Asking Hate Groups About Marriage Equality Isn't Balance, It's Bad Journalism

Media outlets have repeatedly turned to an extreme anti-gay hate group to comment on the Supreme Court's recent marriage equality decision, needlessly exposing audiences to misinformation while failing to hold the group accountable for its track record of dishonesty.

Following the Supreme Court's June 26 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges -- which found that bans on same-sex marriage violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution - several media outlets invited representatives from the Family Research Council (FRC) to offer their reactions to the decision.

FRC has been labeled an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) because it propagates “known falsehoods” about the LGBT community, including linking homosexuality to pedophilia and accusing gay people of trying to "recruit" children. The group has a long track record of making wildly inaccurate policy predictions about the consequences of basic protections for LGBT people.

But despite the group's extremism and without reference to their record, FRC was widely cited by major media outlets in the wake of Obergefell, including NPRThe New York Times, and USA Today.

Spokespersons from FRC were also invited to react to the decision on national television. 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. On Fox News' The Kelly File, Megyn Kelly offered a platform FRC president and frequent guest Tony Perkins, who has called pedophilia a "homosexual problem." As usual, none of these outlets identified FRC as a hate group or informed their audiences about the organization's history of misinformation.

And during the June 29 edition of CNN's New Day, host Chris Cuomo invited FRC's Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies, to discuss the decision in Obergefell. Sprigg, whoseprofessional experience before FRC includes serving as a Baptist minister and 10 years as a “professional actor,” has previously suggested he'd prefer to "export homosexuals from the United States." But despite his extremism and lack of expertise, Sprigg was given a platform to fearmonger about the consequences of country-wide marriage equality:

Cuomo was aggressive and thoughtful in his pushback, but that didn't stop Sprigg from being able to peddle falsehoods about same-sex marriage, including the myth that Catholic adoption agencies in Boston were forced out of business after the state adopted marriage equality.

The segment highlights the fundamental problem with giving a platform to groups like FRC in the name of “balance.” Even media outlets that make good-faith efforts to keep their guests honest typically lack the resources and time to debunk every bogus horror story someone like Sprigg or Perkins will peddle to a national audience. And without hearing a clear and thorough debunk, audiences are likely tobelieve the lies they're told in media reports.

The solution to this problem is relatively easy: If a media outlet thinks it's necessary to quote a hate group with a history of misinformation in a report, it should properly identify the group as extreme and unreliable, like CBS News' Bob Schieffer did in April. Prior warnings, like letting an audience know up front that a group like FRC is disreputable and motivated by animus, significantly reduce the likelihood that audiences will believe their talking points.