Continuing the right-wing media's baseless attacks on anti-discrimination laws as assaults on freedom, National Review Online (NRO) conducted a one-sided interview with a baker about the alleged threat to liberty posed by having to treat gay customers the same as any other customer.
In an interview published on January 29, NRO editor-at-large Kathryn Jean Lopez spoke with Jack Phillips, owner of the Colorado bakery Masterpiece Cakes. In December, a Colorado administrative law judge found that Phillips had violated Colorado's anti-discrimination law when he refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple. Represented by the extremistAlliance Defending Freedom (ADF) - a group working internationally to criminalize homosexuality - Phillips has appealed the decision, charging that it violates his First Amendment right to religious liberty and compels him to communicate a message with which he disagrees.
Contrary to the assertions of Phillips and his ADF attorneys, anti-discrimination laws don't police private beliefs - religious or otherwise - but simply require businesses operating on the public marketplace not to discriminate against customers based on arbitrary characteristics like race, sexuality, or gender. But aside from perfunctory questions asking Phillips to respond to the other side, Lopez went along with the ADF's religious persecution narrative (emphasis added):
LOPEZ: What was your reaction to having a civil-rights complaint filed against you? Did you see yourself as a civil-rights violator?
PHILLIPS: It is shocking that the government has attempted to take away my freedom, and really the freedom of all Coloradoans, simply for declining to design and create a wedding cake for a marriage that is not even recognized in the state of Colorado. I am being punished for living and working according to my faith and the marriage laws of the state of Colorado.
LOPEZ: What does Christianity mean in your life? Why can't you leave it out of your cake-making?
PHILLIPS: As I have said before, I am a follower of Jesus Christ and I am called to obey Him and His teachings in all aspects of my life. I cannot leave my faith out of my cake art, nor should I have to in a free country. I love doing what God has designed me to do. A marriage between a man and a woman represents the relationship of Christ to His Church. There are few things more sacred. This is one of the reasons I love making wedding cakes and why I have such passion and skill when I create wedding cakes. My religious convictions motivate me to make great wedding cakes.
LOPEZ: Has this changed the way you look at the First Amendment and freedom?
PHILLIPS: The coercion favored by the government and the ACLU in the name of "tolerance" is a chilling and unprecedented attack on freedom. If anything, this has actually strengthened my commitment to the First Amendment and the principles upon which this country was founded.
LOPEZ: What's the future for freedom look like from where you're standing?
PHILLIPS: I am optimistic that the courts will uphold the law and the constitutions of the United States and the state of Colorado. This country was founded on religious liberty and freedom for all, and I do not see the government's efforts to take our God-given rights away succeeding in the long run.
Days before the world's attention turns to Russia for the launch of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, conservative website Breitbart.com touted Russian President Vladimir Putin's support for "Christian values," citing the country's ban on "homosexual propaganda" while ignoring the horrific consequences Russia's anti-gay laws have had for LGBT citizens.
On January 29, Breitbart highlighted a Washington Times report on Putin's recent criticism of the U.S. for its alleged drift away from Christian principles, a rhetorical broadside fired amid the Kremlin's larger push to impose a hardline interpretation of Orthodox Christianity on Russian society. Echoing Pat Buchanan's recent assertion that "Barack Obama's America" has taken the erstwhile Soviet Union's place as the evil empire of the world, Breitbart suggested that Putin's attack on U.S. secularism indicated that Russia and the U.S. had switched places (emphasis added):
Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the West, including the United States, for eschewing Christian values and opting instead for a "path to degradation."
In his State of the Nation speech last month, Putin asserted that, "Many Euro-Atlantic countries have moved away from their roots, including Christian values... Policies are being pursued that place on the same level a multi-child family and a same-sex partnership, a faith in God and a belief in Satan." Russia has adopted new laws that ban homosexual propaganda and criminalizes the insulting of religious sensibilities.
The law on religious sensibilities was approved in the wake of a protest in Moscow's largest cathedral by a female punk rock group, Pussy Riot. State-run television said the group's "demonic" protest was funded by "some Americans." Russia's newfound embrace of traditional values has prompted a rise in Orthodox vigilantism. Extreme groups such as the Union of Orthodox Banner Bearers, an ultraconservative faction who adopted a slogan "Orthodoxy or Death," are gaining prominence.
It was not that long ago that the United States was accusing Russia for being a "godless nation."
