Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes hyped the story of a Utah National Guard technician who was reprimanded by his superiors after his anti-gay views became the source of repeated insubordination.
In a July 11 story for FoxNews.com, Starnes sensationalized the case of Tech. Sgt. Layne Wilson, who wrote an email in December protesting a same-sex wedding at West Point's Cadet Chapel. Wilson's email prompted the Air National Guard to reprimand him for "fail[ing] to render the proper respect to a commissioned officer." Wilson - a noncommissioned officer - also had his reenlistment contract reduced from six years to one year.
Starnes - who has called military policies protecting gay soldiers a sign of "the end of days" - baselessly framed the story as a tale of stifling Wilson's religious freedom, rather than a stark case of insubordination. Disregarding longstanding military rules, Wilson condemned his superiors for allowing the ceremony to go ahead:
"This is wrong on so many levels," Wilson wrote. "If they wanted to get married in a hotel that is one thing. Our base chapels are a place of worship and this is a mockery to God and our military core values. I have proudly served 27 years and this is a slap in the face to us who have put our lives on the line for this country. I hope sir that you will take appropriate action so this does not happen again."
Fox News radio host Todd Starnes used a story about a soldier disobeying lawful orders to falsely claim that the military is persecuting Christian service members for their beliefs, continuing his misguided campaign against nonexistent "culture wars."
Master Sgt. Nathan Sommers was charged and found guilty of three Article 15 charges after he disobeyed lawful orders by making political statements while in uniform. Sommers was counseled on separate occasions for bumper stickers and tweets that attacked President Obama and reading political literature while in uniform. Starnes used the case to claim that the military is prosecuting service members for their religious beliefs in an article titled, "Army Reprimands Soldier Under Fire for Religious Beliefs." Starnes then used his platform to allow Sommers' lawyer John Bennett Wells and Family Research Council's Jerry Boykin to push the same deceptive claim. Wells claimed that the timing of the prosecution seemed strange and suspicious, adding that "it looks like a graduated attempt to build a case against him on some really ridiculous charges." FRC's Boykin went further:
Boykin said the issue is whether the chain of command would be doing this if it were not for his outspoken Christian faith and his unwillingness to compromise on what he believes.
"It seems to me that the chain of command has failed to deter him from his beliefs and has resorted to this step now," he said.
Fox News host Brian Kilmeade told the leader of a violent nationalist hate group that targets British Muslims, "We got your back" and "it's great what you're doing."
Kilmeade offered his endorsement to the English Defence League (EDL) and co-founder Tommy Robinson, who appeared as a guest on the June 10 edition of Kilmeade's Fox News Radio program. Kilmeade's support followed an interview in which Robinson railed against the immigration of Muslims into the United Kingdom, and warned of Muslims "forcefully putting us under Sharia" Law and planning a "silent takeover" to "implement Sharia" in his country and across the world.
Robinson (whose real name is Stephen Lennon) also said he didn't regret his recent conviction for using a false identity document to enter the United States to attend an anti-Islam event with anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller. Robinson pleaded guilty and was jailed in January and released in February. Robinson's offense was not his first brush with the law.
Fox News has previously reported on the violent and fringe nature of the EDL. On August 28, 2010, America's News HQ anchor Gregg Jarrett noted there were "hundreds of extreme right-wing protesters rioting in northern England. Members of the so-called English Defence League tossing bottles and rocks at police in the city of Bradford. There's the map. Police penned the group in, keeping them away from a separate rally headed by a leftist group. The English Defence League opposes what it calls the spread of Sharia Law and Islamic extremism in England. Police arrested five people, but there are no reports of any injuries."
Several other news outlets have similarly described the EDL as a violent and extreme anti-Muslim group:
No story about transgender people is too insignificant for Fox News reporter Todd Starnes to cover as a "culture war" horror story, especially if the story gives him the opportunity to use inaccurate and transphobic slurs in his reporting.
In a June 3 article for Fox News Radio, Starnes reported on a Nashville woman who complained after she encountered a transgender woman in a restaurant bathroom. The story included various quotes from the disgruntled woman's husband, inappropriately referring to the transgender woman as a man and commenting that her presence in the public restroom "poses a safety hazard":
David Staton, whose wife had the disquieting run-in while eating out at Amerigo, a restaurant in the country music capital, has a simple solution.
"There needs to be some sort of law that says if you are born a man with man-parts, you go to the men's bathroom," said Staton. "In a family restaurant, men should go to the men's room and women should go to the women's."
Staton and his wife were celebrating a date night on Saturday by eating dinner at Amerigo - a regional Italian restaurant chain in Nashville.
Sitting just a few tables away was a group of cross-dressers.
"These guys were well over six feet tall, big burly men in dresses," he told Fox News. "The whole restaurant noticed them."
And Staton's wife especially noticed them after an encounter in the ladies room of the Nashville establishment.
"It was a small restroom and she was waiting for a stall," he said. "And that's when she came face to face with a guy well over six feet. She immediately blurted out, 'Am I in the men's bathroom?'"
She was not.
Staton said the man went over to the mirror to fix his lipstick and told his wife, "It's okay. It's okay."
He said it poses a safety hazard - especially for families with young daughters.
"No dad or parent should have to wonder - is my little girl going into the women's bathroom with men in there," he said. "To have a man in the women's bathroom is a dangerous thing. That's just so wrong on so many levels." [emphasis added]
On Twitter, Starnes continued his hobby of making derogatory remarks about transgender people by echoing Staton's comments, referring to the transgender woman as a "burly man wearing a dress":
Fox News reporter Todd Starnes claims to offer "culture war news," but several of his recent stories have turned out to be false or misleading.
From the April 24 edition of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends:
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Fox News host Brian Kilmeade thinks he's found the explanation for how someone was able to set off bombs at the Boston Marathon: President Obama's supposed policy of "disengaging from the Middle East."
Kilmeade linked the alleged actions of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar to President Obama's foreign policy during his April 19 radio program. Kilmeade stated: "We had a guy in yesterday that worked with Richard Holbrooke and Hillary Clinton and he's so disappointed that we're disengaging from the Middle East. But you talk to these radicals in the Middle East and they say, 'America, don't get involved, leave us alone.' So like it or not, this president has left them alone. And guess what happens? Now the IEDs are blowing up in our streets. So what are we supposed to learn from that?"
NBC News has reported that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was born in Kyrgyzstan and became a naturalized American citizen on Sept. 11, 2012, while his late older brother, Tamerlan, killed during a recent firefight with law enforcement, was born in Russia. They reportedly came to the United States in 2002 or 2003 with their family, which is of Chechen origin.
From the April 19 edition of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends:
KILMEADE: Joe, how much are you shocked that a guy who came here when he was nine -- at nineteen, is out to blow up Americans?
CALLER: I'm not. I'm not shocked at all. I think it's -- I think it's a societal issue, I think that there's a -- that there's a definite view of America that's propagated by the political system that's going on now, and I'm not really shocked that people are disenchanted and have this view we have to, you know, get back at them. It's unfortunate, it shouldn't be that way, but you know, with an administration like we have now, and the propaganda that's going on, it just helps these people to further their psychosis.
KILMEADE: Yeah, it is two things going on. And it's got to be frustrating. We had a guy in yesterday that worked with Richard Holbrooke and Hillary Clinton and he's so disappointed that we're disengaging from the Middle East. But you talk to these radicals in the Middle East and they say, "America, don't get involved, leave us alone." So like it or not, this president has left them alone. And guess what happens? Now the IEDs are blowing up in our streets. So what are we supposed to learn from that?
Kilmeade, who also co-hosts Fox News' Fox & Friends, is hardly an authority on foreign policy or national security issues. Kilmeade has misled his audience about Iraq war intelligence, claimed (repeatedly) that "all terrorists are Muslims," and once remarked that Sen. John McCain "should not be allowed to talk on torture" because "he was tortured."
