When the Boy Scouts announced in late January that it would be reviewing its ban on openly gay members, it should have sparked a national conversation about discrimination against LGBT youth. Instead, mainstream media outlets allowed their coverage to be hijacked by anti-gay conservatives fear mongering that gay scout leaders might sexually abuse young boys.
In the week following the Boy Scouts' announcement that it would be reviewing its ban on gay members, cable news coverage of the story repeatedly forwarded the claim that allowing gay scout leaders would increase the likelihood of child sexual abuse. According to an Equality Matters report, over half of Fox News' and CNN's segments about the story included references to pedophilia:
The belief that gay men are more likely to be pedophiles than heterosexual men is one of the oldest and most damaging anti-gay smears in American politics. Despite being debunked by the American Psychological Association (APA) and a wide variety of child welfare experts, right-wing groups like the Family Research Council (FRC) continue to peddle the myth to mainstream media outlets, often citing a mountain of junk science in the process.
Unfortunately, some cable news networks took the bait. Fox News repeatedly raised the specter of sexual misconduct while covering the story:
CNN, on the other hand, opted instead to air segment after segment of hosts butting heads with anti-gay guests like FRC president Tony Perkins or Southern Baptist Convention spokesman Richard Land - both who, unsurprisingly, forcefully defended the "gays are pedophiles" myth:
These segments were typically devoid of credible commentary - only one CNN segment actually featured experts on child welfare - and occasionally devolved into "he said, she said" arguments between CNN's hosts and their discredited anti-gay guests.
In both cases, the networks allowed the debate about the Boy Scouts' ban to be co-opted by anti-gay zealots who were able to plant seeds of fear and anxiety in the minds of viewers. Instead of discussing the real, damaging effects of discriminating against young gay scouts, networks wasted their time rehashing an argument that hasn't been taken seriously by child welfare experts in years.
With the Boy Scouts' decision to postpone reviewing its gay ban until May, cable news outlets have a chance to decide how they'll cover the story once it makes national headlines again. They should resist the urge to follow groups like FRC down the anti-gay rabbit hole and instead focus their coverage on the real victims of the current policy.
To see the full Equality Matters report, click here.