Houston media outlets helped spread misinformation about the city's newly enacted non-discrimination ordinance, parroting the talking points of anti-LGBT groups working to repeal the measure.
On May 28, the Houston City Council voted 11 to six to approve the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which prohibits discrimination based on categories including race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Opponents of the ordinance, led by the Houston Area Pastors Council, immediately announced a repeal drive and have spent the month of June attempting to collect the 17,000 valid signatures needed to put the measure up for a vote in November.
Anti-LGBT activists, like Texas Values' Jonathan Saenz and Fox News' Mike Huckabee, focused particularly on the measure's protections for transgender people, asserting that the protections will make it easier for sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms. That myth has been extensively debunked by independent experts in states and cities that have already adopted similar protections.
But the transgender bathroom myth played a prominent role in local media coverage of the ordinance. During the month that HERO opponents collected signatures for a repeal effort, Houston news outlets repeatedly cited the myth without attempting to debunk it according to an Equality Matters analysis:
What's especially disconcerting is how local reporters themselves often appeared to buy in to the transgender bathroom smear. A June 26 report from Fox affiliate KRIV's Andrea Watkins illustrated this kind of problematic coverage:
Houston media outlets have failed to hold anti-LGBT activists accountable for the misinformation they have spread about the city's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), currently the focus of a repeal effort. Media outlets have allowed myths about the ordinance's protections for transgender people to go unchallenged and have disproportionately cited anti-LGBT groups and advocates in their reporting on the measure.
For two years, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has been peddling the theory that the IRS intentionally leaked its donor list to a gay rights organization as part of an Obama administration conspiracy. Two separate investigations and a ruling by a Reagan-appointed judge have debunked that theory. But right-wing media, which have widely touted NOM's initial accusations, have largely ignored or denied the conspiracy theory's demise.
In the spring of 2012, an IRS employee inadvertently leaked an unredacted list of NOM's donors in response to a public records request. The pro-equality group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) got its hands on the list, highlighting past contributions to NOM by prominent conservatives like then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Noting that key HRC officials were prominent supporters of President Obama's re-election campaign, NOM alleged a conspiracy between the organization and the Obama administration aimed at embarrassing NOM and its supporters.
In April 2012, NOM filed a formal letter of complaint to the IRS. Conservative outlets like The Daily Caller and The Weekly Standard touted the complaint, focusing particularly on the revelation that Romney was one of the group's donors. For most of the next year, however, media interest in the story was scant.
That changed in the spring of 2013. In May, U.S. Attorney General Eric holder ordered the FBI to begin a criminal probe into allegations that the agency had targeted tax-exempt conservative political groups. While the IRS actually scrutinized progressive groups more extensively than conservative ones, the IRS "scandal" became a rallying cry for right-wing media. The controversy also meant newfound interest in NOM's allegations against the agency.
Mainstream and conservative media outlets were quick to pick up on NOM's call for an investigation into the IRS's activities.
The Wall Street Journal 's James Taranto spotlighted NOM's claims in a column on the IRS controversy, asking "How pervasive is the Obama IRS scandal?":
Texas Values president Jonathan Saenz agreed with a right-wing radio host that gay activists are trying to put Christians in concentration camps, asserting that the gay rights movement wants "to put people in jail" if they disagree with marriage equality and "the homosexual lifestyle."
In a June 20 interview with Raging Elephants Radio, Saenz condemned a recent Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruling affirming that a Denver-area baker had violated the state's non-discrimination law by refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex couple. Host Claver Kamau-Imani asked Saenz whether the ruling was tantamount to sending the baker to a "concentration camp." Saenz agreed, asserting that there's "no question" gay rights supporters ultimately aim to imprison opponents of LGBT equality:
KANAU-IMANI: Alright, let's get back to Colorado. So you have a baker that does wedding cakes and they say they don't want to do a two-man wedding cake or a two-woman wedding cake with the little figurines on top or whatever. And so the homosexual couple, whether it's man and man, woman and woman, whatever, they go to this specially created commission to deal with this, file a complaint against the business, and so the commission says 'No, you're gonna make this cake, plus, you're going to go to concentration camp,' essentially. Is that what you're telling us, Jonathan?
SAENZ: That's right, that's right. You know, they tried to do something like that here in Texas - I think it was a bill by Sen. Rodney Ellis that dealt with hate crime stuff, where they would've forced you to participate in an event of the quote-unquote community that you had offended. And so we testified against this legislation and it ended up dying on the Senate side. But I mean, this is what they want. I mean, there's no question. I've seen it. I've seen them try to do it with legislation here in Texas at the state level. It is a goal of theirs to put people in jail that disagree with homosexual marriage, without question - or the homosexual lifestyle. [emphasis added]
On June 19, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) held its second March for Marriage - an event that proved to be largely a repeat of last year's march, with dismal attendance, bussed-in supporters, and examples of anti-gay animus on display.
An estimated 2,000 attendees convened at the U.S. Capitol for a rally culminating in a march to the U.S. Supreme Court. As he did for last year's event, anti-equality State Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-NY) bussed in a large group of mostly Spanish-speaking evangelicals from the New York area, after promising rally-goers an expense-free trip to Washington to "visit the monuments." Equality Matters approached several attendees to ask about their reasons for attending the rally and their means of getting there, only to be told that they spoke little English.
Throughout the rally, speakers like Fox News host and former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco stressed that the rally was pro-marriage, not anti-anybody. But as others monitoring the event documented, anti-gay animus was clearly on display.
One rally-goer held a sign declaring that people who "embrace homosexuality" do so because they "hate God and love to be sinful," instructing gay people to "repent":
"Repent or perish," another sign ominously warned:
Another attendee's sign denounced "sodomy & abortion" as "wrong":
In an interview with Equality Matters, one attendee predicted "violence" if marriage equality came to pass nationwide. Pressed on whom he thought would perpetrate violence, the man noted that many people are "angry" about same-sex marriage and stated that he didn't want "what homosexuals do" recognized as equal to his marriage:
The right-wing Washington Times is effectively serving as an unofficial sponsor for the National Organization for Marriage's (NOM) upcoming March for Marriage. The news outlet is hosting NOM's petition to "stand for traditional marriage" and plans to livestream the march on its website.
The Washington Times is doing its part to promote the event; The Times' website is hosting a NOM-sponsored petition urging readers to sign and "stand for traditional marriage," instructing the government not to "seek to redefine it":
In a June 17 blog post, NOM announced that it had developed a "special partnership" with the Times to livestream the event on the news outlets website:
Thanks to a special partnership with The Washington Times, the official media sponsor of the 2014 March for Marriage, we will be live streaming the event on the world-wide web!
We are also very gratified that The Washington Times is hosting a marriage petition on their website which I encourage you to go sign right away. Click here to add your signature and show your support for marriage as the union of one man and one woman. This petition and the signatures we gather will be an important statement, along with the March itself, to our leaders in Washington and to the mainstream media that Americans still clearly stand for marriage.
NOM also announced that the Times would be creating a "special magazine" commemorating the march and encouraged supporters to subscribe to the Times' digital edition:
Finally, The Washington Times is creating a special magazine commemorating the March for Marriage. (You will find this online on Thursday on the same page as Thursday's livestream -- stay tuned to The Washington Times for more details!)
You can also get this special magazine by subscribing to the The Washington Times National Digital Edition. You can access this great, interactive "living digital daily newspaper" anywhere and anytime, showcasing the articles and features readers have come to enjoy from the home of fearless reporting and American values. Best of all, it is available for your desktop and laptop plus your favorite mobile device from the Apple and Google Play stores. Visit washingtontimes.com and click on the subscribe button to learn more.
Cultivating a "special partnership" with NOM and blatantly touting its march represents a clear violation of basic journalistic ethics. It's one thing for The Washington Times to cover the March for Marriage. It's another thing entirely to shill for the event.
CNN and Fox News have largely ignored the news that President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT employment discrimination by companies that contract with the federal government - an historic measure that will protect up to 28 million workers.
On June 16, a White House official revealed that President Obama would sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The move comes seven months after the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a measure that has subsequently languished in the House as Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) refused to bring the measure up for a vote.
ENDA's diminishing prospects led many LGBT activists and Democratic lawmakers to press Obama to sign an executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT employment discrimination by federal contractors. The ACLU's Ian Thompson hailed an executive order as "the single most important step" Obama could take absent congressional action to combat anti-LGBT employment discrimination. One estimate suggests that Obama's executive order will protect up to 28 million workers.
In a June 16 segment highlighting the persistent problem of anti-LGBT employment discrimination, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow laid out the context of congressional intransigence that led to Obama's decision to act unilaterally on the issue:
While Maddow's network gave the news of the impending executive order 31 minutes of coverage, CNN and Fox News barely covered it at all, with each providing a mere 20 seconds of coverage:
On June 19, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) will hold its second March for Marriage in Washington, DC. Though the march has nabbed some high-profile speakers, journalists covering the event should know that it's likely to be a largely astroturfed affair.
