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.
A Michigan pediatrician refused to work with the baby of a same-sex couple, citing her anti-gay religious beliefs. It's another case that highlights the potential dangers of conservative media's campaign to champion "religious freedom" in the face of anti-gay discrimination.
In October of 2014, Krista and Jami Contreras brought their six-day-old baby Bay Windsor to meet her pediatrician, Dr. Vesna Roi at Eastlake Pediatrics in Roseville, Michigan. The couple, who legally married in Vermont in 2012, soon discovered that Roi had refused to come into the office and see them, citing her religious beliefs. The couple was instead met by a different pediatrician, who they had not selected.
Four months later, they received a letter from Roi apologizing and explaining her decision:
After much prayer following your prenatal, I felt that I would not be able to develop the personal patient doctor relationship that I normally do with my patients. I felt that was not fair to the two of you or to Bay.
Please know that I believe that God gives us free choice and I would never judge anyone based on what they do with that free choice.
The Contreras incident is yet another example of the dangerous consequences of right-wing media's campaign to justify anti-gay discrimination under the banner of religious liberty. For years, conservative media have used "religious liberty" as a rallying cry while lobbying against basic legal protections for LGBT people. Now, in the face of a potential Supreme Court loss on the issue of same-sex marriage, "religious liberty" has become the central argument for a number of state RFRA bills promoted by right-wing media that would greatly expand the right of businesses and individuals to refuse service to LGBT people on religious grounds.
Roi's refusal to work with the Contreras family is not illegal - though it does violate the rules of the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, which both strongly oppose discriminating against patients on the basis of sexual orientation. Nor is what happened to the Contreras family an isolated incident. Studies have found that LGBT people face high rates of discrimination in health care, especially in states that have adopted "broad religious exemptions" from medical non-discrimination laws:
Conservative media have endlessly peddled horror stories of wedding photographers, florists, and bakers who were legally prohibited from refusing to offer their services for same-sex wedding ceremonies. But as the Contreras family's experience demonstrates, the right-wing insistence on broad religious liberty protections could impact far more than just same-sex weddings.
Experts in journalism ethics have criticized NOLA.com's repeated misgendering of Penny Proud, a transgender woman who was shot and killed in New Orleans this week, calling it "dismissive" and "inflammatory."
NOLA.com has come under scrutiny for its coverage of the murder of Penny Proud, a transgender woman in New Orleans who was shot and killed in New Orleans on February 10. Some of the site's initial reports referred to Proud as a "male" and a "man" while focusing on where Proud was shot, noting that the area has a reputation for prostitution and drug use.
NOLA.com, along with The Times-Picayune, is owned by the NOLA Media Group Division of Advance Publications. The website also serves as a hub for Times-Picayune's online content.
Misgendering a transgender person violates journalistic guidelines established by the Associated Press, New York Times, GLAAD, and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, which all instruct journalists to refer to transgender people by their preferred pronouns.
NOLA.com's coverage has since been updated to accurately identify Proud as a transgender woman, citing "new information from NOPD," which identified Proud as a male in its initial press statements.But in an interview with BuzzFeed, NOLA.com reporter Prescotte Stokes III defended his decision to misgender Proud:
In a phone call with BuzzFeed News, Stokes explained that he chose how to report his story after speaking to people in the area who may have known Proud.
"They called her a girl but said he was a man," said Stokes "I assume he parades around as a transgender woman, but he is actually a man.
In comments to Media Matters, experts in journalism ethics criticized NOLA.com's repeated misgendering of Proud.
Conservative media have been quick to use "religious liberty" as an excuse for forgiving all kinds of homophobic rhetoric in the public square. But an employment discrimination complaint against Ford Motor Co. reveals the ugly logical conclusion of the right's conflation of Christianity and anti-gay bigotry.
