On a network notorious for its problematic coverage of transgender issues, Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor stands out as an especially egregious forum for transphobia, with host Bill O'Reilly using his perch to dispense bigoted and dangerous advice for parents raising transgender children.
During the June 3 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly invited The Five co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle and Fox contributor Lisa Weihl to discuss six-year-old Ryland Whittington, whose parents Jeff and Hillary posted a YouTube video - now viewed nearly 5 million times - describing Ryland's discovery of his gender identity and their acceptance of his gender transition.
Throughout his discussion of Whittington's story, O'Reilly misgendered him as a girl, stating that he wouldn't have allowed Ryland to identify as a boy if he was his parent:
O'REILLY: I always put myself in the shoes, I wouldn't do it. Would you do it? I wouldn't do it.
WEIHL: If my child was saying this is how I identify myself -
O'REILLY: At 5?
WEIHL: And all the experts are saying let him or her be -
O'REILLY: And you let the she be a boy? Would you do it?
O'REILLY: We know you are touchy-feely. I don't think five-year-olds make those kinds of decisions.
O'REILLY: If she wants to play football, I'd let her, but she is still a girl. [emphasis added]
In the year since the Supreme Court invalidated the core of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in United States v. Windsor, over a dozen district courts have struck down state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, marking a historic shift in the legal debate over marriage equality. But coverage of the marriage equality revolution has been largely absent from Fox News, where most of the decisions have received less than a minute of coverage.
In late June of 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA, finding that prohibiting the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages served "no legitimate purpose." While the Court didn't establish a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in Windsor, that ruling has proven pivotal in a dozen district courts' and the New Jersey Superior Court's subsequent decisions to strike down state bans on same-sex marriage. As a result, four more states now have marriage equality, with a host of other decisions being appealed.
The rash of court rulings - in blue states like Oregon and crimson-red states like Oklahoma - suggest that marriage equality is likely headed back to the Supreme Court, with the potential for a sweeping ruling on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans by June 2015. And with a 13-0 record in the courts since Windsor, some experts predict that marriage equality could soon effectively become the law of the land even without the High Court.
But if you've been watching Fox News, this legal revolution for marriage equality may well have escaped your notice.
Fox News has spent just over 10 minutes covering the 13 court decisions in favor of marriage equality since Windsor, according to an Equality Matters analysis examining the five-day windows after each decision, during which period these decisions were actual news stories, with the bulk of the network's coverage devoted to one state, Utah. New Mexico and Michigan's decisions received no coverage at all, and the majority of the decisions received less than a minute of attention:
For the four states - New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Pennsylvania - where same-sex marriage has taken effect as a result of court rulings post-Windsor, Fox News has provided a scant two minutes and 14 seconds of coverage, compared with nearly 16 minutes from CNN and more than an hour from MSNBC:
Fox News "Medical A Team" member Dr. Keith Ablow assailed the parents of a transgender child whose story has gone viral on the web, suggesting that six-year-old Ryland Whittington would have been better served by "anti-psychotic medication" than by having his parents affirm his gender identity.
On May 27, Jeff and Hillary Whittington shared Ryland's story in a seven-minute YouTube video. The video, which has been viewed more than 4 million times, describes Ryland's discovery of his gender identity and the family's acceptance of his gender transition:
The Whittingtons' support for Ryland was spotlighted at the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast last month, where they received the Inspiration Award for 2014.
According to a June 3 article on right-wing website LifeSiteNews.com, Fox's Ablow wasn't moved by Ryland's story of self-discovery. LifeSiteNews - which misgendered Ryland throughout its story - reported that Ablow opposes parents helping their children transition to the genders with which they identify (emphasis added):
Massachusetts psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow, an author and Fox News contributor, told LifeSiteNews that the video paints a happy picture while consciously ignoring the risks of early transition - which often involves genital plastic surgery and large doses of hormones.
"I am not convinced that the best option for children who are uncomfortable with their gender is to rapidly transition them to the opposite gender," he said. "I believe that on reflection, it will be shown that other paths may be the wiser paths."
"I believe that it is possible that developing secondary sexual characteristics that match one's DNA may actually be part of someone becoming more comfortable with his or her God-given gender," he said. He added that allowing a child to undergo transition at an early age may prevent them from ever becoming reconciled to their biological sex.
"From a personal, not a professional standpoint, were my daughter to assert that she were a boy, not a girl, there is no chance we would be headed to a surgeon's office without a trial of anti-psychotic medication," Ablow said.
Ablow said that transgender activists have made it more difficult for therapists to do their jobs because they have turned gender dysphoria into a political issue instead of a medical one.
While Ablow has no expertise in gender or sexuality issues, actual experts contradict his transphobic talking points. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, gender identity is usually established by the age of four. Medical professionals note that denying medical treatment to transgender children can be harmful; Dr. Norman Spack of Children's Hospital Boston, for instance, states that many children who don't receive treatment resort to self-mutilation in an attempt to change their anatomies. According to Spack, the earlier children deemed to need treatment start receiving it, the easier of a time they'll have passing as the gender with which they identify and the less likely they'll be to require more radical treatments later in life.
Time published an article documenting the Family Research Council's (FRC) annual "Watchmen on the Wall" conference, glossing over the anti-gay hate group's extreme positions.
In a May 30 story titled "Watchmen on the Wall: Pastors Prepare to Take Back America," Time correspondent Elizabeth Dias offered a profile of FRC's annual "Watchmen on the Wall" conference. The article offered a one-sided depiction of FRC's efforts "advocate for... Biblical values," framing the group's struggle as an effort to fight back against a culture in which "religion is losing its public influence" (emphasis added):
[A group of 50] pastors had come to the nation's capital as part of the annual "Watchmen on the Wall" Washington briefing, a conference sponsored by the Family Research Council to connect pastors with policy makers and legislators and to encourage the pastors to advocate for those Biblical values FRC believes should be advanced in America.
This year's briefing focused on defending the idea that marriage only should exist between a man and woman and on countering what many conservative Christians believe are widespread attacks on Christian religious liberty. "There is an all-out assault on Biblical marriage, with judges overturning the will of the vast majority of voters in some states [...] Religious organizations and Christian-owned businesses are being forced to provide insurance plans that cover abortions and abortion-inducing drugs or face fines and punishment...and the list goes on," FRC president Tony Perkins wrote in a welcome letter to attendees. "It would appear that lawlessness has been unleashed upon our country and culture as we witness an unprecedented and outrageous abuse of power by governing authorities."
For many of them, the battle goes beyond politics: it is spiritual warfare. As senior FRC fellow E.W. Jackson preached to the gathering, the ACLU and the Foundation for the Freedom from Religion, in trying to stop Christian prayer at public events, represent a movement "not simply [of] human beings who disagree with us--it is demonic power moving to shut down the power of God."
The article failed to note that the FRC is a Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)-designated anti-gay hate group, owing to the malicious anti-LGBT rhetoric of FRC figures like FRC president Tony Perkins, who has endorsed a Ugandan bill that would have imposed the death penalty for homosexuality, asserted that gay people face "eternal damnation," and compared gays with terrorists. Along with other FRC personalities, Perkins has accused gay men of preying on children and condemned efforts to curb anti-LGBT bullying as part of an effort to "recruit" children "into that lifestyle."
Washington, D.C.'s Fox affiliate dispatched chief investigative reporter Emily Miller to report on Maryland's new law protecting transgender people from discrimination - allowing Miller to continue the baseless, fear-mongering attacks she waged on the law as a writer for the right-wing Washington Times.
On May 28, Fox 5 aired a segment on the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, which Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-MD) signed into law on May 15. The law, which mirrors measures passed in 16 other states and several Maryland counties, prohibits discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing, credit, and public accommodations. Opponents havelaunched a petition drive aimed at overturning the law, peddling the myth that sexual predators will exploit the measure to sneak into women's restrooms and assault women and children.
Miller's May 28 report hyped those fears, citing a problematically-worded Rasmussen Reports poll indicating that most people oppose allowing "a man to use a woman's restroom" and suggesting that the law posed a danger to women's safety. The report also falsely claimed that Maryland was only the second state to adopt gender identity protections:
Maryland just became the second state after California to pass a law that prohibits discrimination based on what is called "gender identity." The law will protect transgender people in the workplace, with housing and public accommodations.
During a debate that followed Miller's report, Miller provided State Delegate Neil Parrott (R) - the leader of the petition drive - a platform to claim that the law would make it easier for predators to commit sex crimes:
Two radio hosts in Rochester, NY lost their jobs following a grossly transphobic segment mocking the transgender community. But the vicious comments that got them fired are nearly identical to the kind of transphobic hate speech Fox News regularly peddles to its national audience with impunity.
On May 22, Rochester radio station 98.9 The Buzz announced that it had fired Kimberly and Beck - the hosts of the station's morning talk radio show "The Breakfast Buzz' - following outrage over a segment criticizing Rochester's plan to cover transgender healthcare for employees and their families. According to a statement from Entercom Rochester:
This morning Entercom fired Kimberly and Beck effective immediately. Their hateful comments against the transgender community do not represent our station or our company. We deeply apologize to the transgender community, the community of Rochester, and anyone else who was offended by their hateful comments. We are proud of our past work on behalf of the local LGBT community and we remain committed to that partnership.
The May 21 segment in question was an "atrocious" train wreck of transphobic slurs, misinformation, and hate speech. Kimberly and Beck called transgender people "nut jobs," trivialized the need for transgender health care, and played Aerosmith's Dude Looks Like A Lady throughout the segment. They accused a transgender high school athlete of having an unfair advantage over her opponents and joked about her using her genitals to play baseball. And when a caller expressed disappointment in the hosts' transphobic commentary, another host responded "thank you, sir," in an attempt to mock the caller's gender:
98.9 The Buzz was right to act quickly to shut down Kimberly and Beck's hateful transphobic commentary.
But Kimberly and Beck's comments aren't all that extreme when compared to the way conservative media outlets talk about the transgender community. In reality, the segment might have been entirely unremarkable had it been aired on Fox News.
Megyn Kelly was supposed to be a harbinger of Fox News' "gay rights revolution," but she's used her primetime spot to enable some of the country's most extreme anti-LGBT activists.
At the height of the controversy over Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson's homophobic remarks in a December 2013 interview with GQ magazine, Kelly invited GLAAD consultant Jeremy Hooper to appear on The Kelly File and weigh in on the firestorm.
She also invited Tony Perkins, president of the notorious anti-gay hate group the Family Research Council (FRC), to appear immediately afterward.
During his segment, Hooper urged Kelly to hold Perkins accountable for his extensive history of bigoted rhetoric. "What specifically? Because I'll ask him," Kelly promised. Hooper pointed to Perkins' endorsement of a Ugandan bill that would have imposed the death penalty for homosexuality, his claim that gay people face "eternal damnation," and his comparisons of gay people with terrorists.
In the segment that followed, however, Kelly didn't ask Perkins to explain his virulent anti-gay rhetoric. Instead, she introduced him as the leader of "a group whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and culture from a Christian worldview":
Kelly's failure to hold Perkins accountable is a case study in her broader habit of mainstreaming anti-gay hate.
In the seven months since The Kelly File launched in October of 2013, Fox's 9 p.m. hour has been a friendly forum for some of the country's most odious anti-gay extremists, including Perkins, the far-right legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), and, most recently, the Benham brothers, the home renovators whose rabidly anti-gay activism led HGTV to cancel their planned reality show.
Since Kelly's promotion to Fox's prime-time lineup, she has hosted Perkins six times. (Filling in for Kelly on the December 27 edition of the program, Shannon Bream hosted Perkins an additional time.) Perkins has used his appearances to condemn Gov. Jan Brewer's (R-AZ) veto of her state's license-to-discriminate bill, champion anti-LGBT discrimination, opine on openly gay NFL draftee Michael Sam, and lambaste HGTV for cancelling the Benham brothers' planned show.
Kelly's willingness to grant Perkins a platform isn't a recent development. As a daytime host on Fox's America Live, she provided Perkins the opportunity to peddle anti-gay talking points with impunity - and often parroted the same talking points herself, asking Perkins why gay rights activists are so intolerant and defending him and other "openly religious" leaders against charges of bigotry.
Meanwhile, Kelly has invited ADF to defend anti-gay business discrimination on her program. While other cable news anchors have exposed ADF's anti-gay extremism - including its international work to criminalize homosexuality - Kelly gave the group the same treatment she afforded Perkins, failing to hold ADF to account for its disturbing work.
The Benham brothers could also count on Kelly to downplay their history of strident anti-gay and Islamophobic activism, including condemning homosexuality as "demonic" and "destructive." On the May 19 edition of her show, she called the backlash to their activism "incredible," asking them to enlighten viewers on their "more traditional views":
Fox News is witnessing the nasty byproducts of its endless campaign to depict extreme, virulent homophobia as a normal part of mainstream Christianity.
It's long been standard practice at Fox News to conflate anti-gay bigotry with Christianity. Last December, for instance, the network rushed to defend Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson after he compared homosexuality with bestiality and equated gay people with "drunks" and "terrorists," with Megyn Kelly referring to Robertson as "[t]his Christian guy," Sean Hannity describing his comments as "old fashioned traditional Christian sentiment and values," and Fox News commentator Todd Starnes defending Robertson as upholding "the teachings of the Bible."
Meanwhile, Fox has repeatedly touted business owners who refuse service to gay couples, taking up their mantle in regular "Fight for Faith" segments. The network has championed some of the country's most extreme anti-gay hate groups as mainstream Christian organizations. When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declined to attend he city's St. Patrick's Day Parade over its ban on LGBT groups, Fox News attacked him as a "religious bigot." And the network regularly describes even basic legal protections for LGBT people as anti-Christian.
Now, a new anti-gay controversy has once again provided fodder for Fox to depict extreme anti-gay bigotry as grounded in mainstream Christianity. Earlier this month, HGTV cancelled a forthcoming reality show slated to be hosted by brothers Jason and David Benham. The cancellation came after Right Wing Watch unearthed the brothers' history of extreme anti-gay and Islamophobic activism, including condemning homosexuality as "demonic" and "destructive."
Anchor Megyn Kelly responded to HGTV's move by asserting on the May 8 edition of The Kelly File that while "gay rights are more and more protected in this country," the same didn't hold for "Christian beliefs and Christian rights."
During the May 16 edition of Kelly's show, guest host Martha MacCallum invited right-wing radio commentator Dana Loesch and Democratic strategist Jessica Ehrlich to discuss the controversy engulfing the Benham brothers. Perfectly encapsulating the right's bogus homophobia-as-Christianity narrative, Loesch dubbed Ehrlich an "anti-Christian bigot" for deigning to criticize the brothers' extreme anti-gay views:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) ringing endorsement last week of Truvada, the "miracle drug" that blocks HIV infection, presents news outlets with a prime opportunity to cover an historic development in the three-decade struggle against HIV/AIDS. So far, however, media organizations have largely ignored the story.
Truvada is a 10-year-old pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment combining two different antiviral drugs. Taken daily, it prevents infection of HIV. Even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug back in July 2012, it hasn't exactly caught on; a September 2013 report by Gilead Sciences found that only 1,774 people had filled Truvada prescriptions from January 2011 through March 2013. Nearly half of users were women, even though gay men are the demographic group most at risk for HIV/AIDS.
Part of the reason Truvada has been slow to gain steam is, undoubtedly, the stigma attached to those who use it. Gay men who use the drug have been derided as "Truvada Whores," a term many users have sought to reclaim. Some HIV/AIDS advocates, including Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, have cast doubt on Truvada's effectiveness, noting that it won't block infection unless users strictly adhere to taking it daily.
But advocates who hail Truvada as a watershed development in the struggle against HIV/AIDS got a huge boost on May 14, when the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report called on doctors to prescribe the pill for patients deemed at risk of HIV/AIDS - men who have sex with men, heterosexuals with at-risk partners, anyone whose partners they know are infected, and those who use drugs or share needles.
As The New York Times noted, if doctors follow the CDC's advice, Truvada prescriptions would increase to an estimated 500,000 annually.
On May 15, the Times gave the CDC's historic report prime placement on its front page:
But the Times and The Washington Post were the only major newspapers outlets to cover the CDC's report:
Weighing in on disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling's recent shaming of Magic Johnson for having HIV, MSNBC contributor Josh Barro highlighted the dangerous consequences of stigmatizing people living with HIV - a problem that extends far beyond Sterling and all too often results from problematic coverage in mainstream media.
On May 13, Sterling sat down with CNN's Anderson Cooper to discuss his lifetime ban from the NBA after racist remarks he made were leaked last month. At one point, the conversation shifted toward Johnson, the former NBA star who announced his HIV diagnosis over two decades ago.
"What has he done?" Sterling asked. He proceeded to argue that Johnson - a man renowned for his charitable work on HIV/AIDS - made a poor role model for American youth. "What kind of guy goes to every city, has sex with every girl, then he goes and catches HIV?" Sterling said. "Is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about? I think he should be ashamed of himself."
It would be easy to write off Sterling's comments as merely the latest narrow-minded rant from a man who's widely seen as a national joke. But during the May 14 edition of MSNBC's The Cycle, Barro noted that Sterling is far from the only person to stigmatize HIV patients. Citing data showing persistent ignorance about how people become infected and widespread fears by patients that they'll face medical discrimination, Barro observed that "people with HIV stigma are less likely to go to the doctor and take their medicine." HIV stigma, he noted, is "literally killing people":