Earlier this year, NOM announced its plan to organize a second March for Marriage to demonstrate that there's still "deep and wide support" for opposing same-sex marriage, despite polls showing a growing majority of Americans in favor of marriage equality.
The march is slated to feature high-profile speakers like Fox News host Mike Huckabee and 2012 GOP presidential runner-up Rick Santorum. In local press appearances, NOM employees have touted the event as a show of grassroots support for traditional marriage. In reality, the media should know that NOM's marriage march will feature some of the country's most extreme anti-gay voice. Here's what reporters can expect from this year's March for Marriage:
Look no further than last year's march. Even as the Supreme Court took up challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California's Proposition 8, NOM struggled to muster enthusiasm for the event. While NOM's Thomas Peters declared that 15,000 people had turned out for the march and NOM president Brian Brown estimated there were "more than 10,000" attendees, the Washington Blade estimated a turnout of only 2,000.
Many of the attendees at the 2013 march were bussed in from New York City - free of charge - by anti-equality State Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-NY). Diaz claimed to have sent 32 busloads of primarily Latino New Yorkers to the rally; other attendees included Chinese Christians from Chicago and French activists flying their country's flag at a rally purportedly focused on the anti-equality fight in the United States.
This year's march is unlikely to be much different. Diaz has promised to dispatch 100 buses from the Bronx, posting a Spanish-language YouTube video promising rally-goers an all-expenses-paid trip. In the video, Diaz urges New York Latinos to "[a]sk for your bus! Fill the bus! And let's go to Washington! Let's go on a trip! Visit the monuments in Washington and testify that Jesus heals and saves and is the king we await."
Fox News provided the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) a forum to peddle its baseless theory that the IRS intentionally leaked its donor list - ignoring that a Reagan-appointed federal judge has dismissed that theory as having "no evidence."
In 2012, a low-level IRS official inadvertently leaked an unredacted list of NOM's donors in response to a public records request. When the list ended up in the hands of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a pro-marriage equality group, NOM alleged that the Obama administration had colluded with the HRC to embarrass NOM and its donors. Investigations by the acting commissioner of the IRS and Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration J. Russell George turned up no evidence that that was the case, and even NOM co-founder Maggie Gallagher conceded that the leak was the mistake of a "low-level employee."
Still, NOM sued the IRS for punitive damages. On June 3, Reagan-appointed U.S. District Court Judge James C. Cacheris smacked down NOM's conspiracy theory, calling it "unconvincing" and "unpersuasive," and writing that NOM had "failed to produce a shred of proof." However, Cacheris allowed NOM's claim for legal fees and any proven damages from the unintentional leak to proceed - which was enough for NOM to claim victory despite the humiliating blow Cacheris dealt to its central claims.
On the June 15 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ, host Shannon Bream interviewed NOM chairman John Eastman about the group's effort to win those damages. Bizarrely, neither Bream nor Eastman noted Cacheris' ruling, without which NOM's claim wouldn't be proceeding. But Bream did allow Eastman to inveigh against the IRS for leaking NOM's tax documents "to a gay and lesbian activist" - making no mention of the fact that that leak has repeatedly been found to have been unintentional:
A Wall Street Journal op-ed by conservative psychiatrist Paul McHugh smeared transgender people as delusional and disordered, ignoring medical consensus and arguing that transgender patients should be denied medically necessary treatment.
In the June 13 edition of the Wall Street Journal, McHugh lamented the growing attention to transgender rights in public policy and the media, warning that these developments signal a troubling trend toward affirming transgender identities rather than treating them as "confusions" and illnesses:
Yet policy makers and the media are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered by treating their confusions as a right in need of defending rather than as a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment and prevention. This intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken--it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.
The transgendered suffer a disorder of "assumption" like those in other disorders familiar to psychiatrists. With the transgendered, the disordered assumption is that the individual differs from what seems given in nature--namely one's maleness or femaleness. Other kinds of disordered assumptions are held by those who suffer from anorexia and bulimia nervosa, where the assumption that departs from physical reality is the belief by the dangerously thin that they are overweight.
At the heart of the problem is confusion over the nature of the transgendered. "Sex change" is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.
Expert consensus doesn't comport with McHugh's depiction of trans people as mentally ill. As the American Psychological Association notes, experts now acknowledge transgender identities as "part of the human condition," with many individuals' gender identities established by the age of four. Increased awareness of the realities of the transgender experience led the American Psychiatric Association in 2012 to stop classifying being transgender as a mental disorder, replacing the previous diagnosis of gender identity disorder with gender dysphoria, the distress that often comes from "a marked incongruence between one's experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender." But that didn't stop McHugh from using some form of the word "disorder" 10 times to describe transgender people.