On Thursday, FoxNews.com published an article parroting right-wing criticisms of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over an allegedly "homoerotic" website it created to promote safe-sex practices among gay men. According to FoxNews.com:
The National Institutes of Health has spent millions of dollars over the past decade to fund the construction of an HIV-prevention website that, among other sexually explicit features, includes a graphic image of homosexual sex and a Space Invaders-style interactive game that uses a penis-shaped blaster to shoot down gay epithets.
[T]he site used unorthodox methods to get subjects' attention and keep them interested. The site includes pornographic images of homosexual sex as well as naked and scantily clad men. It includes several risqué interactive features, like the Space Invaders-style arcade game.
Fox's reporting is based on complaints raised by the anti-gay hate group Traditional Values Coalition (TVC), which started complaining about the "gay porn" website earlier this week. The article quotes TVC president Andrea Lafferty, who condemned the funding of "cockamamie grants" during tough economic times.
The FoxNews.com article prioritizes focusing on the "homoerotic" aspects of the website – and that lens seems to have trickled down to the rest of the network. Fox Nation quickly picked up the story:
Fox's obsession with gay pornography, of course, wildly misrepresents the purpose of NIH's "Sexpulse" website. The website is part of a broader effort to determine the effectiveness of internet-based interventions into public health problems. Far from being a "homoerotic" porn website, Sexpulse is geared towards encouraging safe-sex practices by using programming targeted at sexually active gay men. As the Star Tribune reported in 2008:
At first glance, Sexpulse looks like a sexually explicit gaming website, with provocative pictures of nude men, cartoons and cheeky icons. But it's not a game. Far from it.
The website, in development at the University of Minnesota, is the newest strategy to slow a second wave of the HIV/AIDS epidemic rising among young gay and bisexual men.
A lot of health education websites are "Debbie Downers," said Michael Allen, chief executive officer of Allen Interactions. The company is working with Rosser and other experts at the university to build the site. "They [other websites] are constantly trying to scare you or tell you how bad things are," Allen said.
Sexpulse is different. It's fun, funny and designed to change behavior both through education and boosting self-esteem, Allen said -- the model he uses for all kinds of e-learning.
"If we don't change people's behavior, we are not doing anything that matters," he said.
Sexpulse sports 14 compartments with titles such as Hit the Gym, addressing body image, and Sex Calculator, which helps the user understand what leads him to do something risky. There is a practice chat room with tools for teaching how to set expectations.
This isn't the first time that Fox has ginned up one of TVC's anti-gay meltdowns about NIH funding. Last July, the same FoxNews.com reporter, Judson Berger, peddled TVC's outrage over an NIH-backed study that allegedly focused on the penis sizes of gay men. TVC's criticism of the study was eventually determined to be both inaccurate and misleading, but that doesn't appear to have deterred Fox from relying on the group for its anti-gay horror stories.