MSNBC and CNN both shined a spotlight on the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the extreme anti-gay group behind Arizona's recent effort to allow businesses to refuse service to gay customers. The networks' decisions to profile ADF stand in stark contrast to a broader media tendency to ignore anti-gay group's records of extremism.
In the same week that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer chose to veto SB 1062, a measure that would have expanded protections for businesses refusing service to gay customers, both CNN and MSNBC ran segments profiling ADF, which drafted the law along with the Center for Arizona policy.
During the February 25 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, Cooper noted the similarities between the talking points used by proponents of SB 1062 and similar measures in other states, tracing their shared "genetic code" back to ADF. Though Cooper invited ADF to participate in the segment, the group declined:
After months of championing anti-gay business owners and criticizing efforts to protect gay and lesbian customers from discrimination, Fox News is finally waking up to the consequences of its fear mongering campaign - and it doesn't like what it's seeing.
The Supreme Court's historic decision to strike down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013 left many anti-gay marriage activists reeling. Recognizing that their decade long fight against marriage equality was quickly becoming a lost cause, many anti-gay conservatives turned their attention to an issue that they believed might offer them more traction - the religious liberty of anti-gay business owners.
While opponents of marriage equality have long warned about businesses being forced to serve gay couples, it's only recently that the issue of protecting anti-gay business owners became a rallying cry for social conservatives.
That rallying cry has been largely amplified by Fox News, which in recent months has worked to tout anti-gay business owners as martyrs, victimized by gay activists seeking services for their same-sex weddings and commitment ceremonies.
Falsely accusing gay activists of ushering the "death of free enterprise" in America, Fox News has highlighted a number of anti-gay horror stories in which religious business owners have faced penalties for refusing to serve gay customers:
In each of these cases, the business owners were found to have violated their state's non-discrimination laws. And in each of these cases, Fox News depicted the business owners as victims whose religious freedoms were being threatened by being required to serve gay customers.
After months of championing anti-gay business owners who refuse service to gay customers because of their religious beliefs, Fox News condemned a proposed Arizona law that would protect businesses that discriminate against gay customers, comparing the measure to "Jim Crow laws."
During the February 25 edition of America's Newsroom, host Martha MacCallum invited Fox News contributor Juan Williams and The Five co-host Andrea Tantaros to discuss Arizona's controversial new anti-gay segregation law, SB 1062 which would protect businesses that refuse to serve gay customers on religious grounds. The measure, which awaits Gov. Jan Brewer's signature, has been condemned by a growing number of conservatives and business owners, including three Republicans senators who regret voting for the bill.
MacCallum, Williams, and Tantaros all condemned the measure, with MacCallum and Tantaros both drawing comparisons between the bill and racist "Jim Crow laws":
TANTAROS: What has happened, Martha, is this has spiraled totally out of control. And so, while the First Amendment is a really strong argument, I don't know why you would want to bring Jim Crow laws back to the forefront for homosexuals.
MACCALLUM: I mean, that's exactly what it sounds like.
TANTAROS: If you're a business owner, I don't know why you'd want to turn business away. And if you're gay, let's say, why would you want the baker of hate baking your cake anyway? Unfortunately, it has taken a really crazy turn and gotten way out of hand. And as Juan mentioned, a number of Republicans, three of them who voted to pass this said that they would change their mind.
MACCALLUM: It sounds like the lunch counter, Juan.
CNN anchors grilled an Arizona anti-gay activist who refused to answer whether a measure passed by the state legislature would allow businesses to discriminate against gay customers. In reality, the bill would allow businesses and individuals to refuse to serve gay customers without fear of punishment or a lawsuit.
During the February 21 edition of CNN's This Hour, co-anchors John Berman and Michaela Pereira asked Cathi Herrod - president of the conservative Center for Arizona Policy Action - to explain a measure in Arizona that would protect businesses and individuals who discriminate against gay customers on religious grounds. The bill, SB 1062, which awaits Gov. Jan Brewer's signature, mirrors "anti-gay segregation" bills being considered in states like South Dakota and Idaho.
Near the end of the segment, CNN's Berman asked Herrod, whose group actively supports passage of the measure, whether the bill would allow a restaurant to ban a gay couple. Herrod repeatedly dodged the question, visibly frustrating CNN's anchors:
The bill allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination. It also allows the business or person to seek an injunction once they show their actions are based on a sincere religious belief and the claim places a burden on the exercise of their religion.
Opponents raised scenarios in which gay people in Arizona could be denied service at a restaurant or refused medical treatment if a business owner thought homosexuality was not in accordance with his religion. One lawmaker held up a sign that read "NO GAYS ALLOWED" in arguing what could happen if the law took effect, drawing a rebuke for violating rules that bar signs on the House floor.
Bill O'Reilly criticized the Girl Scouts for hiring a spokesman who, according to O'Reilly, is a member of a "controversial punk band with homosexual overtones."
During the February 19 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly interviewed Girl Scouts spokeswoman Kelly Parisi to discuss whether the organization had begun "leaning left." O'Reilly questioned Parisi about the employment of Josh Ackley, a spokesman for the organization that O'Reilly claimed was a member of "a controversial punk band with homosexual overtones":
O'REILLY: Let's get on to a spokesperson who I don't think works for you now but certainly did, was a member of a controversial punk band with homosexual overtones. ...[added space] When I saw that you guys hired, paid a guy in a punk band with homosexual overtones, I'm going 'is that a good choice for the Girl Scouts?'
O'REILLY: You then have to understand the flak when conservative Americans see a spokesperson for the Girl Scouts who is a member or was a member of a punk rock band with homosexual overtones. They're going 'what the deuce is going on?' Surely you understand that.
The spokesperson in question is Josh Ackley. Last December, Breitbart.com's go-to anti-gay extremist Austin Ruse published an article attacking Ackley for his involvement in a "homo-punk" rock band called The Dead Betties. The article was part of a smear campaign Ruse has led against Ackley since late 2011, in conservative publications like The Washington Times and National Review Online.
On February 18, O'Reilly picked up Ruse's efforts, mentioning Ackley by name while discussing whether the Girl Scouts had been taken over by "secular progressives."
It's not the first time O'Reilly has worried about homosexuality in a national scouting organization. In 2004, he said that it would be "impossible for... any children's organization to admit avowed homosexuals because of the potential liability."
Fusion's Alicia Menendez took Fox News to task for its response to the unveiling of Facebook's new gender options, asking the network "do you not have producers?"
During the February 18 edition of Fusion's AM Tonight, Menendez mocked Fox News' confused response to Facebook's announcement that it would allow its users to choose from a number of different terms to describe their gender:
MENENDEZ: Fox & Friends and enemies, you are totally right. That is hilarious and not at all complicated or sensitive. I am so sorry that Facebook assaulted your male/female, socialist/patriot, illegal alien/noble pilgrim paradigms. Now, let's get back to the business of dog weddings and mocking other disenfranchised people, shall we?
Fox News employees struggled to wrap their head around Facebook's decision to allow users to choose from a number of different terms to describe their gender, with one Fox News reporter asking "what if you identify as a pine cone?"
On February 13, Facebook announced that it would begin offering its users the ability to choose from a wider range of terms to describe their gender, including "transgender" and "cisgender." As Facebook software engineer Brielle Harrsion told the Associated Press, the change "means the world" to many Facebook users:
"All too often transgender people like myself and other gender nonconforming people are given this binary option, do you want to be male or female? What is your gender? And it's kind of disheartening because none of those let us tell others who we really are," she said. "This really changes that, and for the first time I get to go to the site and specify to all the people I know what my gender is."
At Fox News, the change was met with confusion and mockery. During the February 14 edition of Fox & Friends, several Fox News employees joked about the proposed changes:
Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes criticized the changes on his Facebook page, asking "what if you identify as a pine cone?":
It's not the first time the network has mocked attempts to properly identify transgender people. In 2011, Fox & Friends criticized the Australian government for offering alternate gender descriptions in passports. The network has a history of proudly misgendering transgender people, so it's no wonder that Facebook's move to better accommodate the transgender community is met with bewilderment on Fox.
CNN's Piers Morgan viciously lashed out at critics who accused him of sensationalizing an interview with transgender activist Janet Mock, making a number of personal attacks against transgender activists and dismissing his critics as hysterical, dishonest, and "stupid." His over-the-top reaction to criticism highlights that even LGBT-friendly journalists can do serious damage when they ignore the voices and concerns of LGBT people.
