UPDATE: Starnes' post now includes an "Editor's Note" correcting the inaccurate $200,000 figure:
Editor's Note: A previous version of this column stated that the Kleins could face a fine of at least $200,000. However, an attorney for the bakers says the actual amount is at least $150,000.
In fact, $150,000 is the most the Kleins could face in fines - a maximum of $75,000 per person suing. No ruling on amounts has been made. The incorrect figure remains unchanged in the body of the post.
Fox News' Todd Starnes falsely reported that the Oregon bakers who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple could face up to $200,000 in fines, badly misinterpreting local reports about the case, according to the state's Bureau of Labor and Industries.
On January 29, an administrative law judge in Oregon rejected a request from the lawyers representing Sweet Cakes by Melissa to dismiss a discrimination complaint filed against shop owners Aaron and Melissa Klein. The case has been ongoing since early 2013, when the bakers refused to provide a wedding cake for a same-sex couple in violation of the state's non-discrimination law. A March 10 hearing will determine what damages the couple is owed.
On February 3, Fox News reporter and serial misinformer Todd Starnes published his report on the Kleins' failed attempt to have the complaint dismissed, stating that the bakers could face $200,000 "in fines and damages":
An Oregon administrative law judge ruled on Jan. 29 that the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa did, in fact, discriminate in 2013 when they declined to provide a wedding cake for a lesbian couple because it would have violated their Christian beliefs against same-sex marriage.
The judge's ruling paves the way for a March 10 hearing at which the Christian business owners could be ordered to pay $200,000 in fines and damages.
Starnes' "$200,000" number is a blatant misreading of the original Oregonian report he cites. In actuality, it was the anti-gay bakers who were asking the judge for $200,000 in damages, court costs, and attorney fees:
An administrative law judge has rejected an attempt by lawyers representing the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa to dismiss the case and award them $200,000 for damages, court costs and attorney fees.
The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) investigators involved in the case have actually recommended that the bakers pay $75,000 in damages per person.
In a statement to Media Matters, BOLI Communications Director Charlie Burr confirmed that Starnes' reporting was false:
Todd Starnes is writing that the bakery owners face fines of up to $200,000 in damages. That's false. In fact, it's the Kleins who have asked for $200,000 in damages from our agency for our enforcement of the Equality Act. We rejected the request due to jurisdictional issues.
The agency's prosecution unit is seeking up to $75,000 per person in damages, but no ruling on amounts has been made. [emphasis original]
The anti-gay hate group American Family Association (AFA) announced that Bryan Fischer -- the organization's most prominent face -- had been fired as the organization's director of issues analysis due to his years of inflammatory rhetoric. Fox News has a history of whitewashing Fischer's anti-LGBT extremism.
On January 28, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow reported that AFA had fired Fischer as the group's long-time director of issues analysis. In 2010, AFA was labeled an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, thanks largely to Fischer's extreme rhetoric about the LGBT community.
The announcement came in advance of a controversial AFA-sponsored trip to Israel that nearly 100 RNC members are scheduled to take this weekend. Fischer has made a number of disparaging comments about "counterfeit religions" and has repeatedly blamed gay men for the Holocaust:
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore praised a 1986 Supreme Court decision upholding anti-sodomy laws during a radio interview with a prominent anti-gay hate group.
On January 27, Moore wrote a letter to Gov. Roy Bentley recommending that he ignore a U.S. district court's decision striking down Alabama's same-sex marriage ban, in deference to Alabama law and "the Biblical admonition stated by Our Lord." The letter prompted the Southern Poverty Law Center to file a judicial ethics complaint against Moore for failing to "conform his conduct to the canons of judicial ethics" and ignoring the basics of "Constitutional Law 101" - that the judge "has himself taken an oath to uphold the federal constitution, even if there are other sources of authority he agrees with or prefers."
On January 28, Moore appeared on Washington Watch -- the radio show of the Family Research Council (FRC), a notorious anti-gay hate group -- to discuss the controversy surrounding his letter. FRC president Tony Perkins praised Moore for challenging the district court's decision, wrongly asserting that states aren't required to abide by pro-equality decisions made by federal courts other than the Supreme Court.
