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Pedophilia Myth Tainted Cable News Coverage Of Boy Scouts’ Anti-Gay Ban

February 12, 2013 11:36 am ET

As the Boy Scouts of America considered lifting its ban on openly gay members, cable news network coverage of the story gave undue attention to the right-wing smear that exposing young boys to gay scout leaders would put them at higher risk of sexual abuse and/or assault.

Boy Scouts Considering Reversing Ban On Openly Gay Members

NBC: Boy Scouts Considering Ending Its Ban On Openly Gay Members. On January 28, NBC reported that the Boy Scouts was “considering an end to its decades-long policy of banning gay scouts or scout leaders”:

The Boy Scouts of America, one of the nation’s largest private youth organizations, is actively considering an end to its decades-long policy of banning gay scouts or scout leaders, according to scouting officials and outsiders familiar with internal discussions.

If adopted by the organization’s board of directors, it would represent a profound change on an issue that has been highly controversial -- one that even went to the US Supreme Court. The new policy, now under discussion, would eliminate the ban from the national organization’s rules, leaving local sponsoring organizations free to decide for themselves whether to admit gay scouts. [NBC News, 1/28/13]

NPR: Boy Scouts Delay Decision On Openly Gay Members Until May. On February 6, the Boy Scouts announced that it would be postponing its decision on whether to end its national ban on openly gay members until May. [NPR, 2/6/13]

Analysis: Cable News Coverage Of Boy Scouts Ban Included Discussion Of Pedophilia Threat

Fox News, CNN Coverage Was Dominated By Pedophilia Narrative. According to an Equality Matters analysis, during the period between January 28 and February 6 – when the vote to repeal the Boy Scouts’ ban was delayed – the majority of Fox News’ and CNN’s segments covering the controversy included discussions of the potential threat gay men might pose to boys:

Fox News Included Pedophilia Talking Point In Its “Straight News” Coverage. Fox was the only network to repeatedly reference concerns about pedophilia in its “straight news” coverage of the Boy Scouts’ policy:

CNN Invited Members Of An Anti-Gay Hate Group To Peddle The Pedophilia Smear. CNN invited Tony Perkins and Peter Sprigg, representatives of the Family Research Council (FRC), to argue against repealing the Boy Scouts’ ban. Both guests suggested that lifting the ban would expose young boys to the risk of sexual abuse:

  • FRC Has Been Labeled An Anti-Gay Hate Group By The Southern Poverty Law Center. [SPLC, November 2010]

MSNBC Avoided Discussing Pedophilia Smear In Its Coverage. MSNBC mentioned the pedophilia smear only once during its coverage of the Boy Scouts’ decision. During the February 4 edition of The Ed Show, gay activist Mike Rogers noted that right-wing fears about pedophilia were based on “misinformation” and “outdated thoughts”:

Experts: There Is No Link Between Homosexuality And Pedophilia

Child Welfare Experts: “Gay People Are No More Likely To Abuse Children… Than The General Population.” Nearly one hundred experts from the fields of sex abuse prevention, psychology, social work, psychiatry, child advocacy, faith outreach, criminology, education and coaching co-signed an open letter debunking the “gays are pedophiles” myth:

Our nation’s leaders and experts have rightly decided over the last several decades that our children are not at greater risk when openly gay people are placed in positions of authority over youth. Openly gay people are our children’s trusted teachers, coaches, nurses, caregivers, chaperones, babysitters, clergy, and counselors.

It is important that parents and educators understand that sexual abuse is about power, not attraction.

Gay people are no more likely to abuse children, and pose no more of a threat to our young people, than the general population.

[…]

We, the undersigned, speak as some of America’s leading voices for child advocacy and welfare. We want to assure America’s concerned parents and educators that minors are as safe with gay people as they are with straight people. Claims to the contrary stem from a place of general opposition to homosexuality, rather than from actual expertise on the topic of sexual abuse of minors. [GLAAD, 2/6/13]

APA: “Homosexual Men Are Not More Likely To Sexually Abuse Children Than Heterosexual Men Are.” According to the American Psychological Association:

Studies on who commits child sexual abuse vary in their findings, but the most common finding is that the majority of sexual offenders are family members or are otherwise known to the child. Sexual abuse by strangers is not nearly as common as sexual abuse by family members. Research further shows that men perpetrate most instances of sexual abuse, but there are cases in which women are the offenders. Despite a common myth, homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are. [APA, accessed 2/12/13]

METHODOLOGY

Equality Matters searched news transcripts provided by TV Eyes for the phrase “boy scouts” between January 28, 2013 and February 6, 2013. Reruns were excluded, as were non-segment mentions of the story. Back-to-back segments featuring separate interviews about the policy change were counted as one segment. Segments that occurred after the postponement of the Boy Scouts’ decision on February 6 were excluded.