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.
A Fox News correspondent is attacking "the liberal, anti-South media" for unfairly "trying to crucify Paula Deen" over her admission in a court deposition that she's used racial epithets.
Todd Starnes, who also hosts a Fox News Radio segment, wrote on his Facebook page that the "liberal, anti-South media is trying to crucify Paula Deen. They accuse her of using a derogatory word to describe a black person. Paula admitted she used the word -- back in the 1980s - when a black guy walked into the bank, stuck a gun in her face and ordered her to hand over the cash. The national media failed to mention that part of the story. I'll give credit to the Associated Press for telling the full story."
Starnes also defended Deen via Twitter, writing: "The mainstream media hates Paula Deen [...] I think it's because most of them don't eat meat."
Starnes' defense of Deen doesn't square with reports about Deen's deposition. The Huffington Post reported it "obtained a transcript of the deposition in question" and Deen is quoted as stating she "probably" used the word "in telling my husband" about the incident, and she is "sure" she's used it since then, "but it's been a very long time." She went on to say "my children and my brother object to that word being used in any cruel or mean behavior. As well as I do."
Deen also discussed planning a "really southern plantation wedding" and was asked if she used the n-word then:
Lawyer: Is there any possibility, in your mind, that you slipped and used the word "n--r"?
Deen: No, because that's not what these men were. They were professional black men doing a fabulous job.
She apologized today in an online video "to everybody for the wrong that I've done ... Inappropriate and hurtful language is totally, totally unacceptable."
In 2011, Starnes tweeted "Blacks riot at Burger King" and linked to a local news story about a cell phone camera capturing a brawl at a Panama City Beach Burger King. The story did not mention or discuss the race of the participants. The tweet was later deleted.
Starnes' Facebook post:
From the June 10 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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After President Obama named former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice as his new national security advisor, right-wing media figures called the appointment a "slap in the face," a "middle finger," and an "eff you" to Americans.
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 figures scapegoated Islam and promoted Islamophobia following an attack in London reportedly perpetrated by radical extremists which has been denounced by Muslim organizations in Britain.
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.
Fox News' Sean Hannity and Todd Starnes portrayed restraints on proselytization as proof of the Obama administration's purported "war on religious liberty in the military," despite the fact that military policy has long prohibited unwanted proselytization.
On the May 2 edition of his Fox News show, Hannity claimed that a Pentagon statement reiterating the military's longtime policy against proselytizing was proof of Obama's "war on religious liberty." Starnes added that Christians were "under significant attack" by the Obama administration, under which "we have seen a Christian cleansing of the United States military."
In fact, the U.S. military's anti-proselytization policy has been consistent among all religions, and it targets only disruptive activities. A statement released May 2 by Defense Department spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen clarified the military's policy that "members of the military are free to share their faith as long as they don't harass others." Christensen continued:
A new poll showing that more than four in ten registered Republican voters believe an "armed revolution" may be necessary in the next few years echoes rhetoric employed by Fox News personalities.
The poll, released on May 1 by Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind, found that 29 percent of Americans, including 44 percent of Republicans, agreed with the statement, "In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties." From Talking Points Memo:
The survey, aimed at measuring public attitudes toward gun issues, found that 29 percent of Americans agree with the statement, "In the next few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect our liberties." An additional five percent were unsure.
Eighteen percent of Democrats said an armed revolt "might be necessary," as compared to 27 percent of independents and 44 percent of Republicans. Support levels were similar among males and females but higher among less educated voters.
The belief that armed rebellion may be necessary is reminiscent of rhetoric heard from Fox figures, who have agitated for and invoked revolution over President Obama and his administration's policies.
The argument by conservative media that former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and other survivors of gun violence who supported a failed Senate compromise to expand background checks on firearms sales are "props" of the Obama administration is both hypocritically partisan and logically flawed.
Right-wing media are unable to acknowledge that President Obama's gun violence prevention agenda mirrors the priorities of gun violence survivors, who are not mere "props," to pass stronger gun laws. As Greg Sargent of The Washington Post notes, "the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want":
All of this aside, the "props" line is actually an insult to the families, posing as a defense of them. It implies that the families, in lobbying on these issues, are not thinking for themselves. In reality, the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want. Indeed, one of the family members, Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the shooting, voluntarily stood with the president at the White House yesterday as Obama reacted to news of the Senate vote, and thanked Obama for his leadership. Needless to say, if Barden felt like he was being exploited or used as a prop, he wouldn't be thanking the president. [emphasis in original]
Logical flaws aside, those who would call Newtown families and other gun violence survivors "props" fail to acknowledge that presidents routinely evoke the experiences of victims in advocating for policies that would prevent future tragedies.
In 1991, former President Ronald Reagan evoked his own experience of being shot by a would-be assassin, as well as the experiences of others wounded in the 1981 attack in order to advocate for background checks on gun sales. In a New York Times op-ed Reagan wrote about his press secretary, Jim Brady, who was grievously wounded in the attack by a man who acquired a gun despite a lengthy history of serious mental illness. Brady would go on to lend his name to the legislation -- the Brady bill -- that mandated a background check for gun sales conducted by licensed dealers:
Conservatives in media gloated and launched political attacks in reaction to a coalition of largely Senate Republicans blocking a package of stronger gun laws, including compromise legislation on expanded background checks for gun sales -- a legislative proposal supported by roughly 90 percent of Americans.
Before, during, and after President Obama delivered a speech from the Rose Garden on April 17 vowing to continue the dialogue on gun laws, conservatives in media offered triumphal comments and launched vicious attacks on advocates for gun violence prevention, including family members of Newtown victims and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona.
As Politico noted, conservative bloggers "claimed victory ... saying that their ideology and principles were the keys to their success." The right-wing reaction, however, went beyond basic policy arguments:
In an op-ed for The Washington Times, Jeffrey Scott Shapiro opined that family members of Newtown victims -- many of whom advocated for the passage of stronger gun laws -- did not deserve to be heard because of his apparent belief that background checks infringe on the Second Amendment. Shapiro previously accused Obama of attempting to implement socialism in a piece for The New American, the magazine publication of the far-right John Birch Society. From Shapiro's April 18 op-ed:
I don't believe the families of the victims from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., deserve a vote.
It may sound harsh and uncaring, but even the greatest tragedies are not a valid reason to disregard the Supreme Court and the Constitution of the United States. If they were, our free speech and our rights against unreasonable search and seizure and against self-incrimination would have all been abolished long ago amid every crime wave in American history.
Five years ago, the Supreme Court settled the issue of the Second Amendment in District of Columbia v. Heller, making it clear that guns in "common use" were constitutionally protected. Nevertheless, President Obama recently flew several family members of Sandy Hook victims to Washington on Air Force One to pressure congressional legislators to enact new gun laws.
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."
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."