Moore went on to praise the Supreme Court's now-overturned 1986 decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld state laws criminalizing sodomy (emphasis added):
PERKINS: This has been happening in state after state. We've seen, you know, I think 23 or so states where judges have overturned votes of the people -- 21 states where they have overturned the vote of the people, substituting their view for the view of millions of Americans. What's it going to take to stop this?
MOORE: Well, I think, Tony, we need to wake up to what the Constitution says. And the danger of this is, if we let judges overturn the will of the people and do nothing about it and do not push that, then the United States Supreme Court turns around and says, "Well, now, 30 states have adopted this, and that's a majority of the people that want it." This should be brought out, because that is maybe what's going to happen. And in doing so, we're letting the judiciary run the country without constitutional authority. And that was exactly what the Supreme Court of the United States said in 1986 when they had a case in Atlanta, Georgia, Bowers versus Hardwick, and they refused to recognize sodomy as a right. And they said, "If we do so, we will become closest to illegitimacy." And then they said, "If we redefine a category of rights wrongfully, then we're attempting to rule the country without a constitutional authority." And I think that's what you're seeing here. You're seeing the Supreme Court intimate, in the cases they've had previously on this issue, and what the federal courts have picked up and started striking down all the traditional marriage laws of the states and people not reacting to it, not standing up against it, then the United States Supreme Court's going to take this case in April and simply say, "Well, we have all these states that have now adopted, or, you know, turned to same-sex marriage, so we're bound by it."
MOORE: And I think that's wrong, and I think this has to stop. And in Alabama, I'm simply doing my duty. I'm not doing anything to be noticed, which I've been accused of. I'm saying what the law is. The law is that they can't force their will upon us, because it doesn't affect our court -- our state court system. But when they try to make probate judges issue licenses, that is affecting our court system.
The Fox TV station in Houston has repeatedly mischaracterized the city's recently passed non-discrimination law in its reporting about a legal challenge against the measure, falsely stating that it would allow men to enter women's restrooms.
In May, the city of Houston approved the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of a number of characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Opponents of the ordinance, including the extreme Houston Area Pastor Council, collected signatures to put the measure up for a repeal vote, falsely claiming that HERO would let sexual predators sneak into women's restrooms while pretending to be transgender.
In its coverage of the legal proceedings, Fox's Houston affiliate has uncritically echoed the myth that HERO allows men to enter women's restrooms.
In a January 26 report, for example, reporter Damali Keith wrote:
Chances are you've heard of the fairly new Houston ordinance that allows transgender men to use women's restrooms among other things. Now a judge and jury will hear about the ordinance. Today is day one of a trial that names Mayor Annise Parker as a defendant.
The next day, Keith published another report suggesting that "transgendered men" would be allowed to enter women's restrooms:
The controversial equal rights ordinance came under fire when it was revealed as part of the measure transgendered men would be allowed to use women's restrooms. This petition is an effort to give Houstonians the right to vote on the ordinance.
Una estación de Houston afiliada a Fox ha caracterizado de manera errónea la recién aprobada Ley de No-Discriminación de la ciudad varias veces en sus reportajes acerca de una demanda legal en contra de la medida, afirmando falsamente que permitiría a los hombres entrar en baños de mujeres.
En mayo, la ciudad de Houston aprobó la Ordenanza de Igualdad de Derechos de Houston (HERO, por sus siglas en inglés), que prohíbe la discriminación en base a una serie de características, incluyendo la orientación sexual e identidad de género. Los opositores de la ordenanza, incluyendo el extremista Consejo Pastoral del Área de Houston, recogieron firmas para poner la medida a votación y así, derogarla, afirmando falsamente que HERO dejaría a los depredadores sexuales colarse en los baños de mujeres, fingiendo ser transexuales.
La ciudad determinó que los opositores habían presentado demasiadas firmas inválidas como para llevar la medida a votación, lo que provocó una demanda por parte de los opositores a la HERO, que se ha convertido en una batalla legal aún en curso.
En su cobertura de los procedimientos legales, la filial de Fox en Houston ha hecho eco del mito de que HERO permite que los hombres entren en los baños de mujeres.
En un informe del 26 de enero, por ejemplo, el reportero Damali Keith escribió:
Es probable que usted haya oído hablar de la relativamente nueva ordenanza de Houston que permite a los hombres transgénero utilizar baños de mujeres, entre otras cosas. Ahora, un juez y un jurado decidirán el futuro de la ordenanza. Hoy es el primer día de un juicio que tiene a la alcaldesa Annise Parker como demandada.
