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  • A Year After Marriage Equality, It's Time For Media To Stop Giving Anti-LGBT Liars A Pass

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    In the year since the Supreme Court struck down state-level same-sex marriage bans, anti-gay extremists have continued to peddle misinformation about LGBT equality in the media. After more than 12 years of pushing lies and wildly inaccurate predictions about the consequences of marriage equality, it’s time for the media to stop letting anti-gay activists comment on LGBT rights without disclosing their proven track record of dishonest extremism.

    It’s been a year since the Supreme Court’s June 26, 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges decision which found state-level same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. In the decade leading up to the decision, anti-LGBT extremists and hate group leaders peddled specious talking points about the consequences of “redefining traditional marriage.” In media appearances, these figures predicted that allowing same-sex couples to marry would cause a “slippery slope” to legalized bestiality, incest, and pedophilia; pushed the myth that gay men are more likely to engage in pedophilia than straight men; and hyped claims that pastors and churches were in danger of being forced to perform same-sex marriages.

    Several of these groups were so deceptive that in 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), designated them anti-LGBT “hate groups” for “propagating known falsehoods” and pushing “demonizing propaganda.” One of these groups was the Family Research Council (FRC), whose officials have accused gay people of trying to "recruit" children into homosexuality and endorsed a Uganda law that would have imposed the death penalty for engaging in gay sex.

    For years, major cable news networks have hosted FRC representatives to comment on LGBT equality without identifying FRC as a hate group. Despite the efforts of progressive Christians to stop outlets from letting FRC representatives conflate their extremism with mainstream Christianity, the group continues to have a significant media presence. Since last June’s Obergefell decision, mainstream media outlets have continued to call on FRC to discuss LGBT rights, including:

    • The New York Times, NPR, and USA Today all cited FRC’s commentary on the Obergefell marriage equality decision without noting the group’s history of hate.
    • ABC's This Week invited FRC's Ken Blackwell -- who previously blamed same-sex marriage for a mass murder -- to discuss the court's decision.  
    • NPR featured FRC’s Senior Fellow for Policy Studies Peter Sprigg -- who spent 10 years as a "professional actor" before joining FRC -- to debate same-sex parenting.
    • FRC’s President Tony Perkins appeared on MSNBC to discuss meeting with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump assemble an “Evangelical executive advisory board,” featuring anti-LGBT extremists.

    In the past year, the media have given other anti-LGBT hate groups similar passes. In September, mainstream news outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters failed to identify Liberty Counsel, the anti-LGBT hate group representing Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, instead calling it merely a “Christian” or “conservative” organization. In April, major news outlets largely failed to identify the American Family Association (AFA) -- the group organizing a boycott of Target over its transgender-inclusive restroom policy -- as an anti-LGBT hate group.

    The few instances when mainstream media like The Associated Press and CBS News’ Bob Schieffer did properly identify hate group leaders, anti-gay conservatives were predictably outraged. Right-wing anger at journalists who expose anti-LGBT extremism illustrates why it’s so vital to disclose when sources or commentators represent hate groups. The public has a right to know that the same groups with a track record of fearmongering about children’s safety to oppose marriage equality are now those peddling the anti-LGBT movement’s new favorite myth that LGBT nondiscrimination protections endanger the safety of women and children in bathrooms.

    A year after Obergefell, it’s time for the media to stop letting the same extremists use media appearances to float new lies and recycle mythical talking points to oppose LGBT equality. Outlets seeking to provide balanced coverage of LGBT rights ought to find commentators who don’t have a decade-long track record of spreading hateful lies about LGBT people. 

  • The Problem With The Media’s ‘Trump Is Pivoting’ Narrative

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    Media figures have repeatedly claimed that presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is “pivoting” to the general election every time he does something that they think makes him look or sound “presidential.” Media’s constant search for Trump’s “pivot” effectively whitewashes all of the racist, sexist, slanderous, and conspiratorial attacks Trump has doled out, and mainstreams the idea that Trump’s past diatribes can be forgiven so long as he assumes a veneer of conventional, tempered behavior.

    Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump and the media have engaged in a cycle wherein Trump launches offensive broadsides and character attacks; He gets bad press; Republican leaders clamor for Trump to tone down his rhetoric; Trump obliges, often using a teleprompter to restrain himself; Media figures claim Trump has “pivoted” and is “becoming more presidential”; and repeat.

    As MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace said, Trump constantly shatters the “pivot” narrative “by trotting out conspiracy theories” -- or, as others have noted, outrageous insults -- within hours of being lauded as “presidential.” 

    In following this pattern, the media are both applauding Trump for having simply mastered “campaign 101,” as CNN’s David Gregory noted, and excusing his past remarks as political maneuvering and electoral showmanship.

    In early June, after Trump launched a multiday racist crusade against Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over Trump University lawsuits, Republican leaders beseeched Trump to “get on message” and “quit attacking … various minority groups in the country.” That very night, Trump delivered a speech -- devoid of any attacks and with the aid of a teleprompter -- that “sought to calm fretful Republicans bolting from his side over his latest controversy,” CNN reported.

