Fox News host Megyn Kelly attempted to whitewash the record of one of the country's most prominent anti-gay hate group leaders, ignoring his history of extreme bigotry towards the LGBT community.
During the April 3 edition of America Live, Kelly hosted Tony Perkins - president of the anti-gay hate group the Family Research Council (FRC) - to discuss the faux controversy surrounding comments made by Reverend Luis Leon during this Easter service attended by President Obama. During his homily, Leon highlighted examples of discrimination that he felt were promoted by the religious right:
It drives me crazy when the captains of the religious right are always calling us back ... for blacks to be back in the back of the bus ... for women to be back in the kitchen ... for immigrants to be back on their side of the border.
Kelly rejected the idea that Perkins and other "captains" of the religious right held bigoted and extreme views about the gay community:
KELLY: Tony Perkins, who is president of the Family Research Council. He is on as a captain of the religious right, who we believe is one of the ones being attacked by the reverend in that sermon.
KELLY: Tony, how alienating is that for you? As somebody who's been openly religious and a Christian conservative, to hear folks who believe as you do, that what you really want is you want blacks on the back of the bus, you want women back in the kitchen, you want gays in the closet, and you want immigrants back on their side of the border?
KELLY: It seems like some have given a pass to those who would criticize Christians, conservative Christians and their views on gay marriage, for example, because they just say, 'look, you are just bigots. That's just all there is to it. You're bigots if you're not behind gay rights and that's the civil rights issue of our time and therefore if you're on the wrong side of it you deserve to be condemned.'
PERKINS: Well, as was stated, he rolled into this statement he made on Sunday some very, very loaded language to portray those who would be against the redefinition of marriage as if they were bigots that wanted to see African-Americans at the back of the bus and women back in the kitchen. As Cal [Thomas] said, I don't know what time capsule he came out of, but clearly he is not able to discern the difference between those issues.
But if Leon's comments apply to anyone on the religious right, it's Tony Perkins.
NBC News correspondent Luke Russert challenged Family Research Council (FRC) president Tony Perkins over his views on same-sex parenting, pointing out that research used to back Perkins' claims is deeply flawed.
During the March 27 edition of MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Reports, guest host Russert invited Perkins to explain his views on the federal Defense of Marriage Act's (DOMA) constitutionality and the supposed harms of legalizing same-sex marriage. Perkins incorrectly asserted that the part of DOMA being challenged in court actually protected states' rights before going on to claim that studies showed children did best when raised by a heterosexual couple:
PERKINS: When you look at the amount of social science research that we have amassed over the last several decades, it's clear that kids do best with a mom and a dad ... The evidence does not suggest that children do best just with two parents or three parents. The evidence says a mom and a dad. So, from a public policy standpoint, our preference is that children have a mom and a dad.
After Russert pushed back against Perkins' claim, the two scuffled over a notorious study on same-sex parenting conducted by University of Texas associate professor Mark Regnerus:
RUSSERT: Yes, but there are studies also, especially from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which suggest that having a two-person home, even if it is a same-sex couple, is actually beneficial for children. So there are questions about your facts on that question. I'd like to ask you, though -
PERKINS: It's interesting that they failed to acknowledge one of the most widespread, deep surveys on that that Mark Regnerus did out of Texas. They completely ignored that, and of course the American College of Pediatricians -
RUSSERT: Right, but on that survey there was real questions about A its funding, which was done by some conservative backers, as well as the questioning methods, and we can have a research methods debate at another time.
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:
As the Boy Scouts of America considered lifting its ban on openly gay members, cable news network coverage of the story gave undue attention to the right-wing smear that exposing young boys to gay scout leaders would put them at higher risk of sexual abuse and/or assault.
The Family Research Council (FRC) has been one of the leading voices in the media condemning the effort to repeal the Boy Scouts' ban on openly gay members. FRC's talking points, however, are the same ones the organization used to lobby against the repeal of the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy - all of which turned out to be completely baseless.
Since news broke that the Boy Scouts would be reconsidering their ban on openly gay members, FRC has been making the rounds on mainstream media outlets warning that lifting the ban would heighten incidences of sexual abuse and undermine the organization's retention.
If FRC's talking points sound familiar, it's because they're carbon copies of the (thoroughly disproven) arguments the group used while lobbying against the repeal of the military's ban on openly gay service members.
Family Research Council (FRC) president Tony Perkins appeared on Fox News to warn that lifting the Boy Scouts' ban on gay members would expose scouts to higher rates of sexual abuse and molestation, after a week of making the rounds on mainstream media outlets to provide anti-gay commentary in the debate.
During the January 3 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ, Perkins repeated the widely debunked myth that allowing gay men to participate in the Boy Scouts would raise the risk of child sexual abuse in an interview with host Shannon Bream:
BREAM: How do you respond to those who say that the suggestion that somehow a gay scout master would be a threat to a child suggests that they would act inappropriately simply because of their sexual orientation, and they find that insulting?
PERKINS: Yeah, that's a good question, Shannon. Although there is a higher incidence of men who self-identify as homosexual who abuse children, not every homosexual is attracted to children. We've never said that, no one has ever said that. But let's be real. It doesn't pass the parent test. As a parent of three daughters, I wouldn't want my neighbor, who is a heterosexual, a man, camping out with my girls. So why would I want a man who is attracted to men camping out with my boys? [...]
BREAM: The Boston Globe had an editorial that said basically gay soldiers now serve openly in our armed forces, gay marriage is legal in a number of states. They say Eagle Scouts have been returning their badges in protest, that the country has changed and it's time for the Boy Scouts to change with that.
PERKINS: Well, first off, we're not talking about grown men, we're talking about children who are impressionable and cannot make informed decisions. That's why we treat them as children. And they're going to be in an environment where they are going to be secluded from their parents in many cases. And it's not just about scout leaders, it's about other scouts. Look, last fall the Boy Scouts were forced to release about 15,000 pages from what they call their "Perversion Files." They had identified between the 1960s and the 1990s, about 1900 individuals who preyed upon children. Now that was with the policy they had in place. They still had a problem and paid out millions of dollars. [emphasis added]
An Equality Matters report found that cable news outlets were lacking in their coverage of the reemergence of Uganda's proposed "Kill the Gays" bill - a measure that would put LGBT Ugandans at risk of suffering the death penalty.
During the December 5 edition of MSNBC's NOW with Alex Wagner, Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kenedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, warned that major media outlets weren't drawing enough attention to international human rights abuses, including Uganda's proposed anti-homosexuality bill:
KENNEDY: I think there is a tremendous amount of compassion and concern by ordinary Americans. I hate to say this on this TV show, but you're actually covering those issues. And a lot of places just aren't to the extent that they used to. So I think that's part of the problem.
Kennedy was right.
Since Uganda's Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga vowed in late October to bring the anti-gay law to a vote, cable news networks have spent just over 15 minutes covering the issue. Significantly more time was devoted to covering "Gangnam Style," a Korean pop song that went viral this summer:
Kennedy was also correct in noting the decline in coverage of Uganda's anti-gay bill in the years since it was first introduced. In 2010, when the "Kill the Gays" bill seemed near to becoming a reality in Uganda, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow ran multiple segments spotlighting the measure, noting its ties to prominent American evangelical leaders (and politicians) and grilling its supporters over their anti-gay extremism.
MSNBC spent less than five minutes discussing the bill over the course of two segments (including Kennedy's mention on NOW).
Fox News fared even worse, failing to mention the "Kill the Gays" bill even once over the course of the study.
Cable news networks could have easily picked up any of the several angles in covering the potential passage of Uganda's anti-homosexuality law. In November, Speaker Kadaga pledged to pass the law as a "Christmas Gift" to the measure's supporters. There's been significant confusion and misreporting over the measure's death penalty provision, as well as the scope of who could be targeted under the law. The U.S. State Department has warned Uganda about the measure, causing a rift between the countries.
And then, of course, there are the bill's ties to prominent members of the U.S. religious right. One such member is Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council (FRC), who in last month tweeted in support of the "Kill the Gays" bill, writing:
Perkins has previously denied supporting Uganda's "Kill the Gays" measure, while also claiming the FRC does not sanction other attempts to criminalize homosexuality. He's also a regular guest on all three cable news networks.
To see the full Equality Matters report, click here.
From the December 14 edition of CNN's Early Start:
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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."
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.