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.
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."