December 12, 2011 9:27 am ET - by Carlos Maza
For months, Equality Matters has been documenting major news networks’ insistence on looking to Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council (FRC), for commentary on a wide range of issues. Despite FRC’s designation as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Perkins is regularly treated as a credible and legitimate political commentator by CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News.
Now, a new Equality Matters analysis details the extent to which the networks have helped Perkins become a right-wing media celebrity.
MSNBC and Fox News stand out for the frequency with which they host the hate group leader. Since November 29, 2010 – when MSNBC first aired a segment on FRC’s hate group designation – the two networks have hosted Perkins a total of 27 times:
Fox and MSNBC maintain relatively lax standards for their frequent decisions to invite Perkins on the air. Rather than only inviting the hate group leader to participate in segments that relate to his areas of “expertise,” both networks have shown a willingness to turn to Perkins for segments they could have easily used other guests for.
On Fox News, Perkins has played the role of pop-culture commentator and economic expert. On MSNBC, he’s become the go-to source for any controversy involving the GOP primary, including controversies that aren’t tied to social issues. Even CNN, which only hosted Perkins 5 times in the twelve months after FRC became a hate group, has turned to the hate group leader for his opinion on what Jesus Christ would have thought about Occupy Wall Street.
And it’s not just opinion shows giving Perkins a national platform; the networks’ supposedly “straight news” programs – Andrea Mitchell Reports, The Daily Rundown, MSNBC Live, America’s News HQ, America Live – have also treated him as a worthy source of commentary despite all evidence to the contrary.
The sheer number of Perkins’ appearances on MSNBC and Fox are only part of the problem. In the year since FRC has been labeled a hate group, hosts on MSNBC and Fox have showered the hate group leader with praise on television, depicting him as an honest, principled, and credible conservative:
Huckabee: FRC Is “One Of The Most Respected Family Organizations In America.” On the August 13 edition of Fox News’ Huckabee, Mike Huckabee commended Perkins for his “clear understanding” of Iowa and national politics:
HUCKABEE: Tony Perkins is the head of the Family Research Council, one of the most respected family organizations in America. [...]
HUCKABEE: Both of you guys have a very clear understanding not only of Iowa but of the process nationally. [Fox News, Huckabee, 8/13/11]
Kelly: Perkins Is “One Of The Country’s Top Family Values Conservatives.” While teasing an upcoming segment on the November 11 edition of Fox News’ America Live, Megyn Kelly referred to Perkins as “one of the country’s best known conservative leaders”:
KELLY: Herman Cain taking a hit at the polls as the presidential candidate gets tried in the court of public opinion. Is he still a top contender? We’ll ask Tony Perkins, one of the country’s top family values conservatives when he joins us live about fifteen minutes away. [...]
KELLY: Well a brand new poll on how the Tea Party may be moving away from Herman Cain. Up next, we’ll talk with Tony Perkins on how the candidate’s recent troubles will affect Cain’s fight for the GOP nomination. Perkins, of course, one of the country’s best known conservative leaders. [Fox News, America Live, 11/11/11]
Matthews: Tony Perkins Has “True Views,” “Principles.” On the November 9 edition of MSNBC’s Hardball, Chris Matthews expressed his respect for religious right leaders like Tony Perkins:
MATTHEWS: If you’re Tony Perkins, if you’re one of the religious right leaders, who I respect for their views, they have true views, they’re not politicians particularly, they have principles. [MSNBC, Hardball, 11/9/11]
Matthews: “I Do Trust Your Conscience... I Find Him Fascinating Because I Do Trust Him.” On the November 11 edition of MNBC’s Hardball, Matthews showered Perkins with praise, stating that their views on moral issues were not all that different:
MATTHEWS: Tony, I’ve been thinking about you a lot. I do trust your conscience. You’re more conservative than me on cultural and moral issues, maybe. Although I’m not sure. When it comes to actual morality I think we may be closer than you believe. [...]
MATTHEWS: I’ll get to you Dave in a second. I want to get to Tony here because I find him fascinating because I do trust him. [MSNBC, Hardball, 11/11/11]
Matthews: “You’re An Honest Conservative. And You Do Try To Find The Truth.” On the November 21 edition of MSNBC’s Hardball, Matthews praised Perkins for being an “honest conservative”:
MATTHEWS: I’ve watched you and listened to you for years, I understand your point of view, I think... Tony, I wish you well, I've always liked the fact that you're an honest conservative. And you do try to find the truth. [11/21/11]
Chris Matthews’ treatment of Perkins has been so positive that even the Family Research Council seems to be (pleasantly) surprised. Just last month, FRC’s Chris Marlink asked “Hold the phone... are we getting through to Chris Matthews?” Marlink specifically referenced the MSNBC host’s praise for Perkins and added:
[O]ur character, our views, and our thinking are shaped over time by the company we keep and the people we trust. Here’s hoping Tony continues to rub off on thought leaders (left and right) in the mainstream media.
Both networks have been so busy praising Perkins and his work that they haven’t bothered informing their audiences about the FRC’s hate group label. According to the report, aside from two segments covering FRC’s hate group designation in November of 2010, neither network has mentioned the organization’s hate group status in a single segment featuring an FRC spokesperson:
Perkins’ seemingly endless supply of free publicity on Fox and MSNBC undoubtedly helps to solidify his influence in conservative politics. Attendance at the Family Research Council’s yearly Values Voter Summit is already seen as mandatory by most GOP presidential hopefuls, and news networks help make sure that Perkins has plenty opportunities to condemn politicians that don’t follow his orders.
More important, MSNBC and Fox have helped whitewash Perkins' anti-gay extremism by constantly depicting him as a legitimate and fair-minded source of political commentary. Every time a real news network like MSNBC calls Perkins an “honest conservative,” it legitimizes the incredibly damaging and dishonest work that FRC promotes on a daily basis in order to demonize and smear LGBT Americans.
If MSNBC and Fox News are so deeply committed to inviting Tony Perkins on national television, the least the networks can do is accurately identify him as the leader of a known anti-gay hate group. Failing to acknowledge Perkins’ anti-gay extremism while praising him for his trustworthiness and respectability isn’t just misleading; it does real damage to the millions of LGBT Americans who are forced to deal with his hate-filled propaganda machine on a daily basis.
To see the full Equality Matters report, click here.
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