Fox News figures are dismissing the voices of the families who suffered in a mass shooting in Newtown, CT by claiming they're being used and exploited by Democrats, discounting the efforts they have made to encourage Congress to pass stronger gun laws.
On April 11, the Senate overcame a Republican-led filibuster that tried to block the beginning of debate on stronger gun laws with a 68-31 vote. The impetus for the new gun proposals was driven by the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that left 26 victims dead, most of them young children. President Obama had been urging Congress to act to strengthen guns laws in response to the shooting for some time.
According to several Fox News figures, Obama has been using the families of the Newtown shooting victims as props for a political agenda.
On April 11, Fox News host Sean Hannity called the effort to strengthen gun laws "naked exploitation of dead children and grieving families," while his guest Ann Coulter said that Democrats are "play[ing] with these victims." The previous night, Hannity stated that the president "is once again using families of tragedy as props for his agenda." Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade said on his April 11 radio show that Obama is "using the Newtown families to push for background checks." Fox News White House reporter Ed Henry similarly said on April 9 that "for the second straight day, the White House used the victims of the Newtown tragedy to make their case." On his April 9 radio show, Fox News host Mike Huckabee suggested that taking some of the relatives of the Newtown shooting victims to Washington, DC on Air Force One to make their case for stronger gun laws was "an exploitation of those parents."
Such an attitude does a disservice to the many Newtown families that want tougher gun laws in the wake of their tragedies. Several of the families appeared on CBS' 60 Minutes on April 7 to discuss what kind of gun violence prevention measures they would like to see signed into law, saying that universal background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines were important. After the vote that broke the GOP's threatened filibuster, more than 30 families of Newtown victims released a statement criticizing those who tried block an up-or-down vote on new gun legislation, saying that "[t]he senators who have vowed to filibuster this bill should be ashamed of their attempt to silence efforts to prevent the next American tragedy."
Right-wing media outlets are criticizing the Washington attorney general for enforcing non-discrimination laws against a florist who refused to offer her services for a same-sex wedding.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit on April 9 against Arlene's Flowers and Gifts, a florist that refused to supply flowers for the wedding of a same-sex couple due to her religious beliefs. According to the lawsuit, the florist violated the state's Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits businesses from discriminating against customers on the basis of sexual orientation.
Right-wing media outlets have jumped on the story, touting it as evidence of the gay community's hostility towards religious freedom.
American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer cited the incident as an example of "homofascism":
Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes criticized an email from a U.S. Army officer condemning anti-gay hate speech, suggesting that the email was a sign of "the end of days" and warning his audience that "your military is being turned against you."
In an April 9 article for Fox News Radio, Starnes reported that an email from Lt. Col. Jack Rich instructed subordinates to be on the lookout for behaviors that are "inconsistent with Army Values," including showing support for a number of "hate groups" operating in the U.S.
The email included a list of anti-gay groups like the Family Research Council (FRC) and American Family Association (AFA), stating:
The religious right in America has employed a variety of strategies in its efforts to beat back the increasingly confident gay rights movement. One of those has been defamation. Many of its leaders have engaged in the crudest type of name-calling, describing LGBT people as "perverts" with "filthy habits" who seek to snatch the children of straight parents and "convert" them to gay sex. They have disseminated disparaging "facts" about gays that are simply untrue assertions that are remarkably reminiscent of the way white intellectuals and scientists once wrote about the "bestial" black man and his supposedly threatening sexuality.
Rich's depiction of the hate speech stemming from the anti-gay movement is entirely accurate. Both FRC and AFA have been listed as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center due to their long histories of defaming LGBT people, including peddling the myth allowing for openly gay soldiers would cause a spike in sexual assaults and HIV infections in the military.
