Anti-gay conservatives are criticizing CBS News' Bob Schieffer for correctly identifying one of his guests as the president of an anti-gay “hate group,” accusing him of “anti-Christian bias” for doing so. The outrage over Schieffer's disclosure highlights why it's so important for the media to hold extremists accountable for their views when they appear.
During the April 26 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, Schieffer invited Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), to discuss the Supreme Court's upcoming oral arguments on marriage equality. Schieffer began the interview by noting that FRC has been listed as an anti-gay "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and citing critics who argue that Perkins' extreme views don't represent the views of most Christians:
SCHIEFFER: I'm going to start with probably the most vocal opponent of same-sex marriage and that is Tony Perkins. He is the president of the Family Research Council. And, Mister Perkins, I'm going to say this to you upfront. You and your group have been so strong in coming out against this -- and against gay marriage -- that the Southern Poverty Law Center has branded the Family Research Council an anti-gay hate group. We have been inundated by people who say we should not even let you appear because they, in their view, quote, “You don't speak for Christians.” Do you think you have taken this too far?
Perkins has called pedophilia a "homosexual problem" and said he believes gay activists want to "recruit" children into a “lifestyle” of “perversion.” FRC received SPLC's “hate group” label because it knowingly peddles damaging propaganda about LGBT people.
And yet, Schieffer's decision to accurately identify Perkins as a “hate group” leader - a rare occurrence on national news - has drawn criticism from anti-gay conservatives.
Following the interview, FRC released a statement criticizing Schieffer for bringing up the SPLC's position, falsely accusing it of being “linked to domestic terrorism,” and peddling the myth that the FBI has distanced itself from the legal advocacy organization.
On April 30, a coalition of right-wing groups calling themselves the Conservative Action Project sent a letter to CBS News President David Rhodes demanding an apology and calling the interview “an assault against Judeo-Christian people of faith.” Unsurprisingly, the letter was signed by a litany of other organizations that have also been labeled “hate groups” by SPLC for advancing false and damaging smears about the LGBT community.
Websites like The Weekly Standard, Newsbusters, and WorldNetDaily joined FRC in criticizing Schieffer. Fox News reporter Todd Starnes called the interview an "ambush" and defended Perkins as a “good and decent and honorable man.” On May 4, Rev. Franklin Graham added his support for Perkins and condemned “the liberal media's anti-Christian bias.”
The right-wing outrage following Schieffer's interview illustrates why it's so important for the media to properly identify members of hate groups when using them as sources or booking them as guests. Hate group leaders like Perkins know that they won't be taken seriously if audiences are informed about the fringe extremism that motivates their anti-LGBT politics. Hate groups thrive when they're able to disguise themselves in the mainstream media as serious, reasonable policy organizations.
Perkins will likely think twice before agreeing to appear on CBS again, and that's a good thing. Hate groups should be afraid of the sunlight and accountability that results from appearances in major media, which has a responsibility to reveal the agenda behind the facade.