An Equality Matters analysis found that cable news networks' coverage of the reemergence of Uganda's proposed "Kill the Gays" bill - legislation which would make homosexuality punishable by death - has been scant over the past several weeks and paled in comparison to their coverage of the Korean pop song "Gangnam Style."
In The Atlantic, former Washington Post reporter Garrett Epps defended a federal district judge's decision to put a new California law banning "ex-gay" therapy on hold, lending credence to the shoddy claim that the law limits the free speech of therapists hoping to cure their patients of homosexuality.
California is in the midst of a legal battle over SB-1172, a law adopted in September that bans the harmful practice of "ex-gay" therapy. On December 4, U.S. District Court Judge William Shubb granted a preliminary injunction against the law, handing a victory to the plaintiffs who have argued that the law restricts the free speech of therapists.
In his December 5 article, Epps references this argument, embracing the claim that the law would prohibit therapists from even suggesting "ex-gay" therapy - also known as "sexual orientation change efforts" (SOCE) - to their patients:
At its heart, the statute forbids a therapist's communication to a patient: I think that you can change your sexual orientation and if you want to, I will help you. And thus it embodies what First Amendment lawyers call a "viewpoint-based restriction." Therapists are free to counsel patients that their gay sexual orientation is a good thing, and are free to counsel against SOCE; those who give the opposite advice face state-mandated loss of their therapists' licenses.
Epps cites Conant v. Walters, a 2002 case in which the Ninth Circuit struck down a policy that prohibited doctors from recommending medical marijuana to their patients on first amendment grounds.
But SB-1172 does not prohibit doctors from discussing or even recommending "ex-gay" therapy to their patients. It only prohibits them from performing that therapy, as the text of the law clearly states: "this bill would prohibit a mental health provider... from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts."
He has ties to a white supremacist organization, a history of anti-gay extremism, and zero credibility as a political commentator, but Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins managed to use the GOP presidential primary to become a star on cable news networks.
Perkins is no stranger to the mainstream media. Though his organization was labeled an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 2010, he's made frequent appearances on cable news networks, commenting on issues ranging from same-sex adoption to Donald Trump.
According to an Equality Matters analysis, however, Perkins' cable news appearances skyrocketed during the 2012 GOP primary, allowing the hate group leader to become a near-constant source of right-wing campaign commentary. Perkins made a total of 56 appearances on cable news over the course of the primary, the plurality of which occurred on MSNBC:
These numbers don't include appearances that weren't related to the presidential election, like a CNN segment discussing what Jesus Christ would have thought about Occupy Wall Street.
The results also don't include the number of times the networks referenced or discussed Perkins' election commentary without actually hosting him on air. CNN alone did this 31 times during the primary.
The overwhelming majority of Perkins' appearances positioned him as a spokesperson for two groups of voters: social conservatives and evangelicals:
During their coverage of the 2012 GOP primary, cable news networks regularly called upon Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), to provide commentary on behalf of social conservatives. Perkins made 56 appearances on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC over the course of the primary, but never once was identified as the leader of an anti-gay hate group.
On the same day that thousands of people around the world gather to remember those who have been killed due to anti-transgender hatred, Fox News ran a segment criticizing one transgender prison inmate for requesting adequate medical care.
November 20 is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day meant to memorialize the victims of violence motivated by transphobia. It's only fitting, then, that the Fox & Friends crew would start the day with a news alert mocking Michelle Kosilek, a transgender prison inmate in Massachusetts who requested electrolysis treatment to complete her gender transition:
Although Kosilek's request was denied that afternoon, electrolysis is widely recognized as an option for helping transgender people fully transition. A number of courts have recently recognized that denying adequate medical care to transgender inmates is a violation of the Eighth Amendment.
Earlier this year, Fox similarly criticized guidelines for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency that would allow transgender detainees to continue hormone therapy while in custody.
November 6, 2012 will likely be remembered as one of the most significant turning points for LGBT equality in American history. But you probably wouldn't know that if you were only watching Fox News on election night.
According to an Equality Matters analysis, Fox News underreported or completely ignored last week's historic victories for the LGBT community.
Maine, Maryland, and Washington became the first states in the country to embrace marriage equality through a popular vote, and Minnesota defeated a state constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman. In response to these victories, Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin remarked "Years from now we'll remember this Election Day as the most important and the most historic in the history of the LGBT movement."
On Fox, however, these victories were largely footnoted, lumped into segments that quickly cycled through Tuesday's smorgasbord of ballot initiative results. Fox's Shepard Smith eventually called Washington's marriage vote a "victory for civil rights" two days after Election Day, but his fellow Fox hosts seemed more interested in demonizing Obama voters than reporting on the biggest wave of same-sex marriage victories ever in America.
Fox's coverage was even worse when it came to the election of Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) as the country's first ever openly gay U.S. senator. Baldwin's election is undoubtedly a watershed moment in the history of LGBT equality movement, which has for decades struggled for representation in the halls of the federal government.
On Fox, Baldwin's election merited one mention - the announcement of her victory - during which the network failed to even identify Baldwin as gay. Watch:
In a blog post the night after the election, AMERICAblog's John Aravosis asked if the media was still "playing catch-up" on reporting the massive victories for the LGBT community. In the case of Fox News - which has repeatedly ignored advancements in LGBT equality - it appears to be more than just a case of journalistic laziness.
To see the full Equality Matters report, click here.
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.