FRC attacks “bigoted bloggers” ; media have ignored the FRC's own history of bigotry

On February 7, the lobbying arm of the Family Research Council (FRC), Family Research Council Action, released an email statement promoting accusations by Catholic League president William Donohue against John Edwards' presidential campaign. Edwards has come under pressure from Donohue to fire campaign bloggers Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan for the allegedly “vulgar anti-Catholic history” of statements they made on their personal blogs. Family Research Council Action wrote:

Presidential hopeful and former senator John Edwards has given new meaning to faith outreach with his latest hires. The newest members of the Edwards team have a long -- and unfortunately vulgar -- anti-Catholic history. As recent as last December, Amanda Marcotte, Edwards' new Blogmaster, and Melissa McEwan, the Netroots Coordinator, posted scathing personal blogs, littered with profanity and barbs about the Pope too obscene to reprint. Here are some of the tamer examples: To social conservatives, who McEwan calls the “wingnut Christofascist base,” she writes, “What don't you lousy [expletive] understand about keeping your noses out of our britches, our bed and our families?” Marcotte writes, “The Pope's gotta tell women who give birth to stillborns that their babies are cast into Satan's maw. . . . The Catholic Church is not about to let something like compassion for girls get in the way of using the state as an instrument to force women to bear more tithing Catholics.” The pages and pages of filthy name-calling include comparisons to Christ that would make even the most hardened secularist blush. This should alarm a man running for President, particularly one who told NBC's Tim Russert last Sunday that he “grew up in a Southern Baptist church [and] was baptized in a Southern Baptist church,” and who claims that religion is “just part of who [he is].” At least two Catholic groups, Fidelis and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, have called on Edwards to fire the bigoted bloggers. Action by the Edwards campaign may be imminent.

The FRC has routinely used the media as its platform to project accusations of bigotry against Democrats, and the group has frequently benefited from the media's general failure to report the FRC's own troubling history of racial bigotry and anti-Catholicism. On April 14, 2005, for example, the FRC organized Justice Sunday, a nationally telecast rally for controversial federal judiciary nominees of President Bush's whose confirmation votes were filibustered by Senate Democrats. The New York Times reported the FRC's allegations of anti-religious discrimination by Democrats without noting the FRC's own history of bigotry:

WASHINGTON, April 14 - As the Senate heads toward a showdown over the rules governing judicial confirmations, Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, has agreed to join a handful of prominent Christian conservatives in a telecast portraying Democrats as “against people of faith” for blocking President Bush's nominees.

Fliers for the telecast, organized by the Family Research Council and scheduled to originate at a Kentucky megachurch the evening of April 24, call the day “Justice Sunday” and depict a young man holding a Bible in one hand and a gavel in the other. The flier does not name participants, but under the heading “the filibuster against people of faith,” it reads: “The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias, and it is now being used against people of faith.”

As Media Matters for America has documented, FRC president Tony Perkins has used his own radio show, Washington Watch Weekly, to level accusations of bigotry against Democrats. On his April 18, 2005, radio broadcast, with retired judge Charles W. Pickering by his side, Perkins claimed the Democratic filibuster against Bush's federal judiciary nominees was motivated by anti-religious discrimination. Perkins stated, “It's almost as if there's a radical minority in the U.S. Senate that's saying this [to Bush's judicial picks]: 'You have to choose between your faith and public service.' ”

Most recently, the FRC amplified the accusations of Donohue against McEwan and Marcotte, whom they dubbed “the bigoted bloggers.”

But FRC board member Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has made several public anti-Catholic statements. During a March 22, 2000, appearance on CNN's Larry King Live, for example, Mohler asserted, “As an evangelical, I believe the Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel. I believe the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office.”

Continuing on his anti-Catholic theme, Mohler wrote in a September 16, 2006, entry on his personal blog, "[T]he office [the pope] holds is an unbiblical institution based in a monarchial ministry that is incompatible with the New Testament's vision of the church. Furthermore, he claims also to be a head of state -- a situation that adds untold layers of additional confusion."

Further, Perkins has repeatedly associated with racist groups and individuals, including former Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard David Duke and the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens.

According to a July 30, 2005, report in The Vancouver Sun citing articles by The Nation (by Media Matters Research Fellow Max Blumenthal) and the Southern Poverty Law Center, while he served as the campaign manager for Republican senatorial candidate Louis E. “Woody” Jenkins in 1996, Perkins paid Duke $82,500 for his phone banking list, then attempted to cover up the transaction, a misdeed that resulted in a $3,000 fine from the Federal Election Council.

