one of the Family Research Council's (FRC) doomsday predictions about the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" have come true in the past year, which is just the latest example of FRC's inability to produce credible and unbiased policy analysis. So why do media outlets keep taking the group seriously?
In the months leading up to DADT's repeal, FRC officials issued countless warnings that allowing open service would undermine unit cohesion, increase the rate of sexual assault, bring back the draft, and risk millions of lives. The group also dismissed a comprehensive survey by the Pentagon which found that repealing DADT would not hinder military performance, calling the study "suspect."
It's not the first time FRC has made wildly inaccurate claims about policies that advance LGBT equality. Some examples of FRC's "expert" policy analysis:
FRC's inability to provide credible policy research might have something to do with its sources of "expert" analysis. FRC's Senior Fellow for Policy Studies, for example, is Peter Sprigg - a man who spent 10 years as a "professional actor" and served as an ordained Baptist minister before joining FRC.
The group also has a history of relying on discredited and junk research to make disparaging assertions about LGBT people: gay people are more likely to be pedophiles, homosexuality can be cured, etc. FRC's propagation of known falsehoods about gays and lesbians is the reason the organization was labeled a "hate group" in 2010.
Given FRC's record of wildly inaccurate "policy analysis," it's unclear why the clearly biased organization remains relevant in policy discussions. FRC president Tony Perkins regularly appears on all three major cable news networks to provide commentary on a wide range of political issues. Fox News' Mike Huckabee referred to FRC as "one of the most respected family organizations in America." And the Washington Post's Dana Milbank recently referred to the group as a "mainstream conservative think tank."
As the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) noted in a recent report:
To make the case that the LGBT community is a threat to American society, the FRC employs a number of "policy experts" whose "research" has allowed the FRC to be extremely active politically in shaping public debate. Its research fellows and leaders often testify before Congress and appear in the mainstream media. [emphasis added]
In a column earlier this month titled "Why Must We Take the Family Research Council Seriously?", Daily Beast correspondent Michael Tomasky highlighted the media's double standard when dealing with right-wing groups like FRC. Discussing the groups' ties to anti-Muslim speakers, Tomasky wrote:
All right, this is crackpot stuff. But according to the Serious Men and Women of Washington, the FRC is not a crackpot outfit. Can you imagine if the Center for American Progress, say, or Jim Wallis's group featured a speaker who alleged that Romney had a secret plan to convert everyone to Mormonism and force Christians to reject all they'd been taught and embrace Joseph Smith's teachings? I know I said last week I generally steer clear of analogies, but this one is pretty precise.
FRC can do this and still be accorded respect. Why? Because we just take it as a given and accept that the right wing is full of nativist and reactionary and racist cranks. And this, remember, is a religious organization.
A similar analogy can be made with regards to FRC's anti-gay politics. Mainstream media outlets just assume - and accept - that FRC's extreme homophobia is par for the course when it comes to conservative Christians organizations.
It's not just that FRC is an anti-gay hate group, though; it's a hate group that's consistently flat-out wrong about its policy analysis, especially when dealing with LGBT issues. The Family Research Council continues to be viewed as a "think tank" despite overwhelming evidence that its "policy analysis" is really nothing more than baseless horror stories motivated by extreme anti-gay animus.
Two wrongs don't make a right, but when it comes to the media's treatment of FRC, wrong after wrong (after wrong after wrong) makes a right-wing "think tank."
Every summer for the past four years, the National Organization for Marriage's (NOM) Ruth Institute has invited college students from across the country to participate in its weekend-long "It Takes A Family To Raise A Village" (ITAF) conference in San Diego, CA. According to NOM, the conference is meant to prepare college students to defend "natural marriage" on their campuses by introducing them to a number of prominent anti-gay speakers and activists.
This year, NOM expanded its ITAF conference to include recent college graduates in their early twenties. Being a 24-year-old gay blogger who has spent the better part of the past two years tracking NOM's anti-gay extremism, I wasn't expecting much when I applied to ITAF's "Emerging Leaders" program in mid-June. I'd spent most of the month publishing blog post after blog post about ITAF's anti-gay "suggested reading" list, its roster of extreme anti-gay speakers, and its ties to a megachurch linked to the "ex-gay" movement. The application didn't require me to disclose my place of employment, but a quick Google search of my name would plainly reveal that I was no friend of NOM. Jennifer Morse, the president of NOM's Ruth Institute, had even specifically responded to a post I'd published about her. I saw my application as more of a joke than anything else.
So when I got a "Congratulations" email at the end of July informing me that I'd been accepted into ITAF, I wasn't sure how to react.