Breitbart went on to recite the Soviet Union's history of anti-Christian persecution. What the website seemed less interested in exploring was the persecution resulting from the country's crackdown on LGBT people and their allies. The "homosexual propaganda" ban Breitbart referred to could encompass positive depictions of LGBT people, displaying the rainbow flag, public displays of affection by same-sex couples, and even coming out as LGBT. Harrowing reports reveal how state-sanctioned homophobia has fueled a climate of increased anti-LGBT violence and vigilantism.
Breitbart, however, is more likely to cheer on the Kremlin's assault on LGBT human rights than to lay bare its terrifying consequences. The website's Austin Ruse has firmly established himself as one of the crackdown's foremost American conservative defenders, claiming that Russia's anti-gay laws are vital to "human rights" and protecting "the innocence of children." According to Ruse, Russia's persecution of gay people is part of a laudable effort to "resist ... the political movement to regularize and even celebrate" homosexuality.
With its latest report on "Russia's newfound embrace of traditional values," Breitbart has once again adopted language that sounds no different than that employed by the Kremlin to defend its war on LGBT human rights. Such whitewashing provides media organizations an example of what to avoid as they train their focus on Russia in the coming month.
With the Winter Olympics set to kick off in Sochi, Russia on February 7, the LGBT advocacy organization GLAAD has released a media guide for covering the upcoming games, stressing the importance of highlighting Russia's anti-gay crackdown and telling the stories of LGBT Russian citizens.
On January 29, GLAAD unveiled its Olympic Playbook, in conjunction with the group's launch of a Global Voices program designed to advocate for LGBT rights around the world via improved national and international media coverage. GLAAD offered media organizations a primer on Russia's anti-gay crackdown, noting that the country's ban on so-called "gay propaganda" could target favorable depictions of LGBT people, waving the rainbow flag, public displays of affection between same-sex partners, and simply coming out as LGBT.
Additionally, GLAAD noted that LGBT Russians suffer under laws clamping down on free speech and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive any foreign financing; such entities must register with the government as "foreign agents."
Continuing in the vein of GLAAD's longstanding mission to empower LGBT people through media accountability and story-telling, the organization urged media organizations covering the Olympics to:
GLAAD's advisory also listed "pitfalls to avoid," including:
Breitbart.com Editor-At-Large Ben Shapiro predicted that Hollywood - credited with shifting American public opinion in favor of marriage equality - will soon push sentiment the other way, asserting that the weddings of 33 same-sex and opposite-sex couples at the 56th annual Grammy Awards exposes the entertainment industry's "hatred of Biblical values."
In a January 29 TownHall.com column titled "How Hollywood Is Killing Same-Sex Marriage," Shapiro baselessly asserted that Americans were beginning to abandon their support for marriage equality, arguing that the Grammys ceremony marked a key turning point. Joining other right-wing media figures in blasting the ceremony, Shapiro criticized Hollywood's "perverted" concept of marriage and its "anti-Biblical" support for the "destruction of traditional values" (emphasis added):
This wasn't an argument for same-sex marriage. It wasn't even attractive image-making on behalf of same-sex marriage. It was hatred of Biblical values cloaked in pietistic nonsense.
Begin with the marriages themselves. The only rationale for getting married on the Grammys en masse would be either attention-seeking or spite toward Americans with traditional values, or both. Neither of these rationales scream "love," "commitment" or "societal building block."
Move on to the cheering audience -- a group of anti-marriage Hollywoodites who largely see the institution itself as patriarchal. The same folks standing up for same-sex marriage at the Grammys largely scorn the institution of marriage itself. The only time they embrace marriage is when it is being mocked, undermined or perverted. That's not a cuddly case for same-sex marriage.
But this is Hollywood unmasked: angry, vindictive, self-righteous, anti-Biblical. The case for same-sex marriage rests on an application of Biblical principle -- monogamy and commitment -- to actions condemned by Biblical text. For years, Hollywood was able to get away with perverting the Bible by ignoring it. But in its rush to congratulate itself for overthrowing Biblical values without a shot, Hollywood spiked the football and revealed its true agenda. And that agenda is not the agenda of tolerance for individuals, but an ugly agenda of unearned moral superiority via destruction of traditional values.