Starnes - who acts as Fox News' resident mouthpiece for anti-gay hate groups - chose to depict the email as an assault on Christianity, interviewing several employees of FRC who, not surprisingly, condemned the email:
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told Fox News he was disturbed by the contents of the email.
"It's very disturbing to see where the Obama Administration is taking the military and using it as a laboratory for social experimentation -- and also as an instrument to fundamentally change the culture," he said. "The message is very clear - if you are a Christian who believes in the Bible, who believes in transcendent truth, there is no place for you in the military."
Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes is standing by his anti-gay attacks and his claim that acceptance of marriage equality could lead to legalized bestiality. When challenged by colleague Alan Colmes, Starnes also confirmed he "absolutely" believes that liberals want to "destroy the fabric of the American family," and linked marriage equality to the spread of venereal disease.
During a March 27 appearance on Fox News Radio's The Alan Colmes Show, Starnes doubled down on his anti-gay attacks. Colmes asked Starnes if he -- "a nice, mild mannered guy" -- really believes that "the left's ultimate agenda is to destroy the family." Starnes replied: "I really do believe that the agenda of the left is trying to destroy the fabric of the American family. I really do. ... I absolutely believe that."
From the March 13 edition of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends:
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Fox News aired a video of conservative attorney Jordan Sekulow claiming an imprisoned pastor's conversion to Christianity is the reason President Obama has "been silent" on the case, even after Sekulow praised statements from the White House and State Department in support of the pastor.
On Fox & Friends, Fox News Radio host Todd Starnes aired a video of Jordan Sekulow, a frequent Fox guest and Executive Director of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), discussing the case of pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been imprisoned in Iran, reportedly due to his Christian faith. In the video, Sekulow interviews Abedini's wife who had not been contacted directly by President Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry.
After the interview, Sekulow declared: "I believe the government's been silent on this case with Pastor Saeed Abedini, the reason why the actual executive branch leaders have not spoken out [...] [is] because he converted from Islam to Christianity." The following voice-over claims that "the only public acknowledgement came in December, when the administration said they were aware of the case and called for his release." Starnes also highlighted the claims in a post on his blog titled "Obama Ignores American Christian Held By Iranians."
But Fox failed to note that both the White House and State Department have issued statements in support of Abedini's release, statements that Sekulow himself praised in a January 25 article on the ACLJ website: "we applaud both the State Department and the White House for these very strong statements. [...] Thanks to the State Department and White House for their statements today and involvement to secure Pastor Saeed's freedom."
From the March 6 edition of Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends:
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After glossing over state Republicans' role in exacerbating long lines at the ballot box, three Fox hosts mocked the hours-long wait and multiple trips a 102-year-old woman endured in order to cast her vote in 2012.
On Fox News Radio's Kilmeade & Friends, host Brian Kilmeade and Fox's Martha MacCallum and Bill Hemmer laughed off the difficulties 102-year-old Desiline Victor endured in order to vote in the 2012 election. Victor, who was invited to the State of the Union address and whom President Obama applauded for enduring a long wait to vote, had to make two trips to the polls and wait in line for over three hours before she was able to cast her ballot. Discussing Victor, MacCallum wondered, "What's the big deal?" and said, "This is such a non-issue. Ridiculous." Hemmer added that at the State of the Union, "They held her up as a victim. What was she a victim of?"
But long lines at polling places are widely acknowledged as a major issue nationwide. In Victor's home state of Florida alone, at least 201,000 eligible voters reportedly did not cast ballots because they were discouraged by lengthy wait times.
Earlier, on MacCallum and Hemmer's show America's Newsroom, Fox correspondent Eric Shawn reported on proposals to extend early voting to ease the problem of long lines at the polls. Shawn noted that Florida had the longest polling place lines in 2012, and then played a clip of Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner addressing Florida's issues, stating that Detzner is "working on ways to fix the problems," including an extension of the state's early voting period in order to shorten voters' wait.
Shawn failed to reveal, however, that Detzner played a role in exacerbating this problem in Florida.