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."
The Associated Press and CNN recently debunked an op-ed featured at The Daily Caller that suggested a recent ammunition purchase by the Social Security Administration evidenced an Obama plot to kill American citizens en masse. The bizarre theory is hardly the first conspiratorial idea to be promoted on the opinion page of The Daily Caller.
In an April 5 Washington Times column headlined, "Marching in lockstep with homosexual agenda," Robert Knight fearmongered over the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," writing that GOP congressmen asked during a recent hearing "questions that revealed the military is clueless about how much this will hurt readiness, retention, morale and recruitment." Knight further wrote: "What if you don't respect your (male) commander for having sex with other men or wearing a dress and pumps while on leave?"
From Knight's column:
"We used to conform behavior to the military. Now we're conforming the military to behavior."
Rep. Allen B. West, Florida Republican, belled the cat neatly during a hearing last Friday on the military's breakneck pace in implementing the new lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) law.
Mr. West, whose 20-plus years in the U.S. Army included combat commands, noted that he and others at Fort Bragg had to endure "sensitivity training" in the 1990s. It didn't enhance the "warrior ethos," he recalled.
What became clear at the hearing of the House Armed Services Committee's Personnel Subcommittee chaired by Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican, is that the Pentagon is forging into unknown territory, driven by political correctness, not military need.
On the other side, Mr. Wilson, joined by Rep. Vicky Hartzler, Missouri Republican, Rep. Austin Scott, Georgia Republican, Mr. Coffman and Mr. West asked questions that revealed the military is clueless about how much this will hurt readiness, retention, morale and recruitment.
Both Mr. Stanley and Adm. Gortney insisted that chaplains and others troubled by the new policy will face no repercussions. Sure they won't. Adm. Mullen has already invited anyone who disagrees to leave the military.
"We're not asking anyone to change their beliefs, just treat everyone with respect," Adm. Gortney said. What if you don't respect your (male) commander for having sex with other men or wearing a dress and pumps while on leave?
From the January 21 broadcast of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:
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During the debate over repealling the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) policy, several conservative media figures argued that the policy should remain intact because it was working. For example, in an editorial headlined "Don't Mess With Success," Weekly Standardeditor Bill Kristol wrote that DADT was a "successful policy" and stated that it "works pretty well at accommodating the complex demands of a war-ready military nestled in a liberal society."
Well today we got confirmation of what we already knew, that arguments like Kristol's don't hold water. On January 20, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its report on the "Personal and Cost Data Associated with Implementing DOD's Homosexual Conduct Policy," and found that 39 percent of the military personal discharged becuase of the policy "held critical occupations," but even that number "could be an underestimation:"
According to GAO's analysis of Defense Manpower Data Center data, 3,664 servicemembers were separated under DOD's homosexual conduct policy from fiscal years 2004 through 2009. Of the 3,664 separations, 1,458 of these separated servicemembers held a critical occupation or an important foreign language skill as determined by GAO and the services. More specifically, 1,442 (39 percent) of the servicemembers separated under the policy held critical occupations, such as infantryman and security forces, while 23 (less than 1 percent) of the servicemembers held skills in an important foreign language, such as Arabic or Spanish. Seven separated servicemembers held both a critical occupation and an important foreign language skill. However, the number of separated servicemembers with critical occupations could be an underestimation because of a number of factors. For example, the Air Force provided the occupations eligible for enlistment bonuses from fiscal years 2006 through 2009, but could not provide this information for fiscal years 2004 and 2005 because the Air Force's data were incomplete.
Additionally, the GAO calculated that it cost the military $193.3 million to "separate and replace" the officers discharged.
Using available DOD cost data, GAO calculated that it cost DOD about $193.3 million ($52,800 per separation) in constant fiscal year 2009 dollars to separate and replace the 3,664 servicemembers separated under the homosexual conduct policy.
Kristol recently wrote that while he still opposes repealing the policy, he believes conservatives who are "hyperventilating" should "cool it," because the troops will be handle the "burden" the repeal places on them. Actually, as the GAO confirmed yesterday, it was the policy that was the "burden" on the military, and fortunately, thanks to Congress' actions, they won't have to handle it much longer.
Continuing its tradition of anti-gay rhetoric, The Washington Times has responded to the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by publishing numerous homophobic editorials and op-eds.
Among the most controversial reactions to the landmark repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was a recent column at WorldNetDaily by Joseph Farah, in which he essentially urged soldiers and those interested in becoming soldiers not to serve in the U.S. Military.
"As much as I respect and admire the U.S. military as an institution, I would find myself actively encouraging men and women to leave - in droves," Farah, who oversees the well-read site, wrote in the column posted December 17 before the repeal occurred.
"If the U.S. military is going to be transformed into just another tool of twisted social engineering, rather than a force designed to defend America's national security interests, dedicated, brave and upstanding young men and women should no longer participate of their own free will," Farah added. "It's just that simple. Let the politicians cobble together a military of social deviants if they think they can."
The column drew several critical responses from those in the news business and those who follow military and gay rights issues, ranging from one who called it "irresponsible" to another describing it as "disgusting bigotry."
Mike Triplett, vice president of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and top blogger on the group's website, blasted Farah's column.
"It is clearly, incredibly irresponsible. This is a good example of the kind of irresponsible commentary that goes on so often in the conservative press," he said. "It is unfortunate that there is so much irrational vindictive inside the conservative press and that it gets linked to by conservative bloggers and legitimate press. That is of greater concern, they are linked by more legitimate people."
