Fox News' Greta van Susteren last night became the sixth journalist to interview Mitt Romney without asking him about the conservative conspiracy theory alleging that the Muslim Brotherhood is using supposed ties to an aide for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to infiltrate the U.S. government. Two surrogates for Romney's campaign have defended that conspiracy during the past week, while Republican leaders like John Boehner and John McCain have condemned it.
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.
A network that employs one contributor who repeatedly threatened to pull a "gun" on government employees and another who praised U.S. Marines for apparently urinating on dead Afghans is now hosting discredited liar Andrew Breitbart to provide political commentary. CNN anchors previously said that Breitbart lacks credibility following his use of deceptively edited video to smear former Obama administration official Shirley Sherrod as a racist.
Breitbart has appeared on CNN four times this year, including interviews with the network's hosts Dr. Drew Pinsky and Piers Morgan in panel segments during their coverage of the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina and New Hampshire Republican primaries. Pinsky also hosted Breitbart on the January 20 edition of his show, Dr. Drew.
CNN is well aware of Breitbart's history of fabrications and his lack of credibility. After his infamous Sherrod smear unraveled, CNN's own Anderson Cooper calling his actions "a classic example of what is wrong with our national discourse." Cooper joined a wide array of media who criticized Breitbart's tactics and pointed to what Ben Smith called his "growing credibility problem."
As recently as last November, CNN's Don Lemon reported that a remark from President Obama had been "taken out of context" in an ad produced by Mitt Romney's campaign and commented, "for those on the right who are jumping on the lazy bandwagon, perhaps they should remember that context is everything. And there's always the videotape. Just ask Andrew Breitbart and Shirley Sherrod."
Even Morgan has said that it is "perfectly natural to be suspicious of Mr. Breitbart" and "understandable people might be at least skeptical" of his reporting "given his track record."
In 2010, ABC News drew widespread criticism, including from its own newsroom, after Breitbart's website reported -- and Media Matters confirmed -- that he would be providing analysis for the network during its election night coverage. ABC's George Stephanopoulos had previously called out Breitbart for pushing claims about Shirley Sherrod that were "clearly not true." The network subsequently announced that Breitbart would "not be a part of the ABC News broadcast coverage," but rather would be "participating in an online-only discussion and debate" for ABCNews.com. After many recriminations, with Breitbart saying he had been promised broadcast time and ABC responding that he had "exaggerated the role he would play," ABC dropped him from its elections coverage.
Surely CNN can also find a conservative to discuss elections who hasn't had his credibility rightfully criticized by the network's own anchors.