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.
An anti-gay pundit who used his recent appearance before a House subcommittee to champion "ex-gay" therapy is a repeated Fox News guest who has used his position at the right-wing Liberty Counsel to wage ridiculous attacks on progressives and LGBT equality.
On June 10, Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver testified before a congressional hearing on religious liberty called by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ). During his testimony, Staver condemned laws in California and New Jersey banning the thoroughly discredited practice of "conversion therapy" for gay people. Staver asserted that laws banning the practice constituted "religious discrimination," accusing "homosexual activists" of trying to squelch the truth about how gay people "can successfully reduce or eliminate unwanted same-sex attractions."
In an exchange with Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) during that same hearing, Staver grasped at straws as he attempted to defend anti-gay business discrimination:
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization dedicated to combatting anti-Semitism, condemned Family Research Council (FRC) president and regular Fox News and CNN guest Tony Perkins for his "deeply offensive" comments comparing LGBT non-discrimination protections with the Holocaust.
On June 6, Perkins blasted a Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruling finding that a baker had violated the state's anti-discrimination law by refusing to bake a cake for a gay couple, asking on his radio program Washington Watch, "I'm beginning to think, are re-education camps next? When are they going to start rolling out the boxcars to start hauling off Christians?" Perkins' remarks echoed his statement in April that the LGBT movement "reminds me of Nazi Germany."
In a June 10 statement, ADL President Abraham Foxman denounced Perkins' comments, calling them "offensive and inappropriate":
Tony Perkins' invocation of the Holocaust in his statement referring to a judge's finding that a baker unlawfully discriminated against gay customers is offensive and inappropriate.
There is no comparison between contemporary American political issues and the actions of Hitler's regime during the Holocaust. Such inappropriate analogies only serve to trivialize the Holocaust and are deeply offensive to Jews and other survivors, as well as those Americans who fought valiantly against the Nazis in World War II.
We urge Perkins to apologize and to refrain from using Holocaust imagery to make his point.
Extreme anti-LGBT rhetoric has defined Perkins' career, and the FRC's defamatory attacks on the LGBT community led the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to designate it an anti-gay hate group in 2010.
Despite that record, Perkins and FRC are frequent fixtures on CNN and Fox News. Fox's Megyn Kelly in particular has given Perkins the star treatment, inviting him onto The Kelly File to attack basic non-discrimination policies and to champion anti-LGBT business discrimination.
Given his reputation, Perkins isn't likely to take the ADL's advice to heart. But media outlets might want to reconsider whether it's wise to provide him a forum to continue peddling his apoplectic attacks on LGBT equality.
CBS Sunday Morning provided a cautionary example for what media outlets should avoid when covering transgender issues, providing an anti-LGBT hate group leader with a history of misleading news outlets a forum to attack transgender accommodations during an otherwise commendable segment highlighting the lived experiences of transgender children.
During the June 9 edition of CBS Sunday Morning, correspondent Rita Braver interviewed transgender youth, family members, and a medical doctor who treats trans children for a segment titled "Born this way: Stories of transgender children." That framing - and Braver's willingness to let transgender children speak for themselves - offered a refreshing contrast to media coverage that all too often excludes transgender voices from discussions of transgender issues.
Inexplicably, however, Braver saw fit to interview Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), a Sacramento-based anti-LGBT hate group. But Braver didn't identify Dacus as a hate group leader, instead describing him as the leader of "a conservative legal group" and allowing him to attack transgender rights as "ludicrous" and "really unreasonable":
DACUS: You're saying under [California's transgender non-discrimination] law that a 13-year-old or 14-year-old girl in a locker room has to change and dress and be naked in front of, say, a 16-year-old boy simply because a 16-year-old boy who's a biological boy, but inside has a mental condition called gender identity dysphoria and thinks that he's a girl. This is ludicrous and really unreasonable.
Braver accepted at face value Dacus' assertion that he believes "transgender kids should be treated with compassion," as long as they aren't allowed to use facilities appropriate for their gender identity. But if Braver had done her homework on the PJI, perhaps she'd have treated that profession of compassion with appropriate skepticism.
Dacus is a man who has stated that LGBT people are under "Satan's dominion," and his group has shown a willingness to stoop to any low to fight LGBT equality. During the debate over California's law allowing transgender students to use facilities and play on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity, the PJI fabricated a story about a transgender Colorado high school student harassing her peers in the girl's restroom. The storm of negative publicity the PJI's lie brought to the girl led her to be placed on suicide watch.
In the thick of virtually every hot-button cultural battle to engulf Texas in recent years has been Jonathan Saenz - the president of a lobbying group called Texas Values, a regular spokesman for right-wing causes in local media, and a rabidly theocratic, anti-LGBT extremist.
This May, during the debate over Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance - a measure that prohibits discrimination based on characteristics including sexual orientation, and gender identity - Saenz emerged as a leading voice against the proposal in local media. Local news outlets described him as an attorney or social conservative, obscuring the extremist worldview that undergirded his fight against the ordinance.
With an effort underway to repeal the ordinance, which Houston's City Council passed eleven to six on May 28, Saenz is certain to remain in the spotlight as the fight over its LGBT protections continues.
Saenz's group, Texas Values, is the lobbying arm of the Plano, TX-based Liberty Institute, an organization notorious for peddling discredited stories about supposed threats posed by government and progressive activists to religious liberty. Upon Texas Values' launch in 2012, Saenz became its founding president, following a stint as Liberty Institute's top lobbyist in Austin. Texas Values' biography of Saenz notes that he "has been featured in local, national, and international media" including cable networks Fox News and CNN, where he has discussed such topics as school prayer and Texas conservatives' effort to remake the state's social studies curriculum.
But those media appearances only hinted at the far-right vision informing Saenz and Texas Values' work.
Much of Texas Values' work centers on its fight against LGBT equality, which includes opposing even basic protections for LGBT people:
Texas Values also beats the drum of a litany of typical right-wing social causes. The group opposes comprehensive sex education in schools and has attacked Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis for her support for reproductive rights and the gay "anti-family agenda,"
The group also pushes the tired right-wing myth of a "war on Christmas" - but with a distinctly conspiracy-minded fervor. According to the group, that "war" is "a key front in the radical movement to remove all religious expression from the public square" and to create a world in which children are too afraid to even talk about Christmas at school.
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: