Will Mainstream Media Outlets Accurately Describe This Year’s Values Voters Summit?
September 14, 2012 2:29 pm ET by Carlos Maza
Today marks the beginning of the Values Voters Summit (VVS), an annual conference held in Washington, D.C., during which prominent GOP politicians share a stage with some of the most extreme anti-gay hate groups in the country.
Unfortunately, most Americans will never hear about the summit’s fringe political elements.
That’s because for the past several years, mainstream media outlets have chosen to depict the VVS as little more than a meeting of run-of-the-mill social conservatives, consistently failing to report the anti-gay extremism motivating the event’s sponsors.
The summit, which has been held every year since 2006 and is regularly covered on C-SPAN, is hosted by the Family Research Council (FRC), a group that regularly promotes smears against gays and lesbians. It’s also co-sponsored by the American Family Association (AFA), whose spokesperson Bryan Fischer is notorious for blaming gay men for the Holocaust and advocating for the criminalization of homosexuality.
Both groups have been labeled “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center for propagating known falsehoods about LGBT people. According to a recent SPLC report:
They are also among the chief purveyors of lies about LGBT people. They have both regularly pumped out propaganda asserting that gay men molest children at far higher rates than their heterosexual counterparts – a claim that has been debunked by virtually all the recognized scientific authorities in the field.
Both groups have enthusiastically promoted “reparative therapy,”which claims against the bulk of evidence that it can “cure” gay men and lesbians and make them heterosexual, but in fact has left a string of people behind who were badly hurt in the process. [emphasis added]
This anti-gay animus inevitably makes its way into the conference, which will host a variety of extreme right-wing voices this year. At the 2011 VVS, Fischer called the “homosexual agenda” America’s “greatest immediate threat.” And FRC president Tony Perkins has already kicked off this weekend by comparing homosexuality to drug abuse.
Still, major media outlets have been curiously reluctant to mention FRC’s anti-gay extremism in their coverage of the summit, preferring to describe it as simply a gathering of social conservatives. Unless they’re reporting on LGBT organizations protesting the conference, many media outlets seem willing to ignore the VVS’ ties to hate groups altogether.
The media’s reluctance to accurately describe the VVS is problematic – and not just because it provides audiences with an incomplete view of important political events. By failing to distinguish hate groups like FRC and AFA from other “social conservatives,” news outlets actually contribute to the mainstreaming of anti-gay hate.
Tony Perkins and Bryan Fischer aren’t benign social conservative figureheads. They’re men who’ve made their careers spreading damaging lies and propaganda about LGBT people. Their work does real damage to a vulnerable and marginalized group of Americans. Failing to accurately identify the extreme, hateful ideology that motivates their political efforts – including the VVS – affords them a degree of credibility that they just don’t deserve.
That credibility is part of the reason that an event like the VVS has become such a significant part of the Republican nomination process. Reuters has called the event “a ‘must attend’ on the political calendar of any serious candidate for the Republican presidential nomination” (a quote FRC proudly displayed on its website in the days before the start of the conference). Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan already spoke at the summit earlier this morning, as will a number of other GOP politicians over the course of the weekend. As FRC’s Perkins told reporters on Wednesday, “we have a waiting list of those who want to speak. We’ve had to turn away members of Congress.”
If major Republican candidates were scrambling to appear at an event hosted by a white supremacist or anti-immigrant hate group, it’s hard to imagine the mainstream media would react with the same kind of indifference they’ve shown to groups like FRC and AFA. So why the double standard?
Whatever the reason, it’s well past time for news outlets to stop giving anti-gay hate groups a pass. And it’s time for them to stop conflating homophobic hate speech with typical social conservatism. The VVS is now a major part of the Republican nomination process, and it deserves to be covered as such. But the event’s importance in GOP circles shouldn’t change the way news outlets describe what it really is: a hate group conference.