Vox.com editor-in-chief Ezra Klein issued a statement explaining his decision to hire Brandon Ambrosino, a writer who has been criticized for peddling misinformation about LGBT people and acting as an apologist for anti-gay discrimination. Klein promised that Ambrosino's work would "receive a lot of editing and a lot of guidance," iterating Vox's commitment to properly covering LGBT issues.
The forthcoming news and policy site came under criticism from journalists and LGBT activists after announcing on March 12 that it had hired Ambrosino, a gay writer notorious for his "click-bait contrarianism," including his claim that being gay is a choice and that gay activists are bigoted against opponents of LGBT equality.
Klein defended his decision to hire Ambrosino in an interview with The American Prospect, claiming the hire would help bring ideological diversity to Vox.
In a March 14 post on Facebook, Klein further explained Ambrosino's hiring, stating that Ambrosino's writing will be closely edited and monitored and pledging that Vox would not engage in "frontal assaults on causes we believe in and people we admire":
Over the past 48 hours I've spoken to a lot folks in the LGBT community to better understand the strong, negative reaction to my hiring of Brandon Ambrosino. People felt Brandon had made his name writing sloppy pieces that were empathetic towards homophobes but relentlessly critical of the gay community. They believe we were sending a signal about Vox's approach to LGBT issues: Contrarian clickbait at the expense of the struggle and discrimination that LGBT men and women face every day.
That was never our intention. Our approach to LGBT stories will be the same as our approach to all other issues: We want people to read us because we do the best job tracking and explaining the news, not because we do the best job shocking people. We want to inform our readers -- not annoy them. Our kind of clickbait tends towards beautiful data visualizations, not frontal assaults on causes we believe in and people we admire.
Brandon isn't our LGBT correspondent. He's not even the only LGBT employee of Vox.com. He is a young writer who we think has talent who's going to receive a lot of editing and a lot of guidance.
Brandon applied for the news-writing fellowship, a one-year position focused on helping inexperienced writers develop aggregation and reportorial skills. Contrary to some garbled reports, before hiring Brandon I read a lot of his previous work. Brandon's past writing was often quite pointed and personal, and not a fit for Vox -- and I told him so. The writing fellowship requires a very different approach.
But something that often happens to young freelance writers on the Internet is that they end up writing reams of their most controversial opinions before they ever get a chance to do basic reporting or benefit from a routine relationship with an editor. So as part of Brandon's writing test, I asked him to do eight news articles and two explainers -- more than 5,000 words of original content, in all. He needed more editing, training and direction. But he showed himself a strong, fast writer who really wanted to learn. And that training is what the fellowship is there for.
I could've, and should've, handled this hire a lot better. But I would ask people to give Brandon a chance. He'll be held to the same high standards as all Vox.com employees, and I believe he'll meet them. [emphasis added]
Fox News criticized New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio over his decision not to march in the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade due to the parade's refusal to allow LGBT groups to participate.
On February 2, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would not be attending the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade due to its long-standing policy banning LGBT groups from participating in the parade:
"I am not planning on marching in the parade," Mayor de Blasio said at a City Hall press conference on Tuesday.
"I will be participating in a number of other events to honor the Irish heritage of this city, but I simply disagree with the organizers of that parade," he added.
On February 6 and 7, several Fox News personalities attacked de Blasio for his decision, accusing him of being a "religious bigot" and disrespecting Irish Catholics who oppose homosexuality:
The attack on de Blasio echoes comments Bill O'Reilly made in 2006, when he criticized then New York City Councilwoman Christine Quinn's decision not to appear in the parade. O'Reilly made a similar argument at the time, arguing that allowing LGBT groups to participate in the parade would be akin to "walk[ing] into a church ... with 'I'm Queer' on your shirt" because St. Patrick's Day is a celebration of "a saint." O'Reilly also worried that gay people would be "intruding on a parade where little children are... watching."
Fox's reaction to de Blasio's abstention from the parade aligns with the network's record of giving anti-gay discrimination a free pass by conflating homophobia with Christianity.
Ezra Klein's nascent news and policy site Vox.com promises readers that its journalists will "really know the topics they cover." But newly minted Vox writing fellow Brandon Ambrosino - a frequent commentator on LGBT issues - has repeatedly demonstrated that his understanding of LGBT topics is superficial at best, and frequently dangerously off-base.
In Vox's Facebook post announcing the hire, Ambrosino noted his interest in LGBT topics. That interest has manifested itself in numerous pieces whitewashing the homophobia of figures like Jerry Falwell and Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, asserting that homosexuality is a choice, and condemning LGBT rights activists as bigoted.
Vox's home page promises that it's "hiring journalists who really know the topics they cover" because "[t]here's no way we'll be able to help readers understand issues if we haven't done the work to understand them ourselves":
But a look at Ambrosino's body of work demonstrates that he doesn't understand several basic facts about one of his purported specialties:
In two pieces in The New Republic, Ambrosino asserted that he had made a "choice" to be gay, failing to explain when, why, and how he made that choice. His pieces were criticized for their misuse of academic texts. His assertion also contradicts mainstream medical expertise, which overwhelmingly concludes that a person's sexual orientation isn't chosen.
Of course, Ambrosino has previously spoken of when he started experiencing "gay feelings" and realized he "was attracted to men" - strongly suggesting that his sexual orientation was something he realized, not selected. It's certainly a choice whether or not to embrace one's sexual orientation, but as Ambrosino's own words attest, it isn't a switch you can flip on and off.
In the same New Republic pieces, Ambrosino urged gays and lesbians to learn from the transgender community. Transgender activism, he wrote, is "fueled by the belief that the government has the responsibility to protect all of us regardless of our sexual choices."
But being transgender isn't a choice, much less a sexual choice. A person's gender identity is a deeply ingrained, intrinsic characteristic. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a person's gender identity is usually established by the age of four. Being transgender, as one expert put it, is "part of the human condition." It also has nothing to do with a person's sexuality or sexual orientation.
In addition to not understanding the most basic realities of what it means to be transgender, Ambrosino has also used the term "tranny" - a transphobic slur - to describe transgender people. Assuming that Ambrosino didn't have malicious intent, his use of the slur still reflected a remarkable ignorance of transgender issues for a frequent commentator on LGBT issues.
Ezra Klein's much-hyped news and policy site, Vox.com, has hired Brandon Ambrosino - a gay man who has made a name for himself by suggesting that being gay is a choice and whitewashing anti-gay bigotry and discrimination.
Vox, the news and policy site headed by Ezra Klein, announced on March 12 that Ambrosino had been hired as a writing fellow:
Klein's new venture - announced to considerable fanfare in January - will provide Ambrosino a formidable platform as the go-to gay writer for anti-gay conservatives seeking to legitimize their homophobia.
Ambrosino - whose professional background is as a jazz and tap dancer - first garnered considerable attention with an April 2013 essay for The Atlantic. Titled "Being Gay at Jerry Falwell's University," Ambrosino's piece recounted his experience as a student at Liberty University, founded by the inflammatory fundamentalist preacher in 1971. Describing himself as "the world's most hypersexual fag," Ambrosino admitted he was an unlikely candidate to attend Liberty, but in his experience, it was "very different from what you might think of it." He lamented that the school "gets a bad rap because of a few of Falwell's soundbytes."
Those sound bites included Falwell's notorious reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, for which he pinned some of the blame on gays and lesbians. Speaking with Pat Robertson on The 700 Club, Falwell said:
[T]he pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."
Ambrosino's take on Falwell? He argues that the guy with the "big fat smile" has been unfairly maligned by progressives like Bill Maher. While Ambrosino never got the chance to tell Falwell that he's gay, he "wouldn't have been afraid of his response." After all, Ambrosino wrote, he's confident that Falwell wouldn't have supported stoning Ambrosino.
From the March 11 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Right-wing media figures are celebrating a new paper purporting to demonstrate anti-Christian and anti-conservative bias in the Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) listing of extremist hate groups -- conveniently ignoring the clear biases of the paper's author and the paper's glaring methodological problems.
On March 10, Breitbart.com's in-house anti-gay extremist Austin Ruse touted a new "study" from University of North Texas sociologist George Yancey, the author of "Watching the Watchers: The Neglect of Academic Analysis of Progressive Groups," a paper appearing in the journal Academic Questions. In the "study," Yancey purports to have found that the SPLC's practice of identifying and labeling hate groups ignores extremism on the left, instead maligning right-wing groups like the Family Research Council (which Yancey calls the "Family Research Center"). Moreover, Yancey charges that the SPLC is far too liberal with its use of that designation, unfairly smearing sensible conservatives as hateful bigots.
Before taking his arguments seriously, here's what media outlets and the public should know about Yancey's anti-SPLC polemic:
1. It Isn't A Study. Yancey's paper -- republished in full on Breitbart's website -- is little more than a screed against the SPLC filled with right-wing boilerplate. ("Progressive groups who value tolerance may display intolerance when reacting to conservative individuals," Yancey writes, echoing conservative bloviators like Erick Erickson.) But Yancey's "study" lacks a systematic and coherent methodology. There's no objective metric by which he determines whether the SPLC goes too hard on conservative groups and too easy on leftist ones.
Instead, he fixates on the fact that the SPLC hasn't labelled the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) as a hate group. This perceived failure on the SPLC's part is Yancey's central example of its alleged pro-leftist, anti-conservative bias.
2. The SPLC Does Hold Non-Conservative Groups Accountable. The SPLC has done extensive work highlighting phenomena like black separatism and black supremacism. In fact, it was the SPLC who exposed last summer an African-American "race war" proponent working for the Department of Homeland Security. Conservative outlets like Fox News and WorldNetDaily highlighted the story, even though those organizations have condemned the SPLC in the past.
New research confirms that providing women access to free birth control does not result in women having sex with more partners -- a false claim that has been repeatedly pushed and promoted by conservative media, and which contributes to their efforts to stigmatize women's sexuality.
Providing women with no-cost contraception did not result in "riskier" sexual behavior (defined by the researchers as "sex with multiple partners") but did reduce unintended pregnancies and abortions, according to a comprehensive study from the Washington University School of Medicine.
As Amanda Duberman noted at the Huffington Post, having new empirical data to push back on the moralizing arguments against birth control is helpful, but raises the question: "why do we care?" The fact that researchers felt the need to study this particular claim about birth control at all reveals an "implicit stigmatization" of women's sexuality (emphasis added):
It is a small, pervasive set of voices that leads researchers to consider "multiple sexual partners" over the course of an entire year "risky sexual behavior."
The past decade of research has confirmed what women's health advocates already knew: the benefits of reducing barriers to birth control access far outweigh any subjectively determined adverse effects.
What's unfortunate is that making a case for something many women need relies on the implicit stigmatization of their sexuality. That researchers and health advocates need to presume harsh judgement of sexually active women to convince skeptics of birth control's utility just reminds us how far we have to go.
Duberman is right; it should not matter whether women have more or less sex when taking birth control pills. But it's not just a small set of conservative political voices pushing this offensive criticism of women's sexuality and inspiring scientific research. Conservative media have played a role in forcing this conversation, repeatedly slut-shaming women who use birth control and insisting that anyone who supports government funding for free contraceptives is equivalent to a prostitute.
From the March 10 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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National Review has established itself as a staunch proponent of allowing business owners refuse service to gay and lesbian customers. It's a position that unfortunately aligns with National Review's record of attacking defending discrimination against marginalized groups, including its shameful opposition to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950's.
For months, National Review's staff has worked to invent bogus justifications for anti-gay business discrimination, condemning non-discrimination efforts as a form of government overreach. Long before states like Kansas and Arizona sought to pass laws allowing business to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers, National Review was championing business owners who had been sued for engaging in anti-gay discrimination.
In August, after the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously that photographer Elaine Huguenin violated the state's Human Rights Act by refusing to photograph a same-sex couple's commitment ceremony, National Review joined other right-wing media outlets in their howls of outrage. At National Review Online, NRO contributor and Heritage Foundation fellow Ryan T. Anderson blasted the ruling as a sign that social conservatives had been "driven to the margins of culture," with "religious believers" and "the truth about marriage" under judicial assault.
NRO also took up the mantle of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple. In a one-sided interview published under the headline "Let Him Bake Cake in Freedom," NRO editor-at-large Kathryn Jean Lopez framed Phillips, whom a state judge ruled had violated Colorado's anti-discrimination law, as a victim of anti-Christian persecution. Lopez wondered what the "future of freedom" looked like in a world where businesses couldn't turn away LGBT customers.
Given its support for anti-gay businesses, it was unsurprising that National Review cheered the introduction of several state license-to-discriminate bills this winter.
After USA Today columnist and Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers penned a column denouncing Kansas' bill as an example of "homosexual Jim Crow laws," Anderson took to NRO to defend anti-gay business practices as protected under "freedom of association and freedom of contract." Anderson saw "religious liberty and the rights of conscience," not the rights and dignity of LGBT customers, at stake.
As national attention turned toward Arizona following the demise of the Kansas bill, support for anti-gay segregation measures became National Review's official editorial position. Following the Arizona legislature's passage of S.B. 1062 - which would have protected businesses from being sued for anti-gay discrimination - the National Review's editors published a February 24 editorial urging Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to sign the measure. The "necessary" bill, the editors wrote, simply affirmed the ethos of "live-and-let live."
Meet the Press host David Gregory invited conservative activist Ralph Reed to comment on the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) event just held outside Washington, D.C., but never mentioned Reed's comparison of President Obama to segregationist George Wallace during his CPAC speech.
On March 7, Reed said during his speech at CPAC:
REED: And in Louisiana right now, this administration is trying to block the right of minority children to receive state aid to attend either a religious or a charter school where they are safe and where they can learn. Fifty years ago, George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door and said that African-American students couldn't come in. Today, the Obama administration stands in that same schoolhouse door and refuses to let those children leave. It was wrong then, it is wrong now, and we say to President Obama, let those children go.
As Mother Jones reported, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal made a similar comparison at CPAC. Wallace was famous for being pro-segregation as Alabama governor and in 1968 ran as a presidential candidate for a third party whose platform opposed civil rights. A Wallace staffer explained that "race and being opposed to the civil rights movement and all it meant was the very heart and soul of the Wallace campaign." And Wallace's 1998 Washington Post obituary stated that he "vilified blacks" in his campaign.
But in the approximately seven minutes Reed was on a Meet the Press panel that discussed CPAC and Republican politics, neither Gregory nor anyone else mentioned Reed's smear of Obama. Watch:
From CSPAN's March 8 coverage of the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference:
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Conservative commentator Michael Medved declared at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that it was a "liberal lie" that a state has ever banned same-sex marriage.
During a March 7 CPAC panel titled "Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?" Medved denied that gay couples have encountered state-sponsored discrimination. "There has never been a state in this country that has ever banned gay marriage," Medved said:
From the March 7 edition of Fox News' Happening Now:
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From the March 6 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Fox News continued its attacks on Debo Adegbile, President Obama's pick to head the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and seemingly conflated the advocacy efforts of a different civil rights attorney with Adegbile's legal work as proof of his supposedly "radical" past.
On March 5, all Senate Republicans and a handful of Democrats voted to block Adegbile's nomination following a smear campaign against Adegbile's sterling legal record by leveling racially-charged attacks and linking him to the crimes of his former client, Mumia Abu-Jamal. As a top official at the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund (LDF), Adegbile and a team of lawyers were successful in overturning Abu-Jamal's death sentence due to constitutional error. Because of the unconstitutional sentencing, Abu-Jamal's punishment was ultimately commuted to a life sentence after prosecutors elected not to pursue the death penalty for a second time.
After the failed Senate confirmation vote, Fox News continued its debunked attack that Adegbile was a "cop killer's coddler" for representing Abu-Jamal. The network then introduced a new argument that Adegbile's criminal defense work was politicized and that he "crusaded" for Abu-Jamal, "revealing a bitter bias." Referencing "critics," and Fox contributor Jonah Goldberg, Bret Baier claimed that Adegbile "went beyond the legal work and it was more about political rallies and leading rallies for Mumia and kind of became more political in his support for this character." Fox News contributor J. Christian Adams went even further:
[Adegbile] was not nominated in spite of his defense of Mumia Abu-Jamal, he was nominated because of it. Because these folks think that Mumia was innocent. It is not just a question of giving somebody their day in court. Adegbile took on the wider cause, claiming America was unjust towards people of color. It was because of this rancid racial attitude that President Obama appointed him in the first place and that is why he is mad.