    Media figures immediately claimed that Trump’s restraint showed he was “pivoting.” NBC News reporter Ali Vitali wrote that Trump “acted presidential” in the speech, which “finalized his pivot to the general election.” CNN host Don Lemon said the “new, more presidential Donald Trump” is what “people in Washington wanted to see.” Unsurprisingly, Trump also received praise from right-wing media for sounding “more presidential than ever.”

    CNN political commentator Marc Lamont Hill explained the phenomenon:

    “It's kind of a good outcome for Trump, because we're not talking about a Mexican judge anymore. We're not talking about something controversial. We're talking about Trump changing the direction of his campaign. That can only be good news for him, based on what the last three weeks have been.”

    GOP leaders condemned Trump’s repeated “offensive” suggestions that President Obama had sympathies for terrorists, but changed their tune once Trump delivered his next teleprompter-guided speech following the mass shooting in Orlando, FL. Some media figures said Trump sounded “more presidential” and was “behaving like general election nominees behave,” and Trump’s slanderous accusations against the president quickly fell out of the news cycle.

    The “pivot” claim, which has repeatedly surfaced since at least February, has also helped wash away many of Trump’s past actions and comments: his doubling down on his proposed Muslim ban, his accusations that Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) father was involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination, and his questioning of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s faith.

    Some media figures have noted the journalistic malpractice associated with the constant fallback on the “pivot” narrative. New York Times Magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich, calling the narrative “absurd,” wrote:

    But really, how do you pivot away from saying that Mexicans are rapists? (Will he negotiate “great deals” with more moderate Mexican rapists?) If your campaign is a cult of personality, how can you modulate that personality and still have the cult? In Trump’s case, a “pivot” would constitute a complete overhaul of his very essence.

    Similarly, Washington Post opinion writer Kathleen Parker lambasted media’s “softening of criticism” of Trump and warned “the commentariat,” “Nothing makes Trump more acceptable today than yesterday or last week — or six months ago.”

    The "pivot" narrative has become a reset button, allowing media to excuse or forget all of Trump’s past rhetorical assaults. Media figures are essentially condoning all of his racism, sexism, and conspiracies, so long as he sounds and acts subdued and presidential.

    Image by Dayanita Ramesh and Sarah Wasko. 

  • STUDY: Huge Disparity In Cable News Coverage Of This Week’s Trump, Clinton Speeches

    MSNBC And Fox Covered Trump’s Anti-Clinton Tirade Three Times Longer Than Both Clinton Speeches Combined, CNN Twice As Long

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    A review of coverage of major speeches this week by presumptive presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump finds that CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News all devoted at least twice as much coverage directly before and after the speeches to commenting on Trump’s speech than they did Clinton’s two speeches combined.

    Media Matters counted how much time the three networks spent discussing the speeches before and after they aired. Comparing how much attention the networks give to the speeches is a way of determining the relative importance they are assigned. In their coverage of this week’s speeches, the networks have treated Trump speaking as a major event worthy of substantial coverage both before and after he begins speaking. They did not afford the same status to Clinton.

    On June 21, Clinton delivered a speech criticizing Trump’s economic record, which all three cable networks carried in full. CNN provided roughly nine minutes of coverage leading up to the speech and less than five minutes after, for a total of about 14 minutes of continuous coverage leading into and following the speech. MSNBC and Fox both turned to the speech from coverage of other topics, and they dedicated less than five minutes to post-speech analysis before again turning to different topics.

    Clinton delivered a speech the following day billed as a “case for ‘progressive’ economic reforms,” which again was covered in full by all three networks. Again, the networks provided little coverage leading up to and following the speech. CNN’s continuous coverage of the speech lasted just over seven minutes, totaling more than 21 minutes of additional coverage for both speeches; MSNBC’s coverage lasted approximately 11 minutes, totalling nearly 16 minutes of coverage for both speeches; and Fox’s coverage lasted just over three and a half minutes for a total of nearly eight minutes of coverage for the two speeches.

    The three cable networks devoted more than twice as much consecutive coverage before and after Trump’s speech on June 22, which was billed as an attack on Clinton, as they did the two Clinton speeches combined. CNN had the most continuous pre- and post-speech coverage, with nearly 44 minutes of commentary. This was more than twice as long as their coverage of both of Clinton’s speeches, and included nearly 25 minutes of discussion leading up to Trump’s speech, much of it over live shots of Trump’s empty podium.

    MSNBC devoted nearly 38 minutes to covering Trump’s speech, more than three times more coverage than both Clinton speeches received. Fox dedicated over 26 minutes to Trump’s speech, which was three times longer than their coverage of Clinton’s two speeches. Both provided roughly eight minutes of coverage leading into the speech, again frequently showing footage of the empty podium.

    To their credit, both MSNBC and CNN devoted some of their post-speech coverage to fact-checking Trump’s numerous false claims.