Fox News host Bill O'Reilly became the latest right-wing media personality to frame gay rights supporters as bullies, baselessly alleging that support for marriage equality has risen so quickly because activists have threatened to “harm” and “hurt” opponents of same-sex marriage.
During the “Impact” segment on the April 21 edition of The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly hosted Fox contributors Mary Katharine Ham and Juan Williams to discuss the controversy surrounding the recent resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. Eich stepped down after facing criticism over his 2008 donation in support of the virulently anti-gay campaign for California's Proposition 8. Eich became a right-wing cause célèbre, with conservative media personalities using his resignation to peddle the myth that gay rights supporters are persecuting conservative Christians.
O'Reilly echoed that narrative on his show, proclaiming that Eich's departure highlighted how “one of the reasons gay marriage has come on so strong in the USA is intimidation.” O'Reilly claimed that gay rights activists are threatening to “harm” opponents of marriage equality:
O'REILLY: If you donate money to a traditional marriage cause, okay, we're going to hurt you. We're going to hurt you. We're going to find out where you live. We are going try to take your job. Maybe do vandalism to your home -- big, big difference, is there not?
O'REILLY: Now there are threats and demonization. And that unfortunately, has put gay marriage over the top. That is the technique that turned the tide -- intimidation and harm. That's what won it.
When pressed for evidence of the alleged intimidation and “harm” against marriage equality opponents, O'Reilly was unable to cite specific examples of harassment:
WILLIAMS: The only people I've heard going to somebody's house and attacking - I just heard that in the comment from that editor at The Nation, but that's not real.
O'REILLY: No, it's been on websites. There have been websites who have put people's names on there. There have been a lot of that stuff.
While it's true that the names of donors to Proposition 8 are publicly available, there's no evidence of widespread intimidation or harassment by marriage equality supporters. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), for example, has repeatedly tried and failed to demonstrate in court that supporters of Proposition 8 experienced serious “harm” from gay activists.
O'Reilly's latest diatribe contradicts his earlier declarations that supporters of marriage equality had won the battle of public opinion because of the strength of their arguments. In March of 2013, O'Reilly conceded that “the compelling argument is on the side of homosexuals,” echoing his earlier statement that conservatives were losing the marriage debate because their case “wasn't strong enough.”
Accusing gay activists of using violence and intimidation to advance marriage equality is part of a broader conservative narrative that depicts LGBT people as being the real bullies, even as the LGBT community continues to be disproportionately targeted for hate crimes.
That O'Reilly is now ascribing pro-equality sentiment to alleged violence and intimidation by gay bullies speaks volumes not only about the right-wing media's aversion to facts, but to the formidable power of media narratives - no matter how baseless.