Ashwin Madia, an Iraq War veteran and interim chairman of VoteVets.org, stated in an e-mail response to the column:
"It's disappointing to hear someone demand that brave American men and women stop serving their country because of his blind hatred for a particular group of people. Fortunately, those who have served in today's military - including leadership from every branch - are rightfully confident that every survey of service members is correct and this repeal will have little effect on recruitment, retention, and readiness."
He also added, "...the disgusting bigotry of Mr. Farah makes very clear who has rightfully earned the title of 'social deviant.'"
Col. Dave Lapan, a U.S. Department of Defense public affairs officer, dismissed Farah's column.
"We see editorials and opinions all the time and people are free to have opinions," Lapan said. "I would suspect that most people in the military are serving for other reasons and wouldn't listen to that type of admonition for people.
"The military is, if nothing else, a meritocracy, people advance because they are good at what they do, regardless of where they grew up or what gender they are or what racial group they grew up with."
Lapan added: "Historically, when other militaries have made this change, those who reported that the change would cause them to either leave the service or not join the service severely overestimated what actually happened in practice. Very small numbers actually followed through on that."
Jarrod Chlapowski, field and development director of Service Members United -- the largest gay and lesbian troop organization - said predictions of military problems are unfounded.
"They made much more dire predictions about white soldiers leaving the military during the integration of African-Americans in the military and it did not occur," said Chlapowski, an Army veteran who served from 2000 to 2005.
He said reactions like Farah's are not a surprise, but hardly the majority viewpoint: "We won our biggest gay rights victory yet and this is what you will see. Yes, the media should not be advocating something that is clearly wrong and incorrect, but it is an opinion column and he is entitled to it. The implementation of the repeal will be the best education in that regard, it will demonstrate that it is not an issue. We are at a point where we are not arguing for repeal, it is actually happening."
From the December 22 broadcast of MSNBC's live coverage of the DADT repeal:
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From the December 20 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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From the October 11 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann
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From the November 30 edition of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360:
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In a Washington Times op-ed, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins falsely suggested that repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" lacks support from military officials and the public. In fact, numerous military officials and an overwhelming majority of Americans support repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Fox News host and admitted Iran/contra liar Oliver North shot a video for the notoriously homophobic Family Research Council in which he hammers home one piece of right-wing misinformation after another regarding the military's anti-gay "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy.
In North's warped view, repealing DADT will keep recruits who choose the bible over porn from signing up to serve their country. Riiiiiiight...
UPDATED BELOW WITH STATEMENT FROM CNN
On July 7, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr discussed with anchor Drew Griffin the Pentagon's survey of 200,000 active duty troops and 200,000 reserve troops concerning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
Here is the segment as captured by a YouTuber:
As Pam Spaulding points out on her blog, in the video clip above Starr lays out the rationale for a survey that asks such questions as if active duty and reserve troops would feel comfortable in the showers with openly gay or lesbian service members.
Oddly enough, a portion of the segment that aired was removed before it went up on CNN's website. The section in question has Griffin pushing back rather hard asking Starr:
Why do they care -- these joint chiefs -- these guys are paid to make decisions. Why are they sending out this public relations survey asking whoever wants to respond to this and supposedly going to use this to make a decision on this?
The CNN.com version of the segment:
As Spaulding notes:
Why? There's no real reason to do so, as it's a web clip, so time constraints aren't relevant. What editorial judgment was made that Griffin's interest in a logical reason for the survey is not newsworthy to readers of CNN's web site?
It's a good question worthy of an answer from a cable network that spent much of June promoting its Gay in America special coverage focusing on the LGBT community.
CNN provided Media Matters with the following statement this evening:
CNN didn't edit out the question from Drew Griffin for editorial reasons. Sometimes we edit clips to a certain length because shorter clips tend to do better online. Drew was questioning a CNN correspondent and not a guest. If it were a guest or person who did the study, we would have certainly posted the segment in its entirety. The full segment is now streaming.
Much has been said of the right-wing media's deeply flawed coverage of efforts to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) -- but who does the traditional media turn to in its reporting on the subject? According to a study by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), it's not the LGBT community.
In a guest-post on Pam's House Blend blog, FAIR's Julie Hollar writes (emphasis added):
After months of pressure from activists to make good on his campaign promise, Barack Obama called for a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in his January 27 State of the Union address. Less than a week later, Adm. Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate committee hearing on February 2 that repealing the policy that prevents gay men and lesbians from serving openly was "the right thing to do."
As the story made the rounds on television, the most striking thing about the conversation was who wasn't in it: the people at the center of the debate.
Yet in the four weeks following Obama's call (1/28/10-2/24/10), only three of 25 sources commenting on DADT on ABC, CBS and NBC-one on each network-were identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or representing an LGBT organization.
It should come as no surprise, then, that instead of stories about the discriminatory nature of DADT, viewers largely heard a debate about whether the "timing is wrong" or the repeal would undermine "military cohesion." And even though the repeal is remarkably non-controversial at this point, with recent polls showing as much as 75 percent of the public in favor (ABC/ Washington Post, 2/4-8/10), many in the corporate media did their best to turn it into a political football.
So, while conservative media figures fill airtime pushing discredited myths and falsehoods designed to stop a repeal of DADT, the traditional media nearly ignores the very people impacted by the policy.
Does that make sense or what? Sigh.
Don't forget, following President Obama's State of the Union address, Media Matters' noted that LGBT voices were largely absent from the post-speech analysis. This despite Obama's call for a repeal of DADT which was reported on in advance of the actual address giving outlets plenty of time to book LGBT guests to discuss the subject.