Following a February 4 interview with Mock about her new memoir Redefining Realness, Morgan was criticized for his overemphasis on Mock's body, physical appearance, and romantic relationships with men. Throughout the segment, on-screen text described Mock as being "a boy until age 18."
In an interview with BuzzFeed, Mock accused Morgan of "trying to do info-tainment" and criticized him for sensationalizing transgender people while avoiding a substantive discussion about her book - a sentiment that was echoed by many critics. Mock didn't accuse Morgan of being transphobic - rather, she challenged him for asking the same kinds of questions that are repeatedly used to objectify transgender people's bodies.
Morgan spent the next day lashing out at Mock and her supporters on Twitter, describing himself as an ardent supporter of transgender equality. That night, Morgan invited Mock back on his show for an interview during which he repeatedly played the victim, talked over Mock, and refused to apologize for his comments:
Following the interview, Morgan hosted a panel discussion between three cisgender people, two of whom ridiculed Mock for criticizing Morgan's actions.
The entire incident demonstrates that even well-intentioned journalists can do serious harm when they react defensively rather than listen to criticism from marginalized groups. Morgan's behavior illustrates exactly how journalists - and especially self-identified LGBT allies - should not behave when being criticized for problematic coverage of LGBT issues:
After being criticized by a transgender activist for being disrespectful toward transgender people, CNN's Piers Morgan allowed two panelists to make a series of transphobic remarks and attack the activist's character with impunity.
Morgan came under fire after a February 4 interview with transgender activist Janet Mock, who recently published her memoir, Redefining Realness. During the interview, Morgan fixated on the physical aspects of Mock's identity as a transgender woman and CNN included an on-screen description stating that Mock "[w]as a boy until age 18." Mock criticized Morgan for sensationalizing transgender people and misgendering her, prompting Morgan to lash out against her on Twitter, calling her "shameful" and a "coward."
On January 5, after a follow-up interview with Mock, Morgan invited a panel of three cisgender people to discuss the controversy. Two of the panelists -- CNN political contributor Amy Holmes and conservative commentator Ben Ferguson -- made a number of transphobic remarks and attacks on Mock's character, none of which Morgan corrected:
On Fox News, an Orthodox rabbi condemned the stars of A&E's Duck Dynasty for conflating anti-gay bigotry with religion, stating that "gay bashing is not religion." His comments made for an awkward moment on Fox, a network that has repeatedly tried to use Christianity and religious belief as a blank check for blatant homophobia.
During the February 4 edition of Fox's The Real Story, host Gretchen Carlson asked her "faith panel" to discuss a new church curriculum to be released by the family from A&E's Duck Dynasty, which was recently embroiled in controversy over homophobic comments made by patriarch Phil Robertson.
Instead of talking about the new Bible curriculum, Orthodox rabbi Shmuley Boteach criticized the Robertson family for having done "tremendous damage to religion" by conflating homophobia with religious belief:
BOTEACH: They've done tremendous damage to religion. We have to stop making religion in America about bashing gays. They have to just forswear that stupid comment about comparing homosexuality to bestiality. See, the problem in America is that we overlook all the heterosexual guys who are raping women 1 in 5 on the campus. We saw this terrible statistic that in Alaska-
BOTEACH: Bashing gays is not religion. What is religion is family dinners and combating the divorce rate.
No network more badly needs to heed Boteach's advice than Fox News, which regularly uses Christianity and religion to give anti-gay rhetoric a free pass. In the wake of the Duck Dynasty star's anti-gay comments, Fox News employees rushed to defend Robertson, describing his homophobia as "old fashioned traditional Christian sentiment and values." Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes called Robertson's critics "anti-Christian haters."
Excusing anti-gay extremism as religious belief has been a favorite Fox pastime since before the Duck Dynasty controversy, though. The network has described some of the country's most notorious and extreme anti-gay hate groups as nothing more than Christian organizations. Fox regularly depicts non-discrimination efforts to protect LGBT people as attacks on faith and Christianity. Even when directly confronted with anti-gay hate speech used by religious conservatives, Fox prefers to label bigotry as nothing more than part of a "Christian world view."
Rabbi Boteach is right to criticize the Duck Dynasty family for using religion to justify homophobia, but it's the anti-gay apologists at Fox News who've helped blur the line between sincere religious belief and toxic anti-gay rhetoric.