He has ties to a white supremacist organization, a history of anti-gay extremism, and zero credibility as a political commentator, but Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins managed to use the GOP presidential primary to become a star on cable news networks.
Perkins is no stranger to the mainstream media. Though his organization was labeled an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 2010, he's made frequent appearances on cable news networks, commenting on issues ranging from same-sex adoption to Donald Trump.
According to an Equality Matters analysis, however, Perkins' cable news appearances skyrocketed during the 2012 GOP primary, allowing the hate group leader to become a near-constant source of right-wing campaign commentary. Perkins made a total of 56 appearances on cable news over the course of the primary, the plurality of which occurred on MSNBC:
These numbers don't include appearances that weren't related to the presidential election, like a CNN segment discussing what Jesus Christ would have thought about Occupy Wall Street.
The results also don't include the number of times the networks referenced or discussed Perkins' election commentary without actually hosting him on air. CNN alone did this 31 times during the primary.
The overwhelming majority of Perkins' appearances positioned him as a spokesperson for two groups of voters: social conservatives and evangelicals:
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.
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."
Conservatives are abuzz over a new study on same-sex parenting slated to appear in the July issue of Social Science Research. According to the study's lead investigator, associate sociology professor Mark Regnerus, children of heterosexual married parents score better on a number of measures of social, emotional, and relationship outcomes than the children of same-sex parents. Anti-gay groups like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and Family Research Council (FRC), along with conservative news outlets like National Review Online and The Washington Times, are hailing the study as proof of the dangers of same-sex parenting.
In reality, the study suffers from a number of serious methodological flaws, and the political motivations of its backers should raise concerns about the survey's findings.
1. The Study Doesn't Compare Married Gay Parents To Married Heterosexual Parents. One of the most obvious flaws of Regnerus's study is that it fails to compare married same-sex parents to married heterosexual parents. Instead, the study lumps together the children all family types that include a gay parent -- regardless of the family's structure, history, marital status, etc. -- and attempts to compare them to children raised in a "still-intact biological family" (IBF). As Slate's William Saletan wrote, this grouping method is extremely problematic:
This loaded classification system produced predictable results. In his journal article, Regnerus says respondents who were labeled GF [child of a gay father] or LM [child of a lesbian mother] originated most commonly from a "failed heterosexual union." As evidence, he observes that "just under half of such respondents reported that their biological parents were once married." Most respondents classified as LM "reported that their biological mother exited the respondent's household at some point during their youth." Regnerus calculates that only one-sixth to one-quarter of kids in the LM sample—and less than 1 percent of kids in the GF sample—were planned and raised by an already-established gay parent or couple. In Slate, he writes that GF kids "seldom reported living with their father for very long, and never with his partner for more than three years." Similarly, "less than 2 percent" of LM kids "reported living with their mother and her partner for all 18 years of their childhood."
In short, these people aren't the products of same-sex households. They're the products of broken homes. And the closer you look, the weirder the sample gets. Of the 73 respondents Regnerus classified as GF, 12—one of every six—"reported both a mother and a father having a same-sex relationship." Were these mom-and-dad couples bisexual swingers? Were they closet cases who covered for each other? If their kids, 20 to 40 years later, are struggling, does that reflect poorly on gay parents? Or does it reflect poorly on the era of fake heterosexual marriages?
What the study shows, then, is that kids from broken homes headed by gay people develop the same problems as kids from broken homes headed by straight people. [emphasis added]
2. The Author Admits The Study Doesn't Establish Causation Between Same-Sex Parenting And Negative Outcomes. Despite the right-wing media's celebration of the study, even Regnerus admits that none of his findings actually establish causation between same-sex parenting and negative outcomes for children. In response to a number of commentaries that will be published alongside his study, Regnerus wrote:
I recognize, with Paul and Cynthia, that organizations may utilize these findings to press a political program. And I concur with them that that is not what data come prepared to do. Paul offers wise words of caution against it, as did I in the body of the text. Implying causation here—to parental sexual orientation or anything else, for that matter—is a bridge too far. [emphasis added]
In the wake of President Obama's endorsement of marriage equality, right-wing media have criticized same-sex marriage by arguing that the children of heterosexual marriages fare better "economically, educationally, and emotionally" than children of same-sex partnerships. However, studies have shown that the "adjustment, development, and psychological well-being of children is unrelated to parental sexual orientation."
In the wake of President Obama's declaration of support for marriage equality and the passage of North Carolina's anti-gay marriage amendment, CNN broadcast a variety of segments focusing on the historic implications of this week's events. Three of CNN's most recognizable faces hosted Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council (FRC), to discuss the issue of same-sex marriage.