Five years later, in 2001, Perkins spoke before the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC). The Southern Poverty Law Center has dubbed the CCC a hate group. The CCC declares in its statement of principles:

We also oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind, to promote non-white races over the European-American people through so-called “affirmative action” and similar measures, to destroy or denigrate the European-American heritage, including the heritage of the Southern people, and to force the integration of the races.

In response to questions by The Vancouver Sun about his connection to an organization identified as a hate group, Perkins acknowledged his speech before the CCC but claimed he could not recall what he said. On the topic of his illegal payment to Duke, Perkins claimed he was unaware of Duke's history of bigotry prior to the payment.

The Vancouver Sun wrote:

The Nation, a left-wing magazine, reported in April that Perkins, while campaign manager for Louis E. (Woody) Jenkins's campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1996, was involved in the $82,500 US purchase of a mailing list from former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke.

The magazine also reported that Perkins, while a Louisiana state congressman, spoke in 2001 to the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC).

Perkins said he was invited by a constituent to speak to the group, and said he wasn't aware of its history.

“Never spoke to them again. That was over a decade ago,” Perkins told The Sun, suggesting the speech happened in 1996, not 2001.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre, which keeps track of politicians close to the CCC, forwarded The Sun a March-April 2001 copy of Citizens Informer, the newsletter put out by the CCC, which included the following notice:

“The Louisiana CofCC met at the Mandarin Seafood in Baton Rouge May 19 to hear State Representative Tony Perkins discuss the current legislative session. At that meeting a recruitment project was developed.”

When informed of the item by The Sun, FRC spokesman J.P. Duffy does not dispute the assertion that the event happened in 2001, not 1996, but added that Perkins “cannot remember speaking at the event, as he speaks to hundreds of groups each year.” Duffy added that Perkins opposes racial discrimination and offered the names and phone numbers of two black pastors who support him.

Heidi Beirich, speaking for the SPLC, said it is “hard to imagine” Perkins wasn't aware of his audience's background.

“The group's white supremacist views graced the front pages of every major American newspaper in 1998/1999, when it was found that (former Senate Republican leader) Trent Lott had been cavorting with them,” she wrote to The Sun in an e-mail.

“Worse, the head of the Republican National Committee at that time specifically told his members to get out of the CCC and stay away from it. Perkins was either out to lunch or he ignored that advice.”

In his interview with The Sun. Perkins was also asked about The Nation's reference to his role as manager of Jenkins's campaign.

Jenkins, after a telephone discussion with Duke, agreed to purchase a phone bank owned by Duke for $82,500, according to a signed agreement on facts in a 2002 settlement with the U.S. Federal Election Commission (FEC). Perkins then signed a contract with a Duke-linked company called Impact Mail.

Perkins, asked by The Sun if he knew about the notorious bigot's involvement in Jenkins's 1996 campaign, replied: “Not when the contract was signed.”

Jenkins, according to the FEC statement obtained by The Sun, ordered Perkins to cancel the contract after some members of the public on Impact's call list complained that Duke's name was appearing on call display. Impact was paid through a third party in order to “conceal” the Duke link, the FEC agreement stated in announcing a $3,000 fine against the Jenkins campaign.

Perkins has indicated he was kept in the dark by the candidate -- “it was a different kind of campaign. Woody actually ran it,” he told one interviewer.

But his office hasn't responded to questions from The Sun about Perkins's role in an attempted cover-up that led to the FEC fine on the grounds that he “knowingly and willfully filed false disclosure reports.”

Instead, FRC provided a written statement from Jenkins to the Baton Rouge Advocate in 2002 that denounced the newspaper for raising the Perkins-Duke link during Perkins's failed attempt to win a U.S. Senate seat that year.

Jenkins said he didn't believe he or Perkins, did anything wrong and he only signed the FEC statement of facts because he didn't want to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees fighting the case.

The FRC later provided a formal statement which stated: “Mr. Perkins profoundly opposes the racial views of Mr. Duke and was profoundly grieved to learn that Duke was in any way associated with a company that had done work for the 1996 campaign.”

Despite extensive reporting on Perkins' connections to Duke and the CCC by The Vancouver Sun, The Nation, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, the U.S. media have generally failed to note Perkins' history. This omission occurred while Perkins emerged as a major national spokesman for the Christian right, using his platform as a regular pundit on CNN and Fox News, and in The Washington Post and The New York Times to attack opponents for their “anti-Christian” attitudes.

A Nexis survey of articles from major American newspapers and transcripts from major television outlets shows that since Perkins became president of the FRC, only three newspapers, The Cleveland Plain Dealer [6/20/05], The San Diego Union-Tribune [5/12/05], and the Boston Herald [10/16/06], noted Perkins' illegal payment to Duke. Only the Boston Herald reported Perkins' speech before the CCC.