His latest bigoted tirade fits a pattern of homophobic statements on Shapiro's part. An outspoken critic of efforts to combat anti-LGBT bullying, Shapiro has also waged baseless attacks on the "tyranny" of anti-discrimination laws, warned that marriage equality would force churches to perform same-sex marriages, and touted Matthew Shepard Trutherism because he sees it as a convenient way of undercutting the LGBT's movement's "broader agenda."
Media critics on Fox News and CNN criticized a recent article that outed the inventor of a golf putter as a transgender woman. The two networks' history of problematic transgender coverage suggests that CNN and Fox could stand to take their own advice.
On January 15, the sports website Grantland published a lengthy article by Caleb Hannan about Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, the founder of Yar Golf and inventor of a "scientifically superior" golf club. In the story, which Hannan described as "the strangest story I've ever worked on," Hannan outed "Dr. V" as a trans woman. Hannan wrote that during the course of his reporting, Vanderbilt resisted his outing of her. At the end of the article, he revealed that Vanderbilt had killed herself.
Hannan's digging into Vanderbilt's personal life -- and his problematic framing of a transgender woman's identity as "strange" - sparked fierce criticism and generated questions about the role his invasive reporting may have played in Vanderbilt's suicide. On January 26, CNN's Reliable Sources and Fox's #MediaBuzz weighed in on the controversy, with hosts and panelists on both shows agreeing that Grantland should have consulted a trans person before proceeding with the article.
On Reliable Sources, host Brian Stelter invited ESPN.com's Christina Kahrl and GLAAD's Tiq Milan to discuss the story and the ethical questions it raised:
MILAN: What journalists can take away from this is exactly what [Grantland editor-in-chief] Bill Simmons said in his letter ... to consult with LGBT organizations like GLAAD or like the National Center of Trans Equality to see how to better -- what are the best practices to deal with situations like this.
STELTER: It goes back to one of these journalistic maxims that diversity is so important to have in newsrooms. But I wonder if that's easier said than done sometimes for these places. I think you made a point, Christina, that the article was being written for an audience that could have learned a lot about the transgender community if only the research had been done.
Meanwhile, on Fox's #MediaBuzz, host Howard Kurtz dubbed Grantland's story a "media fail":
Right-wing media figures condemned the weddings of 33 same-sex and opposite-sex couples at the 56th annual Grammy Awards, describing the ceremony as an attack on Christianity.
As NBC prepares to air the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, NBC Universal executives and reporters have vowed that the network's coverage won't ignore the draconian anti-gay laws signed by President Vladimir Putin last summer. What remains unclear, however, is whether NBC will draw attention to the involvement of American conservatives in shaping those laws.
As the Kremlin launched its anti-gay crackdown last summer, NBC News largely ignored the issue, even as it hyped the upcoming Winter Olympics. NBC's silence on Russia's law banning so-called "gay propaganda" - which the Kremlin followed by banning the adoption of children by parents from pro-equality countries - raised the question of whether the network's financial interests as the games' broadcaster would outweigh the imperative of informing viewers about egregious human rights violations against LGBT Russians. Still, NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus promised that NBC would "acknowledge" the crackdown. Meanwhile, assurances from anchor Bob Costas and NBC's hiring of New Yorker editor and respected Russia expert David Remnick seemed to indicate a commitment to covering the controversy.
What NBC hasn't made clear is whether it will highlight the intellectual and political involvement of several high-profile American conservatives in Russia's crackdown on LGBT citizens. Doing so may well engender hostility from certain political quarters, but telling the story is crucial to fully understanding how Russia arrived at its current point of horrific, state-sanctioned homophobic persecution.
According to information compiled by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and provided to Equality Matters, no fewer than 14 American conservative leaders have visited Russia to lobby lawmakers in support of the country's anti-gay legislation, lend their support to Russian social conservatives, and help plan for the 2014 World Congress of Families (WCF), an annual "pro-family" confab sponsored by the eponymous Rockford, IL-based group and slated to be held in Moscow from September 10 to 14.
Here are some of the most notorious ambassadors for homophobia.
Perhaps the most high-profile conservative to travel to Russia has been National Organization for Marriage (NOM) President Brian Brown. Right Wing Watch reported in October that Brown and a group French anti-gay activists traveled to Russia in June 2013 to support Russia's ban on gay adoption and adoption by any couple from a country that allows same-sex marriage. Brown's itinerary included a speech before the Russian Duma and a Russian television interview in which he lauded Russia's efforts to combat a series of "very negative developments all over the world." Brown returned to Russia in October, telling MSNBC host Rachel Maddow in a statement that his latest visit was to assist in planning for the WCF.
