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.
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.
From the May 26 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom:
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The new ABC/Washington Post poll about public attitudes towards gays serving in the military contains an interesting data point: Not only do 77 percent of all Americans think gays should be able to serve openly, but 70 percent of white evangelicals agree.
Let me say that again: 70 percent of white evangelicals think gays should be able to serve openly in the military.
This should serve as a lesson for journalists who tend to treat Tony Perkins and Bill Donohue as representative of people of faith: They aren't. The Washington Post, for example, routinely presents Perkins and Donohue (not to mention Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck) as respectable spiritual leaders, omitting mention of their hateful and divisive behavior. The Post poll's finding that an overwhelming majority of even white evangelicals believe gays should be able to serve openly is yet another reminder that bigots like Perkins, Donohue and their ilk are granted a larger and more respectful media platform than is justified by either the merit or popularity of their views.
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.
From the December 9 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
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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.
As you probably know, the Washington Post has been taking some heat for declaring that gay suicide is a two-sided issue, in which a live chat with Dan Savage discussing homophobic bullying and ways to prevent gay youths from committing suicide needed to be balanced by Tony Perkins' anti-gay hysteria. And it seems as though Perkins' falsehood-laden, homophobic rant in the Post was not viewed favorably by the Washington Post's own editorial board member, Jonathan Capehart.
In his blog post, he seeks to explain White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett's admittedly poor choice of words in suggesting being gay was a "lifestyle choice." Capehart recently interviewed Jarrett and asked her about the "rash of nationally reported suicides of gay youth." While expressing her concern about these tragedies, Jarrett laments that these were "avoidable deaths," in which the youths were "driven to commit suicide because they were being harassed in school and driven to do something that no child should ever be driven to do. And in many cases, their parents are doing a good job, their families are supportive." She then mentions meeting the family of a gay Minnesota youth who recently committed suicide following relentless harassment from his peers. She said of his parents: "These are good people. They were aware that their son was gay. They embraced him; they loved him; they supported his lifestyle choice. But, yet, when he left the home and went to school he was tortured by his classmates."
Jarrett took a lot of heat for her wording, and the following day, Capehart allowed her to explain her remarks:
In a recent interview I was asked about the recent tragedies about gay youth who have committed suicide, and I misspoke when I referred to someone's sexual identity as a "lifestyle choice." I meant no disrespect to the LGBT community, and I apologize to any who have taken offense at my poor choice of words. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not a choice, and anyone who knows me and my work over the years knows that I am a firm believer and supporter in the rights of LGBT Americans.
Capehart took the opportunity to tie this all back to Tony Perkins, writing: "Yes, Jarrett made a mistake. But those who think she and the president don't care about the rights of gay men and lesbians, don't give a damn about bullying and the tragedies of gay youth suicides are wrong. Jarrett is no Tony Perkins. She is no bigot." The link, of course, goes to Perkins's Washington Post homophobic diatribe. Capehart titled his post, "Valerie Jarrett is no Tony Perkins." Perhaps someone should have run Perkins's column by Capehart before deciding to publish. It might have saved the Post from a pretty big headache.