Al día siguiente, Keith publicó otro informe sugiriendo que a "los hombres transgénero" se les permitiría entrar a los baños de mujeres:
La polémica ordenanza de igualdad de derechos fue atacada cuando se reveló que, como parte de la medida, se le permitiría a los hombres transgénero usar baños de mujeres. Esta petición es un esfuerzo para darle a los habitantes de Houston el derecho a votar sobre esta ordenanza.
A number of cities in Texas have taken the historic step of passing non-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people, only to see those laws challenged by the extreme right-wing U.S. Pastor Council -- a group that has called Houston Mayor Annise Parker a "sodomite" and labeled gay people "forces of spiritual darkness."
On January 20, opponents of an LGBT non-discrimination law recently enacted in Plano, Texas, announced that they had collected enough signatures to put the measure up for a public repeal vote. The effort had been organized by the Texas Pastor Council, a group that's become a political force for anti-LGBT activists across the state.
In 2003, extremist Texas pastor Dave Welch founded the Houston Area Pastor Council (HAPC) "to bring a united, Biblical voice to the city, state and even nation." Though HAPC is described as an "affiliate" of the national U.S. Pastor Council (USPC) and Texas Pastor Council (TXPC), it's unclear if the organizations are actually distinguishable. All three are run by Welch, share the same website and contact information, and are often lumped together -- even on the USPC website.
Louisiana Governor and GOP presidential hopeful Bobby Jindal is the keynote speaker for a rally funded and organized by an anti-LGBT group that has blamed gay people for causing the Holocaust and advocated imprisoning homosexuals. So why isn't his appearance garnering national media attention?
On January 24, Jindal will keynote a six-hour prayer event at Louisiana State University called "The Response: A Call To Prayer For a Nation In Crisis." The event is sponsored and funded by the American Family Association (AFA), one of the most extreme anti-gay hate groups in the country. It's also being staffed by a number of notorious anti-LGBT activists.
The event has drawn protests from members of the LSU community. On January 22, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution expressing displeasure with the event, and a university spokesperson has clarified that the rental of an LSU facility "does not imply any endorsement."
Jindal has thus far dismissed criticism of the event, according to The Clarion-Ledger:
Asked if he agreed with the American Family Association's agenda, Jindal sidestepped that question and said, "The left likes to try to divide and attack Christians."
Jindal said the protesters themselves should consider joining the prayer rally. He said they "might benefit from prayer."
AFA's status as a hate group is largely thanks to the work of its spokesman, Bryan Fischer, whose anti-LGBT remarks go well beyond mainstream social conservatism. Fischer's inflammatory comments about gay people include:
As the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote in a 2011 report:
The AFA has been extremely vocal over the years in its opposition to LGBT rights, marriage equality and allowing gay men and lesbians to serve in the military. The group's arguments are filled with claims that equate homosexuality with pedophilia and argue that there's a "homosexual agenda" afoot that is set to bring about the downfall of American (and ultimately, Western) civilization.
The event is likely to attract widespread media attention - largely seen as a precursor to Jindal's eventual presidential run. Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched his 2012 presidential bid with a similar AFA-backed "Response" prayer event in order to reach out to social conservatives. But Perry's association with the extreme hate group wasn't scandalous enough for major media outlets that covered the event.
And aside from a few outlets noting AFA's "controversial" stances, national coverage of Jindal's association with the hate group has similarly been glossed over by the media. It's a stark contrast to the tremendous media attention surrounding GOP House Majority Whip Steve Scalise's infamous 2002 speech to a white nationalist group. When it comes to GOP politics, media outlets have a hard time seeing what's newsworthy about a hate group like AFA being used to cement the campaign of a potential presidential candidate.
Fox News Sunday will host a debate on same-sex marriage featuring a anti-gay hate group leader who's known for peddling lies and smears about the LGBT community.
On January 18, Fox News Sunday is scheduled to host a debate on same-sex marriage featuring Ted Olson, a prominent pro-equality attorney, and Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council (FRC).
According to a Fox News press release announcing the debate:
Both sides in the same-sex marriage debate are looking to the Supreme Court as it decides whether or not to weigh in on the issue. The High Court is set to discuss cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, and decide whether to rule on petitions challenging state bans on same-sex marriage. We'll debate what has become a key social issue within the country, exclusively with Ted Olson, former Solicitor General who served as Co-Counsel for the plaintiffs in Virginia's same-sex marriage case, and Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council.
Perkins's FRC was labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 2010 because it has often promoted smears and falsehoods about the LGBT community. Perkins' history of extreme anti-gay work is well documented: he's made a career of linking homosexuality to pedophilia and calling homosexuality a health risk.
TLC has created an arsenal of wildly successful reality television shows by sensationalizing the stories of unusual people. But what happens when the network's search for ratings gold comes at the expense of vulnerable LGBT people?
On January 11, TLC aired its controversial one-hour special, My Husband's Not Gay. The show followed the stories of four men who admit to being attracted to other men but choose - primarily for religious reasons - to pursue heterosexual relationships. LGBT groups like GLAAD called the show "downright irresponsible" for its promotion of the widely discredited idea that people can choose to not be gay. By the time the program aired, over 100,000 people had signed a Change.org petition calling for it to be cancelled.
TLC dismissed criticism of the program, stating that the network "has long shared compelling stories about real people and different ways of life, without judgment."
And it's not wrong. As The Atlantic's Emma Green notes, TLC has developed a reality TV line-up that revolves around sensationalizing unusual stories:
Inevitably, this controversy will win the show more viewers. Because this is what TLC does: It finds people living atypical lives - usually ones in tension with "progressive" cultural norms - and turns them into spectacle... This approach to programming succeeds, wildly, because it's a pure distillation of the appeal of reality television: self-righteous voyeurism.
The same can be said for TLC's obsession with the Duggar family - the extreme conservative stars of the network's wildly successful 19 Kids and Counting. The show's novelty comes from the Duggar's unusually "traditional" and religious values - especially with regards to sex.
But what happens when the desire to highlight "different ways of life" ends up mainstreaming virulent anti-LGBT ideologies?
An op-ed in The Daily Caller blamed the LGBT community for helping cause the tragic suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who took her own life after being rejected by her religious parents.
On Sunday, December 29, the 17-year-old transgender teenager took her own life by walking into traffic miles from her home in Ohio. In her suicide note, which she posted online, Alcorn described the difficult conditions she faced in her life: unaccepting parents, religious conversion therapy, and isolation from her peers.
Alcorn's death has become a rallying cry in the fight against transphobic discrimination and conversion therapy. LGBT youth raised in non-accepting religious families are much more likely to attempt suicide, and Alcorn's story is a heartbreaking example of the kind of anguish and hopelessness many LGBT youth experience when facing unwelcoming home environments.
But according to David Benkof in Daily Caller, it's the LGBT community that's to blame for Alcorn's suicide. In a January 7 op-ed titled "The LGBT Community's 'Suicide Strategy' Killed Leelah Alcorn," freelance writer David Benkof argues that Leelah killed herself in order to help advance the LGBT agenda:
Because Leelah's death (she was struck by a semi-trailer after stepping onto a highway) grew directly out of the LGBT community's longstanding rhetorical "suicide strategy," which goes something like this:
We need same-sex marriage because gay teens will kill themselves if they don't feel equal.
Leelah knew that the gay community habitually points to teen suicide as an impetus for social and political change. Sadly, she found meaning in trying to pitch in, hoping her death would further advance LGBT rights.
Leelah's death doesn't call for a retread of pro-gay advocacy. Instead, it should be a sober opportunity for the LGBT community to re-examine its suicide strategy, lest they continue to encourage more Leelahs.
Benkof goes on to argue that LGBT activists are "almost gleeful" about Alcorn's suicide because it gives them "one more opportunity to gather sympathy for their social and political goals."
In August, Benkof blamed the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell for the rise of rape in the military. As Media Matters has previously noted:
Benkof (formerly known as David Bianco) once identified as a gay man, but in 2003, he announced that he was actually bisexual and would abstain from sex with men for religious reasons. Since then, Benkof has been a vocal opponent of marriage equality. He has urged the LGBT community to "let go of their obsessive insistence on being treated equally at all costs," and opposed even basic non-discrimination protections as "a threat to marriage."