Honestly, part of me was terrified at the idea of having to spend a whole weekend stuck at a NOM event with a group of anti-gay student activists. What if I was discovered? What if someone from NOM recognized me? If I attended, I ran the risk of being exposed - all alone - as an undercover "homosexualist" in a room full of the very people I'd been writing about for months.
I also wasn't keen on the idea of having to pretend to be straight in front of dozens of strangers for four days, as I didn't expect I'd be able to attend a NOM conference as an openly gay man without raising a few eyebrows. I'd been out of the closet for over eight years, and I lived in a city where being gay is as about as common and unremarkable as wearing glasses. I'd grown pretty accustomed to not having to worry about people figuring out my sexual orientation. Having to go back in "the closet," even just for a few days, sounded more like an unpleasant high school flashback than an exciting work opportunity.
Eventually, though, my curiosity got the better of me.
Since its founding in 2007, NOM has loudly proclaimed that its "battle is not with an orientation"; that, despite opposing gay marriage, the organization isn't motivated by animosity towards gay and lesbian people. This distinction - "we're not anti-gay, just anti-gay marriage" - has allowed NOM to differentiate itself from organizations that have been labeled "hate groups" for peddling known falsehoods about LGBT people.
But, I wanted to see it for myself. Attending ITAF would give me an opportunity to find out what NOM was really saying about LGBT people when it wasn't mincing words for mainstream media outlets.
So on Thursday, July 26, armed with little more than my camera phone, a notepad, and a hastily-concocted backstory, I boarded a flight to San Diego to attend what would end up being one of the most disturbing and overtly homophobic experiences of my life.
Anti-gay groups and LGBT activists alike have spent the past few days arguing over a new study which allegedly finds that children of gay parents are worse off than the children of married, heterosexual parents. The study – conducted by associate sociology professor Mark Regnerus – has been the subject of intense criticism because of its deeply flawed methodology and misleading conclusions.
Lost in the debate, however, has been a discussion of what proponents of the study are actually suggesting about same-sex parents. If the study is correct, what do anti-gay activists believe it proves about gay people in general?
One of the study's most disturbing findings is that children with gay parents reported significantly higher rates of sexual abuse – including rape – by parents or adult figures as kids than children raised by married, heterosexual parents. It's unclear why rates of abuse differ between the two groups, but anti-gay activists have touted the finding as evidence of the long-disproven "gays are pedophiles" myth.
American Family Association (AFA) spokesman Bryan Fischer cited the study as evidence that allowing gay couples to adopt is "a form of sexual abuse." Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH) referenced the study while arguing "you're more likely basically to get molested in a household led by two lesbians."
The claim that gays and lesbians are more likely to molest children than heterosexuals is one of the oldest and most damaging myths about homosexuality in American politics. It's the kind of homophobic propaganda that usually distinguishes typical anti-gay organizations from actual anti-gay hate groups. It's not all that surprising, then, that groups like AFA and AFTAH are so eager to promote the Regnerus study.
What's disturbing about the reaction to the study, though, is how widely it's been embraced by "moderate" anti-gay activists and organizations that have typically shied away from this kind of rhetoric. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has offered its enthusiastic endorsement of the study, as have Fox News' Dr. Keith Ablow, National Review Online's Ed Whelan, Focus on the Family, the New Jersey Family Policy Council, and others.
The biggest problem with Regenerus' study isn't just that it's junk science – it's that it gives mainstream conservatives a license to promote one of the most extreme anti-gay smears imaginable under the guise of advancing legitimate scientific inquiry.
When all is said and done, Regnerus' study won't end up providing any useful information about the impact of same-sex parenting. It will, however, reveal volumes about those who are so aggressively championing it.
Fox News' resident anti-LGBT pop-psychologist Dr. Keith Ablow published a column on Tuesday defending a flawed new study that found that children raised by married, heterosexual parents are better off than children raised by a variety of families that include a gay parent. Praising the study for its objectivity and scientific rigor, Ablow wrote:
The "no differences" theory that children of gay parents -- married or not -- do not substantially differ from the children of married, heterosexual parents has now been called into question.
In reality, the study -- authored by associate sociology professor Mark Regnerus -- has already come under widespread criticism for its misleading comparisons, arbitrary population samples, and generally abysmal methodology. Regnerus himself has spent a good chunk of this week attempting to explain away his study's glaring shortcomings. And he even admitted that none of his data can actually be used to make a judgment about whether same-sex parents are better or worse than heterosexual parents.
Despite the study's obvious shortcomings -- and the fact that it's already being misused by anti-gay groups -- Ablow warned against "silencing such research," adding that he refused to be "bullied" out of searching for the "truth" about how LGBT parents affect children: