Throughout the debate over Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), the Fox TV affiliate in Houston, KRIV, has uncritically repeated the widely debunked myth that HERO would allow sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms, contributing to public misunderstanding of the ordinance.
For the past year, Houston has been embroiled in a debate over the ordinance. HERO, which passed in May, bans discrimination on the basis of characteristics like sex, race, disability status, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
Opponents of HERO have since fought to put the measure up for a public repeal vote, baselessly claiming that the law would allow male sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms by pretending to be transgender. Experts in states and cities that have similar laws on the books have debunked this horror story, calling it "beyond specious."
Fox 26's reporting is symptomatic of the kind of "he said, she said" journalism that often derails public debates about even basic legal protections for LGBT people. In order to appear balanced, news outlets will uncritically repeat both sides' talking points in their reporting without resolving which side is actually telling the truth.
Journalism is about more than just repeating talking points and hoping audiences can figure out the truth. It's about actually doing the work to dispel falsehoods about issues that are important to the public. Fox 26 should be working to expose lies about Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance, not peddling them to a broader audience.
Video created by Coleman Lowndes.
Top executives from Facebook and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment spoke at a conference for right-wing media personalities that features a number of anti-LGBT groups and Islamophobes and is co-sponsored by a right-wing birther website that has suggested President Obama is secretly gay.
National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) is holding its International Christian Media Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, from February 23-26. According to the convention's website:
The NRB International Christian Media Convention is a four-day, jam-packed event that connects, equips, and edifies thousands of Christian communicators.
The bottom line is that when you leave the NRB International Christian Media Convention you will be energized, empowered, and made more effective in reaching the lost for Christ.
In an interview with Radio World, NRB President Jerry Johnson said the conference would focus on training attendees to better use new-media platforms to reach young people with their messages. In the interview, Johnson specifically expressed his concern about "a new tone on the marriage issue, on sexuality, on so-called same-sex marriage and even on Islam" that could supposedly threaten broadcasters' freedom to speak about those topics.
Perhaps in service of the goal of reaching young people, NRB enlisted the help of top executives from Facebook and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Simon Swart is the executive vice president of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and helped launch Fox's "Fox Faith" movie distribution label targeting the Christian community in 2006. On February 23, he spoke at the NRB conference's "Film & Entertainment Summit," leading a talk on "Successfully Distributing and Marketing to the World."
Katie Harbath is manager for policy at Facebook. On February 25, she spoke at the conference's Digital Media Summit, which Johnson specifically cited as a way to get his organization's message to reach the "current generation." Habath spoke on a panel led by Eric Metaxas, a conservative author who has written in defense of "ex-gay" therapy and pointed to gay-affirming churches to compare conditions in America to those in Nazi Germany.
Both Swart and Harbath agreed to speak at the conference despite the presence of extreme anti-gay hate groups, Islamophobic figures, and the co-sponsorship of a right-wing publication that has repeatedly suggested that Obama is secretly gay and wasn't born in the United States.
Fox News and CNN ignored the passage of a major anti-LGBT law in Arkansas. Will cable news outlets keep silent as conservatives push for similar legislation across the country?
On February 23, Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) allowed Arkansas SB 202 to become law. The law prohibits cities and counties from adopting non-discrimination protections that are stronger than those adopted by the state government, effectively banning local protections for LGBT Arkansans in housing, employment, and public accommodations. According to an Equality Matters analysis, since it was first filed in the state senate on February 2, SB 202 has received no coverage from either Fox News or CNN:
By contrast, on the February 19 edition of MSNBC's The Rundown With José Díaz-Balart, Díaz-Balart noted the lack of national attention on SB 202 and detailed the anti-LGBT nature of the new law:
Díaz-Balart compared Arkansas bill to Arizona's SB 1062, another anti-LGBT bill that garnered extensive headlines last year. Both CNN and Fox News comprehensively covered the debate over Arizona's legislation - CNN repeatedly profiled the anti-gay group behind the measure and grilled supporters of the bill about its impact on LGBT customers. Some Fox figures even objected to the legislation, calling it "profoundly unconstitutional" and "potentially dangerous." But according to an Equality Matters analysis, both Fox and CNN ignored the passage of Arkansas' anti-LGBT law.
The deceptiveness used by SB 202's supporters was ripe for media exposure. As Díaz-Balart noted, the law is entitled the "Intrastate Commerce Improvement Act," with a declared purpose of improving intrastate commerce by creating "uniform nondiscrimination laws and obligations." Yet as Associate Press Correspondent Andrew DeMillo explained, not a single employer has cited a lack of uniformity as a business deterrent - in fact, Wal-Mart, one of the state's largest employers, released a statement opposing the new law. The measure won praise from the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council, whose president Tony Perkins lauded it as a "victory" and a "roadmap for other states."
This isn't the first time Fox and CNN have completely ignored passage of a major piece of anti-gay legislation - last year, just two months after the spotlighted debate over Arizona's bill, Fox and CNN overlooked a similar anti-LGBT license-to-discriminate law in Mississippi. The Arkansas law is only the first of several "commerce improvement" bills cropping up across the nation - West Virginia and Texas have both introduced identical legislation seeking to ban local LGBT protections. Fox and CNN can either watch these upcoming battles in silence, or educate their viewers about the dangerous consequences of pro-discrimination statutes.
Equality Matters searched TV Eyes for Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC between February 1 and February 24, using the terms "Arkansas AND LGBT" "Arkansas AND gay," "Arkansas AND Discrimination," "Arkansas AND Senate Bill 202," "Arkansas AND Hutchinson," "Arkansas AND sexual orientation," "Arkansas AND "gender identity," and "Arkansas AND SB 202." Reruns and teases for upcoming segments were excluded.
From the February 24 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News rallied behind a Washington state florist who refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, continuing the network's defense of the right to discriminate against gay customers.
On February 18, a Benton County Superior Court judge ruled that florist Barronelle Stutzman had illegally violated the state's Consumer Protection Act when she refused to provide flowers for a same-sex couple's wedding ceremony. Though Stutzman claimed her actions were religiously motivated, the judge made clear that religious belief did not create a blank check to violate the state's non-discrimination law, writing:
For over 135 years, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that laws may prohibit religiously motivated action, as opposed to belief. In trade and commerce, and more particularly when seeking to prevent discrimination in public accommodations, the Courts have confirmed the power of the Legislative Branch to prohibit conduct it deems discriminatory, even where the motivation for that conduct is grounded in religious belief.
Following the ruling, Washington's attorney general offered Stutzman a settlement - stop discriminating, pay the law's $2000 penalty, and pay $1 to cover the cost of the case - but Stuztman refused the deal.
On the February 23 edition of The Kelly File, guest host Shannon Bream conducted the first ever television interview with Stutzman, along with an attorney from the extreme anti-gay group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is representing her. Bream has a history of championing the right to discriminate against gay customers, coming to the defense of business owners who violate non-discrimination laws and suggesting that gay customers should "just go down the street" and find someone who is willing to serve them.
With the cancellation of Ronan Farrow Daily, MSNBC is losing a show that for months represented the gold standard in cable news coverage of transgender issues.
On February 19, MSNBC announced that it was cancelling Ronan Farrow Daily, which has occupied the network's 1 pm slot since premiering in February 2014. The show, along with The Reid Report, will be replacedby a two-hour block of news programming hosted by Thomas Roberts, while host Ronan Farrow will go on to launch "a new series of primetime specials."
For nearly a year, Ronan Farrow Daily stood out for its remarkable coverage of transgender stories and issues. Farrow worked to bring national attention to the fight for transgender equality, which he called a "nascent enough rights movement that you can see change on almost a daily basis." And he did it by inviting actual transgender people to discuss issues facing their community -- a practice that even many progressive news commentators have been hesitant to adopt.
A Michigan pediatrician refused to work with the baby of a same-sex couple, citing her anti-gay religious beliefs. It's another case that highlights the potential dangers of conservative media's campaign to champion "religious freedom" in the face of anti-gay discrimination.
In October of 2014, Krista and Jami Contreras brought their six-day-old baby Bay Windsor to meet her pediatrician, Dr. Vesna Roi at Eastlake Pediatrics in Roseville, Michigan. The couple, who legally married in Vermont in 2012, soon discovered that Roi had refused to come into the office and see them, citing her religious beliefs. The couple was instead met by a different pediatrician, who they had not selected.
Four months later, they received a letter from Roi apologizing and explaining her decision:
After much prayer following your prenatal, I felt that I would not be able to develop the personal patient doctor relationship that I normally do with my patients. I felt that was not fair to the two of you or to Bay.
Please know that I believe that God gives us free choice and I would never judge anyone based on what they do with that free choice.
The Contreras incident is yet another example of the dangerous consequences of right-wing media's campaign to justify anti-gay discrimination under the banner of religious liberty. For years, conservative media have used "religious liberty" as a rallying cry while lobbying against basic legal protections for LGBT people. Now, in the face of a potential Supreme Court loss on the issue of same-sex marriage, "religious liberty" has become the central argument for a number of state RFRA bills promoted by right-wing media that would greatly expand the right of businesses and individuals to refuse service to LGBT people on religious grounds.
Roi's refusal to work with the Contreras family is not illegal - though it does violate the rules of the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, which both strongly oppose discriminating against patients on the basis of sexual orientation. Nor is what happened to the Contreras family an isolated incident. Studies have found that LGBT people face high rates of discrimination in health care, especially in states that have adopted "broad religious exemptions" from medical non-discrimination laws:
Conservative media have endlessly peddled horror stories of wedding photographers, florists, and bakers who were legally prohibited from refusing to offer their services for same-sex wedding ceremonies. But as the Contreras family's experience demonstrates, the right-wing insistence on broad religious liberty protections could impact far more than just same-sex weddings.
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson compared LGBT-activists to terrorists to declare that "the divide between Islamic extremists and gay rights extremists is at death."
In a February 19 blog post on RedState.com entitled "The Line Between Islamic Extremists and Gay Rights Extremists," Erickson lamented a Washington state judge's recent decision finding that Arlene's Flowers, a florist which refused to service a same-sex wedding, had violated the state's non-discrimination law. According to Erickson, the only difference between the two groups is that LGBT activists don't kill their victims (emphasis added):
Gay rights activists... have not turned physically violent. But they are intent on destroying any who disagree with them. They will take the homes, businesses, and life savings of any who defy them. They will use the tools of the state and mob action through boycotts, fear, and intimidation to make it happen. They will not kill but they will threaten and scare.
The divide between Islamic extremists and gay rights extremists is at death. They meet on the line at destruction.
The gay rights activists who yell "bigot" at those who disagree with them are the Imams of America's cultural ghetto.
This latest anti-LGBT screed is typical of Erickson, who recently called the LGBT community "terrorists" over the firing of the anti-gay Atlanta fire chief and has previously endorsed the claim that the "homosexual movement" is destroying America.
Christians should, however, take heart. The faith that continued to flourish and spread while its adherents' bodies were being used to light the streets of Rome will survive this present turmoil. At a minimum, Christians have more children than homosexuals. We also have a God who stands with us, loves us, and will see us through to eternity.
Fox News uncritically reported a bogus story about the alleged bullying of anti-gay students in a California high school, according to the school's superintendent. It's the second time the network has been duped by the lies of one of California's most notorious anti-LGBT hate groups.
In a February 9 opinion piece for FoxNews.com, Fox News' serial misinformer and mouthpiece for anti-gay hate groups Todd Starnes reported on allegations that high school students at Acalanes High School in Lafayette, California, were "bullied" by the school's Queer Straight Alliance during a class presentation. His report drew heavily from a press release by the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), an anti-LGBT hate group with a history of fabricating horror stories to combat efforts to make schools welcoming for LGBT students. Starnes concluded his report by asking, "Has it really come to this, America -- forcing students to declare their allegiance to the LGBT agenda?"
But in an email to Equality Matters, Acalanes High School District Superintendent John Nickerson thoroughly debunked the claims made by Starnes and PJI (emphasis added):
An examination of the program and classroom environment would suggest gross inaccuracies in the Pacific Justice Institute press release. It is not clear what other primary source Fox News used for their reporting, but their "opinion" piece on the program does not reflect what actually took place. Did not happen [quoted directly from PJI's press release]: ridiculed and humiliated / intimidation and interrogation / also had students line up. The peer led classroom activity was a carried out in a respectful environment and under the supervision of the classroom teacher. The activity focused on tolerance and acceptance, with an emphasis on anti-queer harassment and homophobia. It was intended to help students better understand the LGBTQ student experience.
The program is in its 15th year at Acalanes High School and his been a model program and replicated throughout the region.
We will continue to examine the activity/program in our efforts to improve the safety on our campuses for all students.
This is the second time Fox News and other conservative outlets have been duped by the Pacific Justice Institute. In 2013, PJI was caught promoting a fabricated story about a transgender student in Colorado harassing girls in the school bathroom - a claim that was also debunked by that school's superintendent.
Starnes contacted Nickerson for his own piece, and Starnes quoted Nickerson as writing that the school was aware of the "concerns and allegations raised by two parents and the Pacific Justice Institute" and that it was "investigating the situation."
But rather than waiting for the investigation to be completed, Starnes uncritically parroted PJI's allegations. As a result, a 15-year-old school program that fosters tolerance and acceptance of minority students has been baselessly smeared across conservative media.
Fox has a history of giving headlines to PJI, despite the group's well-established history of manufacturing anti-LGBT misinformation. Given that only recently Starnes incorrectly reported facts in a story about anti-gay cake bakers, it might behoove both Starnes and Fox to stop relying on a discredited anti-LGBT organization as a legitimate source.
While Fox News continues to disregard journalistic best practices in reporting on transgender people, MSNBC has repeatedly demonstrated how to properly cover stories about transgender medical treatment, inviting actual transgender guests to offer expert testimony about the importance of health care for the transgender community.
When Private Chelsea Manning - the former soldier currently serving a 35-year prison term for leaking thousands of classified documents - came out as transgender in August 2013, major media outlets proved just how ill-prepared they were to cover transgender stories. Both Fox News and CNN repeatedly misgendered Manning, disregarding GLAAD's Media Reference Guide, which calls on news organizations to refer to transgender people by their preferred gender pronouns.
Manning is back in the news after a February 13 report by USA Today revealed that Manning has been approved to receive hormone therapy as part of her transition. And the story has once again highlighted the need for responsible coverage of transgender stories:
While MSNBC took steps to include transgender voices and cover Manning's transition with intention and accuracy, Fox News ignored journalistic guidelines while continuing to mock and degrade transgender people in its coverage. (CNN briefly mentioned the story without editorial comment)
Fox continued to misgender Manning when discussing her healthcare. Misgendering a transgender person violates journalistic guidelines established by the Associated Press, New York Times, GLAAD, and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, which all instruct journalists to refer to transgender people by their preferred pronouns. In addition to misgendering Manning, Fox continued its year old tradition of playing music to mock transgender people.
Fox also neglected to mention that denying transgender prisoners with treatment could have severe health consequences - instead fixating on the cost of Mannings' treatment.
In sharp contrast, MSNBC's Ronan Farrow and Joy Reid both provided exemplary, accurate coverage of Manning's story. Both Farrow and Reid held to the GLAAD best practice that "transgender people are the experts to talk about transgender people," and invited transgender women and activists - Allyson Robinson and Jennifer Boylan - on as expert guests to educate viewers about transgender health care. In doing so, the two gave viewers an opportunity to learn about the necessity of trans health care.
MSNBC proved that it is easy to follow the guidelines in covering transgender stories by using correct pronouns, and ensuring accurate coverage by inviting the experts - transgender people themselves - to educate viewers about transgender issues.
Video created by Coleman Lowndes.
Experts in journalism ethics have criticized NOLA.com's repeated misgendering of Penny Proud, a transgender woman who was shot and killed in New Orleans this week, calling it "dismissive" and "inflammatory."
NOLA.com has come under scrutiny for its coverage of the murder of Penny Proud, a transgender woman in New Orleans who was shot and killed in New Orleans on February 10. Some of the site's initial reports referred to Proud as a "male" and a "man" while focusing on where Proud was shot, noting that the area has a reputation for prostitution and drug use.
NOLA.com, along with The Times-Picayune, is owned by the NOLA Media Group Division of Advance Publications. The website also serves as a hub for Times-Picayune's online content.
Misgendering a transgender person violates journalistic guidelines established by the Associated Press, New York Times, GLAAD, and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, which all instruct journalists to refer to transgender people by their preferred pronouns.
NOLA.com's coverage has since been updated to accurately identify Proud as a transgender woman, citing "new information from NOPD," which identified Proud as a male in its initial press statements.But in an interview with BuzzFeed, NOLA.com reporter Prescotte Stokes III defended his decision to misgender Proud:
In a phone call with BuzzFeed News, Stokes explained that he chose how to report his story after speaking to people in the area who may have known Proud.
"They called her a girl but said he was a man," said Stokes "I assume he parades around as a transgender woman, but he is actually a man.
In comments to Media Matters, experts in journalism ethics criticized NOLA.com's repeated misgendering of Proud.
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson asked his supporters to lobby for discriminatory, anti-gay "Religious Freedom Restoration Acts" that a Fox colleague denounced as "homosexual Jim Crow Laws."
In a February 12 email to "Erick's Conservative Activist List" titled "The Facts" and a February 13 blog post on RedState.com, Erickson asked his supporters to petition for the expansion of so-called state "Religious Freedom Restoration Acts" (RFRAs) - laws that would give individuals and businesses a broad license to discriminate against LGBT people on religious grounds:
An absolute majority of American support religious exceptions relating to providing goods and services to gay marriage. But gay rights advocates oppose that. The Supreme Court will undoubtedly impose gay marriage on the nation by June. Our state legislature needs to pass RFRA now to protect people of faith.
Call your state legislators and demand religious freedom protections for conscientious objectors to the culture wars.
Erickson supported his call for RFRAs by citing a number of anti-gay horror stories popularized by Fox News - all cases where a business violated state non-discrimination laws by refusing to serve gay customers.
Religious liberty scholars, southern faith leaders, and some conservative lawmakers and business owners have all publicly denounced RFRAs over concerns that they would create a blank check for anti-gay discrimination.
Even Erickson's colleagues at Fox have noted how extreme and discriminatory these kinds of RFRAs would be. Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers strongly condemned a RFRA bill in Kansas last year, taking issue with those who support the "homosexual Jim Crow Laws" that justify anti-LGBT bigotry in the name of Christianity. Even Megyn Kelly, a consistent enabler of homophobia at Fox, labeled Arizona's controversial license-to-discriminate bill as "potentially dangerous"- a position she later abandoned.
Erickson has a history of cozying up with the anti-LGBT organizations pushing for these discriminatory RFRA bills, including the extremist Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a group CNN found to be behind the "genetic code" of the RFRA bills popping up across the country. ADF's previous work on license-to-discriminate legislation so inspired Erickson that he begged readers of his RedState.com blog to donate money to the group.
From the February 12 edition of CNN's New Day:
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Fox News contributor Robert Jeffress believes that gay marriage and the film release of Fifty Shades of Grey are signs that the apocalypse is nearing. Jeffress said "the Bible prophesized that in the End Times, there will be a lack of moral restraint. And I think we're seeing that manifested in so many different ways."
Jeffress is an evangelical pastor with a long history of incendiary remarks. He is an anti-gay bigot who believes gays lead a "miserable lifestyle," homosexuality is linked to pedophilia, and gay people are promiscuous and engaged in "filthy behavior," and "brainwashing activit[ies]." He's compared Mormonism to a cult, called Islam an "evil, evil, religion," referred to Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism as "false religions," and said Catholicism is a "counterfeit religion" that rose from a "cult-like, pagan religion."
