Sunday, August 19, 2012

Journalistic Malpractice Rearding the Family Research Council

Earlier this week, I wrote about the failure of most of the "mainstream" corporate press to inform the broader public of Chick Fil-A's financing of reactionary anti-gay hate groups. This financing was the basis for liberal activists' objections to the company but the narrative far too often--and lazily--proffered by most of the press was that these activists were merely upset by Chick Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy's boneheaded remarks about marriage. This misrepresentation, carefully manipulated by right-wing media figures like Mike Huckabee, fueled the backlash that led to "Chick Fil-A Appreciation Day." Wednesday, the Family Research Council, just one of the hate-groups financed by Chick Fil-A, was the victim of an apparently politically motivated attack by a gunman with what has been described as "material from... Chick Fil-A in his bag." For even half-blind journalists looking to explain the incident, that should be a large-enough roadmap to read, obvious enough dots to connect. One would hope they would use this opportunity to finally apprise the larger public of the fact that Chick Fil-A finances the FRC and scores of similar groups and to inform their audience of exactly what a group like the FRC does that makes it so objectionable that someone would want to take a gun to its headquarters and start shooting. One would hope. For the most part though, it's just been more of the same fumbling around in the darkness by the press, withholding these crucial facts and spinning, in their stead, potentially harmful narratives.

On the day of the attack, the shooting was covered on the evening news broadcasts of all three major networks but the coverage was scant, and uniformly featured characterizations of the FRC that veered from inappropriate innocuity to proactively misleading. NBC Nightly News identified the FRC only as a "conservative lobbying group." The CBS Evening News noted only that the FRC was "a conservative Christian lobbying group." ABC's World News Tonight, which had the most detailed coverage, described the FRC as "a powerful conservative group", as "a powerful conservative organization", as "one of the nation's best known conservative groups on family issues" and as an organization that "promotes conservative Christian values on issues like abortion and gay rights." A hate-group? What hate-group? Viewers are left, by such reports, with the impression that someone merely wanted to shoot up a group of conservative Christians. Just for good measure, ABC reporter Pierre Thomas threw in this...
"Sources say the suspect had material from fast food giant Chick-fil-A in his bag but it was unclear whether today’s incident has any connection to the recent controversy over gay marriage. The chain’s owner recently set off a political firestorm saying he opposed gay marriage."

...reinforcing that earlier misrepresentation of activist anger over Chick Fil-A and making it sound as if the shooter may have just been randomly touched off by Dan Cathy's comments about marriage! Just as with the hate-group business, none of these reports disclose that Chick Fil-A finances the FRC.

The coverage offered the incident the next day on ABC's Good Morning America made it even worse. Anchor Josh Elliot opened the segment on the incident like this:

"ABC News has confirmed the alleged gunman, Floyd Corkins, was a volunteer at a local LGBT center. Police now looking into whether the targeted group's opposition to same-sex marriage played a role and whether the recent controversy over Chick-fil-A could have, in fact, set him off."

Reporter Pierre Thomas largely rehashed his report from the previous evening but added new details:
"Authorities suspect Corkins, 28,... was about to unleash a deadly barrage of gunfire. His target, the headquarters of one of the nation's best-known conservative groups on social issues, the Family Research Council... There's mounting evidence this morning that Corkins [the shooter] was angry at the policies of the Family Research Council, which promotes Christian, conservative values on issues like abortion and gay rights. ABC News has learned that Corkins had recently worked as a volunteer at a community center for gay, lesbian and transgendered people. Sources say he had items from fast food giant Chick-fil-A in his bag, but it was unclear whether Wednesday's incident had any ties to the recent controversy on gay marriage. The company's owner recently set off a political firestorm, suggesting he opposed gay marriage. The Family Research Council supported that stand."
Again, the impression is even more strongly reinforced that a fellow who is probably gay wanted to shoot up the FRC because of its "Christian, conservative values" and may have done it because the FRC backed Chick Fil-A's Dan Cathy when he spoke against gay marriage. As with the previous evening's network coverage, there wasn't so much as a peep about the FRC's decades-long record of peddling false hate propaganda against the gay community or of its designation as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center based on those activities, not even a hint that the FRC, uniformly described in innocuous terms, is even controversial; Thomas's description of it as "one of the nation's best-known conservative groups on social issues" makes it sound entirely mainstream. And, of course, the bankrolling of its activities by Chick Fil-A remains unreported.

This isn't just routine rush-to-get-it-done sloppiness, nor are these omissions and misrepresentations unimportant. The FRC has spent decades portraying homosexuals as anti-Christian, as predatory pedophiles, as monstrous people who should be criminalized and systematically drummed out of society. While this gained the FRC that "hate group" designation and the disapprobation of the decent, the unforgivably shoddy reporting on this present matter could actually be used to imply that FRC was right about those evil gays all along. At the same time, the FRC and much of the rest of the far right has spent the last few days playing the victim, claiming activists' denunciations of the FRC, rather than the activities of the FRC, have created a climate of "hate" against these nice conservative Christian people. This coverage only furthers that ludicrous narrative.

Not all of the coverage has been this degree of bad, of course.  An exception--an unfortunately rare one--happened the day after the shooting, when CNN's Early Start featured, as a guest, Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (an anti-gay-marriage astroturf org). Brown called the FRC "a mainstream group," which is ludicrous, and an org "that stands up for traditional values," which is, at best, a gross misrepresentation. Such characterizations are key elements in the far right's persecution narrative regarding this matter; they also closely resemble those offered by the news coverage just outlined. On the SPLC's designation of the FRC as a hate group, Brown offered what had become the standard nut-right spin, saying "that sort of talk, that sort of labeling and attack is totally irresponsible and unacceptable and I think this incident makes that clear." In his little speech, Brown called for civility, at which point host Zoraida Sambolin confronted him with a taste of the FRC's idea of "civility," only one of the infinity of outrageous things the org has published over the years:

"One of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the 'prophets' of a new sexual order."

Sambolin's simple follow-up question--"Isn't that hateful, in your opinion?"--deflated Brown like a pierced balloon; with a straight face, he was forced to deny that was a hateful comment, to pretend as if it offered, instead, some debatable notion with which people could honestly agree and disagree and to assert that "by no means can you say that, just because of a statement like that, this is the same as the KKK or the Aryan Brotherhood. That's totally unacceptable." He snickered when he said "by no means," as if he was either such a lunatic that he genuinely thought the comparison absurd or could barely contain his own laughter upon making such a ludicrous comment of his own.

The same day Brown publicly self-destructed, the Washington Post's allegedly liberal Dana Milbank started slinging exactly the same goonish hash. His breathtakingly stupid op-ed characterized the FRC as "a mainstream conservative think tank" and said its critics "are reckless in labeling as a 'hate group' a policy shop that advocates for a full range of conservative Christian positions, on issues from stem cells to euthanasia." Not just because this kind of talk "can stir up the crazies" but because "it's absurd to put the group... in the same category as Aryan Nations, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Stormfront and the Westboro Baptist Church." And, in case we missed it the first time, Milbank rewrites that same line three or four times before he's finished. Milbank denigrates the SPLC because "Exhibit A in its dossier [against the FRC] is a quote by an FRC official from 1999 (!) saying that 'gaining access to children has been a long-term goal of the homosexual movement.'" If Milbank had bothered to read further, instead of just stopping at the first item, he'd have noticed that the fictitious portrayal of homosexuals as predatory pedophiles--only one of the FRC's offenses--isn't some long-ago, one-off aberration but is, instead, a long-running theme of the FRC. Instead, he just throws in that cutesy exclamation point and writes:

"Offensive, certainly. But in the same category as the KKK?"

...which, when one looks at the FRC's history, only begs the question of what, exactly, it would take for Dana Milbank to consider an org as being "in the same category as the KKK." Milbank repeats and endorses the National Organization for Marriage line that "labeling pro-marriage groups as 'hateful' must end" and says "those who support gay rights will gain nothing by sticking inflammatory labels on their opponents, many of whom are driven by deeply held religious beliefs." He doesn't bother to explain what "deeply held religious beliefs" lead the FRC to consistently make incredibly vicious and demonstrably false accusations against homosexuals, grossly misrepresent social science data and pimp outright junk science and the work of hatemongering bigots like Paul Cameron, all to the same end--defaming, dehumanizing and demonizing the gay community.

When the Chick Fil-A matter exploded into prominence, lefty press watchdog Media Matters For America flayed Fox News for concealing the source of the activists' anger but gave the rest of the national press--much of it just as guilty of exactly the same obfuscation--a pass, failing to offer a single article taking to task any other press outlet. In the four days since the shooting, in the face of this horrendous reporting, MMFA hasn't run a single article on this subject. Not an article challenging these journalistic lapses. Not an article challenging a clown like Milbank. Not one article on any subject related to the shooting at all. Even with Fox News all over the story for days and wallowing in the far right's nonsensical spin, MMFA, which has been absolutely obsessed with Fox in recent years, hasn't touched it. While the press helps the right defame liberals and homosexuals, the media watchdog is off chasing butterflies.

That's a damn shame..


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