In 1987, L. Brent Bozell III started The Media Research Center to preserve “traditional American values.” As Bozell made clear early on, one of the “values” that needed preserving was the idea that gays and lesbians are irregular and immoral.
In Bozell's mind, media outlets and, especially, Hollywood demonstrated “liberal bias” by failing to portray gays as “morally wrong.” “What lessons are we teaching American children with these shows?” Bozell stated, according to a 1992 Hollywood Reporter article. “Why can't a single primetime show say -- with no strings attached -- that homosexuality is morally wrong?”
The entertainment industry, according to Bozell in a 1997 Baltimore Sun interview, is “demanding the public accept the gay lifestyle as normal and acceptable for families.” The gay lifestyle and agenda, Bozell warned, includes attempts to “teach children, and that's in utter opposition to mainstream America.”
Since its founding, Bozell and the MRC have often been on the front-lines against any attempt by Hollywood to treat gays as human. Over the years, they've complained about the negative portrayal of a movie character who disowned her gay daughter and objected to the presence of gay characters on television programs. A brief history of some of their complaints:
- In 1993, TriStar Pictures released Philadelphia, which told the story of a gay man (played by Tom Hanks) suing a law firm that discriminated against him because he had AIDS. The movie went on to be an enormous box office success (capitalism!), grossing over $200 million -- in 1993 dollars -- worldwide. The film also won two Academy Awards, including an Oscar for Hanks, who gave an emotional acceptance speech thanking his gay high school teacher. MRC's Sandy Crawford, however, criticized the film for portraying people opposed to “the gay lifestyle” as “bigots”: "'Philadelphia' was a good film -- beautifully acted and very compelling. But anybody who was morally opposed to the gay lifestyle was presented as a total bigot. You either were 100 percent for Tom Hanks or you were a villain" (Kansas City Star, March 1996).
- An episode of NBC's Mad About You featured a lesbian who, according to Bozell, was “quickly” accepted by her partner's parents. Bozell complained that the show treated the “morality” of the relationship as “irrelevant, beneath discussion.”
- The 1996 TV movie Two Mothers for Zachary negatively portrayed a mother who disowned her daughter for being gay.
- NBC's Friends "featured the wedding of two women raising the child one had with her ex-husband."
- CBS's Chicago Hope featured a storyline in which a lesbian couple had “a doctor artificially inseminate one of them.”
- ABC aired an episode of Ellen which featured Ellen DeGeneres coming out of the closet. Bozell said of the show: “There's this sense almost of horror ... there are some elements in Hollywood who are bent, come hell or high water, on thrusting garbage down the throats of children” (AP, April 1997).
- In 1999, WB's Dawson's Creek featured a storyline in which a teenager came out of the closet and faced discrimination by his classmates. Bozell called the show “wholly distasteful” and added: "[T]here is very much an agenda in Hollywood to advance the cause of homosexuality as normal behavior by making those who think otherwise the deviants. A character can put forward an argument, but you can be sure it's a character who moonlights as a troglodyte."
- In 2005, The Simpsons aired an episode that dealt with gay marriage. Bozell, without seeing the episode beforehand, criticized The Simpsons for “deliberately bucking the public mood.” Mark I. Pinsky, author of The Gospel According to The Simpsons, wrote that the episode was actually “a plea for human understanding -- the standard Simpsons line -- and it probably concluded in the same muddle middle where most Americans are on the issue.”
- In a 2006 column about the inclusion of gays in comic books, Bozell wrote: “The world of comic books has sure changed a lot since we were young. ... Who would have predicted, ten years ago, that the comics would become a red-light neighborhood where sexually perverted superheroes would be packaged to elicit from children fascination and sympathy?”
Bozell's anti-gay work remains a focus of his writing, and he spawned a network of organizations to help promote his agenda. In addition to the MRC, Bozell created the like-minded Parents Television Council in the mid-90s (which is now its own legal entity), and the Culture and Media Institute (which is still part of the MRC structure) several years ago.
The MRC's blog, Newsbusters, regularly accuses the media of “bias” for portraying gays as normal. Among their recent complaints: ABC ran a story on two gay students who were named king and queen of their high school prom; CNN conducted a “softball” interview with a same-sex couple who had a child; and CNN didn't “press” a “homosexual teen activist” about how “she might have inconvenienced her classmates” by trying to take her girlfriend to the prom.
Bozell continues to rail against gays in his syndicated column. As Think Progress' Lee Fang noted, Bozell earlier this month criticized Fox's Glee for portraying gays as “normal” and complained that the “only characters on the show disapproving of homosexuality are vicious school bullies.”
In the end, Bozell's decades of gay bashing shouldn't obscure the fact that his proclamations and predictions about public attitudes toward gays have often turned out wrong.
Discussing Ellen in 1997, for instance, Bozell said: “This is Hollywood demanding the public accept the gay lifestyle as normal and acceptable for families, and that is something the public will never do.” DeGeneres, who stars on two popular television programs and voiced a Pixar film that grossed nearly $1 billion, suffered no career-ending backlash.
And in contrast to the attitudes at the time of MRC's founding, and Bozell's proclamation that the public “will never” view the “gay lifestyle” as normal and acceptable, a Gallup poll taken last month found that a majority of Americans views gay and lesbian relationships as morally acceptable, and that acceptance of gay relationships has steadily grown over the past decade. What's more, the poll shows that younger people are driving the increase in acceptance. Other recent polls find increasing support for gays and lesbians to adopt, and some form of legal recognition (civil unions or marriage) for couples.