During a February 10 appearance on Fox News Radio's The Alan Colmes Show, Jeffress said he saw "radical Islam," gay marriage, and Fifty Shades of Grey as signs of the coming apocalypse.
Jeffress claimed: "The Apostle Paul said in 2 Timothy 1 that in the last days it will be terrible times. And that word terrible means lack of moral restraint. And I think we're seeing that everywhere, whether it is the attempt to change the most basic unit of society, the family and marriage by redefinition of marriage. Or the acceptance of perversion. You know, this Fifty Shades of Grey, or Fifty Shades of Perversion. I think that's symptomatic of what is happening."
On gay marriage, Jeffress added, "I believe that gays have the same constitutional rights as heterosexuals. No doubt about it. But I agree with our last guest that marriage is not a constitutional right. If it were, Alan, 15-year-olds could marry. Siblings could marry." He then asked if a father and daughter should also have the right to marry if same-sex couples could.
Jeffress said he hadn't seen or read Fifty Shades of Grey, but from what he read it "tends to objectify women -- put them in a bondage situation." When asked about if he approves of that in a voluntary situation, he replied, "that's her business." He added that "this movie may represent a new low in popular entertainment. That's all I'm saying. And I'm just saying the Bible prophesized that in the End Times, there will be a lack of moral restraint. And I think we're seeing that manifested in so many different ways."
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly criticized the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for adding former Fox contributor Ben Carson to the group's "extremist files" for his anti-LGBT comments. To defend Carson, O'Reilly invited a senior fellow from the Family Research Council (FRC), a group also listed on the SPLC's "extremist files" for their anti-LGBT rhetoric, to denounce the SPLC.
The SPLC recently added Washington Times columnist Carson to its "extremist files," citing his extreme anti-LGBT rhetoric (emphasis original):
In His Own Words:
"Marriage is between a man and a woman. It's a well-established pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA [North American Man/Boy Association, a group advocating pedophilia], be they people who believe in bestiality--it doesn't matter what they are, they don't get to change the definition."
--Interview on Fox News' "Hannity," March 26, 2013
"[I]f we can redefine marriage as between two men or two women or any other way based on social pressures as opposed to between a man and a woman, we will continue to redefine it in any way that we wish, which is a slippery slope with a disastrous ending, as witnessed in the dramatic fall of the Roman Empire."
--America the Beautiful: Resdiscovering What Made This Nation Great, 2012 book written with Candy Carlson
"Obamacare is really the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. And ... in a way, it is slavery."
--Values Voter Summit, Washington, D.C., Oct. 11, 2013
"I mean [our government and institutions] are very much like Nazi Germany. ... You know, you had a government using its tools to intimidate the population. We now live in a society where people are afraid to say what they really believe."
--Quoted by Breitbart News, March 12, 2014
On February 10, O'Reilly criticized the designation of Carson and invited FRC's Ken Blackwell on to discuss whether the SPLC was "straying from their mission." During the interview, Blackwell denounced the group as an "auxiliary operation of the political left," and admitted that FRC was designated a "hate organization" by the SPLC. Blackwell said that the designation of Carson as an anti-LGBT extremist is "ridiculous on its face." O'Reilly ended his interview with Blackwell by asking him whether he "consider[s] the Southern Poverty Law Center a hate group?"
The FRC was designated by the SPLC as an 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."
Ben Carson responded to the SPLC in a statement to the conservative website Breitbart.com, saying, "When embracing traditional Christian values is equated to hatred, we are approaching the stage where wrong is called right and right is called wrong. It is important for us to once again advocate true tolerance," adding that "It is nothing but projectionist when some groups label those who disagree with them as haters." Carson's statement continues a pattern of conservative media conflating homophobic views and statements with Christian religious beliefs.
UPDATE: The SPLC issued a statement on February 11 announcing that it has removed Ben Carson from its "extremist files" list. The statement also notes that "Dr. Carson has, in fact, made a number of statements that express views that we believe most people would conclude are extreme" and that "his views should be closely examined."