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:
During the February 26 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes, Hayes similarly noted ADF's involvement in crafting SB 1062. Hayes' investigation went further, exposing the group's history of extreme anti-gay activism, including ADF's effort to help criminalize homosexuality in Belize:
Again, ADF refused to participate in Hayes' segment.
Both segments came after a February 24 interview on CNN's New Day during which anchor Chris Cuomo grilled an ADF spokeswoman over her organization's anti-gay record, saying "your organization has a history of trying to hedge the ability to deal with gay marriage and gay rights in the country. All somebody has to do is, you know, Google your organization."
These efforts to highlight ADF's involvement in SB 1062, as well as the anti-gay animus that motivates ADF's work, stands in sharp contrast to the kind of coverage that these kinds of groups typically receive in mainstream media. Rather than exposing anti-gay groups involved in culture war debates, news outlets have a tendency to whitewash opponents of LGBT equality, depicting them as little more than mainstream Christian conservatives.
That kind of whitewashing isn't just incomplete reporting - it's actively misleading. Accurately identifying the groups and spokespersons pushing for anti-gay measures is a crucial part of helping the public distinguish between credible and untrustworthy sources of information.
There's a reason that ADF, which has been more than happy to appear on Fox News and tout the importance of its "religious liberty" campaign for months, was suddenly so wary of appearing on CNN and MSNBC. Anti-gay groups don't want news outlets exposing the anti-gay animus that motivates their work.
MSNBC and CNN's decision to shine a light on that animus demonstrates the influence that media outlets can have in clarifying messy culture war battles, even if just by identifying the combatants.