Although Piers Morgan, Wolf Blitzer, and Soledad O'Brien failed to identify Perkins as a hate group leader, they did challenge him on several of his anti-gay talking points. O'Brien and Morgan were particularly assertive in challenging his failed logic.
Watch Perkins being interviewed by CNN's Morgan on Tuesday:
Watch Perkins being interviewed by CNN's Blitzer on Wednesday:
Watch Perkins being interviewed by CNN's O'Brien on Thursday:
Hernon Graddick, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), published a column Thursday criticizing CNN's decision to welcome the hate group leader, arguing that the media needs to do a better job of providing context for Perkins' appearances:
[W]ith a wealth of political thinkers, analysts and strategists to go to -- why has CNN turned to Tony Perkins three times in the last few days to represent the "other side?" He was on with Piers Morgan Tuesday night to talk about the vote in North Carolina. He appeared with Wolf Blitzer Wednesday evening to talk about the President's support for marriage equality, and then was interviewed by Soledad O'Brien Thursday morning on the same topic.
All of this is fine, as long as Perkins is put into the proper context. Which he sort-of was by Morgan and O'Brien, but Blitzer didn't even come close.
Here's the crux of the problem -- and the exact reason why GLAAD's Commentator Accountability Project was born. Tony Perkins and others of his ilk cannot be used to exemplify those who simply oppose marriage equality. CNN is more than welcome to interview him on the issue of marriage equality, of course. His is unquestionably one of the loudest voices in the nation speaking about the issue.
But when Perkins gets interviewed, a responsible journalist needs to tell the audience exactly who Perkins is speaking for. Based on his own statements -- Tony Perkins represents people who believe supporting LGBT equality is akin to being a terrorist. Who believe marriage equality is the same as bestiality. Who say that gay people are "vile," "hateful," "spiteful" "pawns of the enemy." Tony Perkins does not represent people who oppose marriage equality. Tony Perkins represents those who oppose LGBT people -- period.
If CNN wants that side represented in this discussion, then Perkins is absolutely the right man for the job. But they need to make it clear to the audience that that's what he's there for. And by not doing so, they have not told the whole story.
On Thursday, MSNBC's Chris Matthews demonstrated a good example of how cable news hosts should handle Perkins when he appears on their shows.
During the May 10 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews invited Tony Perkins – president of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council (FRC) – and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) to discuss the issues of same-sex marriage and adoption.
Perkins' presence on MSNBC isn't surprising – the hate group leader has become a regular guest on the network over the past several months, and has typically been treated as a credible, uncontroversial political figure, especially on Hardball.
On Thursday, however, things were different.
For nearly 15 minutes, Matthews, with the help of Frank, grilled Perkins on his views on homosexuality, marriage equality, and same-sex parenting. Matthews challenged Perkins' anti-gay misinformation, held him accountable for past statements, and demonstrated how out-of-the-mainstream his extreme positions really are:
This is exactly the kind of interview that major news outlets should be conducting when dealing with someone like Perkins.
Instead of sitting idly by while Perkins peddled his anti-gay talking points, Matthews forced him to defend his positions under serious scrutiny. It's how responsible news anchors should strive to treat guests who have histories of promoting misinformation, and it's what audiences should expect to see when watching a serious political discussion.
Fox News' Todd Starnes has never shied away from aligning himself with some of the more extreme and fringe elements of right-wing politics. He's flirted with "birtherism," made inflammatory comments about Muslims and African-Americans, and accused the Obama administration of launching a war against Christianity.
Over the past few months, it appears that Starnes has taken up a new cause – using his position as a Fox News Radio reporter to give a voice to some of the country's worst anti-gay hate groups
Last December, Starnes appeared on the American Family Association's (AFA) "Today's Issues" radio show to promote his Fox News website, ToddStarnes.com. He was joined by Tony Perkins, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center-designated anti-gay "hate group" Family Research Council (FRC). During the segment, Starnes claimed that his website would act as a hub of "culture war stories" that would depict hate groups like FRC and AFA in a positive light:
STARNES: This is sort of a place in the Fox family, the Fox News family, that folks can go and find those culture war stories that we cover.... These are stories that resonate with patriotic, God-fearing, God-loving Americans. And I think when people see the stories in one spot, they really understand what's at stake and how thankful we are that there are organizations like the Family Research Council and American Family Radio that cover these issues. [emphasis added]
Perkins was thrilled, to say the least. He said he was "encouraged" by Starnes' reporting, praising him for "giving voice" to social conservatives who believe that Christianity is under attack:
PERKINS: That's the kind of stuff we like to see. And, this is what I think happens when these issues are talked about. Because in isolation, people think 'oh well, we're all by ourselves" and so they usually back down... But when people realize 'hey, this is a connected effort,' and 'we're not alone,' and people are standing up, it has an encouraging effect to it. And that's why I appreciate the work that you're doing, Todd. I know you're just reporting, but what you're doing is you're giving voice to a lot of Americans out there who are deeply concerned about the direction of this country and in particular this attack on Christianity. And I for one am encouraged by that. [emphasis added]
Starnes was serious about his pledge to mainstream and promote FRC. Since his AFA radio appearance, Starnes has frequently included comments from FRC spokespersons – including Perkins, Peter Sprigg, and Ken Klukowski – in his reporting.