Conservative media have worked to conflate blatant homophobia and mainstream Christianity, usually in order to defend prominent right-wing homophobes. For instance, Fox News figures rallied to the defense of the Benham brothers, whose HGTV reality show was canceled in May after their history of bigotry was exposed. Fox host Megyn Kelly claimed that while "gay rights are more and more protected in this country," the same didn't hold for "Christian beliefs and Christian rights." Similarly, Sean Hannity deflected criticism of the homophobia expressed by Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson, excusing it as nothing more than "old-fashioned, traditional Christian sentiment and values."
In keeping with that reasoning, a Michigan man named Thomas Banks filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on January 28 against his former employer, Ford. Banks was fired in August after he allegedly violated Ford's anti-harassment policy. According to the EEOC complaint, Banks responded negatively to a shared online article outlining Ford's LGBT-inclusiveness:
For this Ford Motor should be thoroughly ashamed. Endorsing and promoting sodomy is of benefit to no one. This topic is disruptive to the workplace and is an assault on Christians and morality, as well as antithetical to our design and our survival. Immoral sexual conduct should not be a topic for an automotive manufacturer to endorse or promote. And yes - this is historic - but not in a good way. Never in the history of mankind has a culture survived that promotes sodomy. Heterosexual behavior creates life - homosexual behavior leads to death.
Banks is being represented by the anti-LGBT legal group Liberty Institute, which claims that Ford Motor Co. violated Bank's religious liberty by punishing him for his "sincerely held religious beliefs." The Liberty Institute actually cites Banks' "sincerely held religious beliefs" seven times in the first two paragraphs of its complaint:
UPDATE: Starnes' post now includes an "Editor's Note" correcting the inaccurate $200,000 figure:
Editor's Note: A previous version of this column stated that the Kleins could face a fine of at least $200,000. However, an attorney for the bakers says the actual amount is at least $150,000.
In fact, $150,000 is the most the Kleins could face in fines - a maximum of $75,000 per person suing. No ruling on amounts has been made. The incorrect figure remains unchanged in the body of the post.
Fox News' Todd Starnes falsely reported that the Oregon bakers who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple could face up to $200,000 in fines, badly misinterpreting local reports about the case, according to the state's Bureau of Labor and Industries.
On January 29, an administrative law judge in Oregon rejected a request from the lawyers representing Sweet Cakes by Melissa to dismiss a discrimination complaint filed against shop owners Aaron and Melissa Klein. The case has been ongoing since early 2013, when the bakers refused to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in violation of the state's non-discrimination law. A March 10 hearing will determine what damages the couple is owed.
On February 3, Fox News reporter and serial misinformer Todd Starnes published his report on the Kleins' failed attempt to have the complaint dismissed, stating that the bakers could face $200,000 "in fines and damages":
An Oregon administrative law judge ruled on Jan. 29 that the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa did, in fact, discriminate in 2013 when they declined to provide a wedding cake for a lesbian couple because it would have violated their Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage.
The judge's ruling paves the way for a March 10 hearing at which the Christian business owners could be ordered to pay $200,000 in fines and damages.
Starnes' "$200,000" number is a blatant misreading of the original Oregonian report he cites. In actuality, it was the anti-gay bakers who were asking the judge for $200,000 in damages, court costs, and attorney fees:
An administrative law judge has rejected an attempt by lawyers representing the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa to dismiss the case and award them $200,000 for damages, court costs and attorney fees.
The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) investigators involved in the case have actually recommended that the bakers pay $75,000 in damages per person.
In a statement to Media Matters, BOLI Communications Director Charlie Burr confirmed that Starnes' reporting was false:
Todd Starnes is writing that the bakery owners face fines of up to $200,000 in damages. That's false. In fact, it's the Kleins who have asked for $200,000 in damages from our agency for our enforcement of the Equality Act. We rejected the request due to jurisdictional issues.
The agency's prosecution unit is seeking up to $75,000 per person in damages, but no ruling on amounts has been made. [emphasis original]