CNN's segment on Rush Limbaugh's bigotry was a disaster and the network has only itself to blame

This is what happens when you have pro-Trump, anti-LGBTQ bigot Ben Ferguson discuss sexuality

CNN hosted paid conservative commentor and bigot Ben Ferguson to discuss right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh’s homophobic comments that mockingly compared openly gay Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg to “Mr. Man Donald Trump” by talking about Buttigieg “kissing his husband.” Limbaugh has a long history of making anti-LGBTQ comments, but CNN’s coverage was not much better, turning a discussion of his bigoted remarks into a debate on what manliness should look like in a presidential candidate.

Media Matters first reported on Limbaugh’s remarks on February 12, just one week after Trump gave him the nation’s highest civilian honor during the State of the Union address and one day after Limbaugh obsessed over Buttigieg kissing his husband.

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Citation From the February 13, 2020, edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom

CNN aired two segments about Limbaugh’s comments, a brief but critical discussion on its New Day program and an interview with Ferguson on the February 13 edition of CNN Newsroom, in which the paid pro-Trump commentator questioned whether anybody would “look masculine next to Donald Trump on stage” and said many Democratic voters take issue with Buttigieg’s sexuality. 

Co-anchor Jim Sciutto responded to Ferguson’s defense of Limbaugh by questioning whether “volunteering for military service, as Pete Buttigieg did, or avoiding it” is “more manly.” From there, the conversation devolved into a debate on what manliness looks like, falling into Limbaugh’s homophobic framing trap and ludicrously implying that masculinity is inherently preferable in a presidential candidate. 

Co-anchor Poppy Harlow, the lone woman in the segment, picked up on this: “I don't understand in what world is the definition of qualification for being president of the United States how manly someone appears.” Sciutto echoed her sentiment.

Ferguson continued to argue about “the masculinity issue,” to which Sciutto replied, “It seems to me you’re justifying bigotry here.” 

CNN’s decision to turn to a straight conservative commentator to discuss Limbaugh’s comments is baffling. Ferguson is a pro-Trump shill who has appeared frequently on CNN as a paid commentator despite his past comments disparaging the network that hired him, including by promoting a bogus claim that CNN scripted a town hall debate about gun violence. 

He has a history of explicitly anti-trans comments in cable news appearances and on social media, such as posting a meme that pushed the debunked anti-trans bathroom myth and suggesting that being transgender is not normal and an “attack on the traditional family.” In a 2014 CNN segment, Ferguson claimed that “doctors and science” prove that trans activist, writer, and director Janet Mock was born a man and that she refuses to accept the “facts” about her gender identity. 

On his Facebook page, Ferguson has also claimed that Islam “sends out people ... to kill people and burn down buildings” and posted racist memes about Black people protesting police brutality. He has also questioned whether NFL players protesting during the national anthem “are even registered to vote” and falsely claimed that Anita Hill’s reports of sexual harassment by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas were “debunked.”