After a much-heralded “red tsunami” failed to materialize in midterm election results that followed unprecedented levels of vilification of LGBTQ people in right-wing media, the ongoing debate around passage of the Respect for Marriage Act shows two paths forward for their coverage. While Ben Shapiro and Matt Walsh used their platforms to attempt to kill the compromise bill, Fox News nearly ignored the issue.
Leading up to the midterms, right-wing media personalities attempted to gin up a moral panic about trans people and drag queens, with Fox News opinion hosts like Jesse Watters and Tucker Carlson falsely claiming that drag queens were part of a plot to sexualize children and anti-trans groups such as the American Principles Project spending millions of dollars to spread hate and fear in battleground states. Yet their campaign was followed by one of the worst performances by opposition candidates in a midterm election in the postwar period, with voters listing the economy and abortion rights as the factors that most motivated their votes, and Republican voters putting the trans issues that have been the focus of so much vitriol at the bottom of their list of priorities.
Immediately following the midterms, the conversation around the bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act reveals what right-wing media have — or have not — learned from this repudiation.
The hosts of the Daily Wire doubled down on their demands that Republican elected officials reject LGBTQ equality, previewing tensions to come in the run-up to the 2024 election.
Daily Wire editor emeritus Ben Shapiro argued that any Republican elected official who votes to support same-sex marriage “should not be in the Republican Party,” claiming in further comments that the rationale for opposing marriage equality would be apparent to a “visitor from Mars” and “this is not particularly difficult stuff.” The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh went even further, calling for any Republican who supported the bill to be actively “exiled from the party.”
But Fox News covered the bill in a far more circumspect manner, suggesting potential hesitation in some right-wing corners about leaning in on this particular element of the culture war. Between November 14 through November 18 (the two days before and after the bill secured 60 votes to advance), Fox News mentioned it just four times on-air according to a review by Media Matters, including in three segments from Special Report with Bret Baier. Fox News’ prime-time personalities, who have helped lead the moral panic about LGBTQ people, did not mention that the Senate was moving to pass a bill to ensure federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
An article on FoxNews.com portrayed the bill as a bipartisan exercise, quoting Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at length.
According to recent polls, 70% of Americans support marriage equality, including 55% of Republicans. In the Senate, 12 Republicans voted to advance the Respect for Marriage Act, which appears likely to secure final passage this week.