Fox News has been all but silent in reporting on major human rights crises facing gays and lesbians in Uganda, Nigeria, and India over the past few weeks, continuing the network's pattern of turning a blind eye to significant international stories about the LGBT community.
Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes equated New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo with arch-segregationist Bull Connor, distorting recent remarks by Cuomo to falsely suggest that the Democratic governor wants to "politically segregate the state."
Speaking with a reporter on January 17, Cuomo decried right-wing politicians who have opposed his policies in support of LGBT equality, abortion rights, and gun safety. Characterizing the Republican Party as riven by a schism between moderates and conservatives, Cuomo said that dynamic was playing out in New York:
The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act -- it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that's who they are and they're the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that's not who New Yorkers are.
While Cuomo explicitly referred to "Republican Party candidates" and said in the same interview that it's "fine" for people to disagree with him, right-wing commentators instantly mischaracterized the governor's comments to claim that he wished to rid the state of all conservatives. Starnes, in a January 20 FoxNews.com column titled "Governor Andrew 'Bull Connor' Cuomo," reacted with characteristic hyperbole and misinformation:
Get out of New York!
That's the message Empire State Governor Andrew Cuomo is sending to pro-life, pro-gun, pro-traditional marriage conservatives.
Take that in for just a moment. New York's Democratic governor believes people who are pro-life are extremists. Extremists.
Donald Trump? Not welcome. Cardinal Dolan -- you're outta here, pal. Cuomo just can't have those kind of people living on the streets of New York City.
When did Governor Cuomo become Bull Connor -- trying to politically segregate the state?
What's he going to do next, unleash the dogs and turn the hoses on conservative boys and girls?
Even yours truly, could be forced find a new place to live. I live among the intolerant liberal people of Brooklyn. I'm also a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association and an evangelical Christian.
It's only a matter of time before the governor's foot soldiers knock on my door and give this gun-toting, Bible-clinging, son-of-a-Baptist the heave ho.
Starnes' column is merely the latest example of his willingness to make baseless claims of anti-Christian persecution in order to justify his own bigoted views. As Fox's in-house mouthpiece for anti-gay hate groups, Starnes views every gain for LGBT equality as an assault on religious liberty. He has claimed that "Christians are trading places with homosexuals" since the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He has defended anti-LGBT business discrimination, writing that non-discrimination protections are efforts to replace "God's law" with "man's law." When the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Starnes tweeted, "Supreme Court overrules God" and predicted that it "[w]on't be long before they outlaw the Bible as hate speech."
Starnes' anti-Cuomo diatribe might be typical of his previous work, but equating the governor with Connor, the Birmingham Commissioner of Public Safety who sanctioned brutal attacks against civil rights activists and presided over "the most segregated city in America," marks a deplorable low for a reporter whose history of race-baiting exposes his own ugly bigotry.
Days after Fox News "Medical A Team" member Dr. Keith Ablow penned a column saying he wasn't "convinced" that transgender identities are real, hate group spokesman Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association (AFA) used the column on his radio program to justify his own transphobic views.
On January 14, Ablow published an ill-informed, transphobic rant against California's new law allowing transgender students to use facilities and participate in programs that match their gender identities. Disregarding the positions of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, Ablow wrote that he simply doesn't "believe" that it's possible for someone to identify with a gender different from his or her sex at birth.
Two days later, Fischer voiced the same view on his show, reading from Ablow's column and extolling his credentials as a supposed expert on the issue.
From the January 16 edition of American Family Radio's Focal Point:
FISCHER: We're gonna bring this in, because this is a piece written by Dr. Keith Ablow. He's a psychiatrist. You see him on Fox News all the time, he's part of the Fox News "Medical A Team," and he writes about this bathroom bill. Now this guy is a psychiatrist - that means he's a medical doctor. He's an M.D. And he writes about his analysis of this bill. ... And Keith Ablow has a good piece about how destructive this is.
This isn't the first time that AFA - a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated anti-gay hate group -- has taken its bigoted talking points from Fox. In 2011, Fischer cited Ablow's condemnation of Chaz Bono's appearance on ABC's Dancing with the Stars while arguing that transgender people should be criticized rather than celebrated on television.