The majority opinion did not hold that the Constitution requires all states to allow same-sex couples to marry. Instead, the decision held that a law that has no purpose or effect "other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians" violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.
The majority took great pains to explain the special circumstances in California that led to this decision. In California the state constitution previously allowed same-sex couples to marry. California then enacted a constitutional amendment that stigmatized same-sex couples by taking away the designation of marriage from their relationships, but the state -- by retaining a civil union law -- did not change any substantive legal rights involved.
In November of 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center listed the Family Research Council as an anti-gay hate group due to its "propagation of known falsehoods" about the LGBT community. Since being listed, however, FRC spokespersons have been invited 52 times to discuss issues ranging from the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," to the 2012 presidential campaign. Despite FRC's long history of producing anti-gay propaganda, every major news network has invited the group on national television while failing to acknowledge its hate group designation.
Lila Rose's James-O'Keefe-lite smear against Planned Parenthood has made its way onto daytime Fox News.
On today's edition of America Live, host Megyn Kelly hosted a debate over the video between the Family Research Council's Cathy Cleaver Ruse and syndicated talk show host Nancy Skinner. Before starting the debate, Kelly noted that Planned Parenthood did, in fact, alert the law enforcement about suspected sex trafficking. This, Ruse said, was entirely beside the point.
Here's the video:
KELLY: Cathy, let me start with you. Why does this pose a problem? Planned Parenthood has already come out and said, "We are the ones who caught on to the fact that something was amiss in these clinics and we are the ones who alerted the federal authorities to this problem."
RUSE: Well, Megyn, they're just trying to change the subject
Really? That's weird. Because I thought Planned Parenthood's response to suspected sex trafficking was the subject. Rose's whole thesis was that Planned Parenthood is willing to cover up child prostitution instead of reporting it to the proper authorities. Her hoax exposed, the fringe right-wing activist is now taking to Big Government to similarly brush aside the actual actions of Planned Parenthood.
If what Planned Parenthood did -- that is, alerting the FBI and quickly firing Woodruff -- doesn't satisfy Ruse, what will? It's almost like she'll take any excuse, no matter how tenuous, to slam the organization.
Author and advice columnist Dan Savage appeared Tuesday afternoon on CNN Newsroom to discuss two reports out this week by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC): The first updating its list of anti-gay hate groups and the second finding that LGBT Americans "are far more likely to be victims of a violent hate crime than any other minority group in the United States."
Savage -- the founder of the "It Gets Better Project" which aims to stem the recent tide of LGBT youth suicides -- took the interview with CNN's Kyra Phillips as an opportunity to jab CNN and other networks for providing a platform to anti-gay hate group leaders like the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins. As Savage noted in a blog post following the interview, Perkins' Family Research Council is on the SPLC's list of anti-gay hate groups. From the interview:
PHILLIPS: You know, it's difficult to say what would be a solution [to anti-gay hate crimes]. But, could we start with more hate crimes legislation where bullies are prosecuted more severely?
SAVAGE: We can start with that, we can also start with… really, we need a cultural reckoning around gay and lesbian issues. There was once two sides to the race debate. There was once a side, you could go on television and argue for segregation, you could argue against interracial marriage, against the Civil Rights Act, against extending voting rights to African Americans and that used to be treated as one side, you know, one legitimate side of a pressing national debate and it isn't anymore. And we really need to reach that point with gay and lesbian issues. There are no 'two sides' to the issues about gay and lesbian rights.
And right now one side is really using dehumanizing rhetoric. The Southern Poverty Law Center labels these groups as hate groups and yet the leaders of these groups, people like Tony Perkins, are welcomed onto networks like CNN to espouse hate directed at gays and lesbians. And similarly hateful people who are targeting Jews or people of color or anyone else would not be welcome to spew their bile on networks like CNN and then that really -- we really have to start there. We have to start with that type of cultural reckoning.
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins recently suggested that gay youths who committed suicide after being bullied were actually responding to their "despair" after being told by gay-rights groups that "they are 'born gay' and can never change." The FRC has long sought to minimize anti-gay bullying and attacked those who seek to stop it.