Michael Hamar

Why Tom Brokaw Is Wrong on Covering Antigay Viewpoints

Filed By Michael Hamar | December 12, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Politics
Tags: American hate groups, Family Research Council, Mainstream media, Southern Povery Law Center, Tom Brokaw

I bookmarked an article in the Advocate earlier this week wherein former NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw basically said it was fine to continue to air the views of hate groups like American Family Association and Family Research Council.

As is typical of the mainstream news media, Brokaw blathered about free speech, etc., as an excuse for not monitoring what lies and untruths are being given a semblance of veracity by virtue of being aired on national news shows and other network programing. We know full well - as does Brokaw - that neo-Nazi groups, white supremacy groups and the Klu Klux Klan are not afforded similar opportunities to spew poison on network news, so why the exception for Christianist anti-gay hate groups?

Oh, I forgot - religion, especially Christianity gets special rights not afforded to the rest of the public.

In my view, a major obstacle to LGBT equality is the continued refusal of the mainstream media to call Christianist haters out for what they are. Statements based merely on religious belief are free speech. The dissemination of lies and deliberate falsehoods is something far different.

If the mainstream media intends to continue to provide a platform to AFA, FRC and other SPLC registered hate groups, then they need to, at a minimum, add caveats about the organizations' hate group status and propensity to cite utterly discredited statistics and bogus research. As for "cross-examination' of anti-gay mouth pieces, it almost never happens in practice. Brokaw needs to get his head out of the sand. That would be journalistic honesty, but I am not going to hold my breath to see it happen.

Here are highlights from the Advocate article:

The Advocate spoke with Brokaw about complaints against news networks that give airtime to gay rights opponents. "I don't think you can shut down free speech," he said. "We're a free speech society. They're entitled to their positions however wrong they may be. How do you begin to censor things?"

Last month, Dan Savage of the It Gets Better campaign criticized CNN on air for interviewing anti gay leaders such as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a hate group. He said the attention legitimized the idea that there are "two sides" to gay and lesbian issues.

Brokaw argued that coverage of anti-gay viewpoints serves a purpose in that it can generate the kind of outrage that prompts nationwide conversations. He said the issue reminded him of his earlier years reporting on the civil rights movement, although he declined to draw a direct comparison.

Asked how anti-gay views should be presented, he said, "You just say that they've got strong opinions. You treat like them like anyone else. You cross-examine and ask them the right questions."

Perhaps Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow and a few others seriously question anti-gay bigots, but I'm sorry, I just don't see the CBS, NBC and ABC anchors doing this. Instead, the Christianists are given a free pass to lie and an unchallenged platform which makes them look credible to the uninformed and easily duped.


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"...I'm sorry, I just don't see the CBS, NBC and ABC anchors doing this."

Then our anger should be directed at these anchors, or any other media representative that doesn't do their job. Attempting to silence these anti-gay groups simply isn't going to work, and if their arguments are wrong, they should be challenged and countered. Shutting off the mic makes us look like they have something we don't want people to hear. And by the way, "neo-Nazi groups, white supremacy groups and the Klu Klux Klan" were given plenty of media space in their respective heydays, and groups like the ACLU, JDL, and NAACP countered them word for word until the audience for the bigot's arguments were no longer willing to put up with them.

We have work to do and we shouldn't lazily expect others to do it for us.

It's not surprising to hear someone point out that Brokaw has a blind spot in this area -- I don't think he is homophobic, but he does have a blind spot.

Brokaw said above: "You treat like them like anyone else. You cross-examine and ask them the right questions."

But they are not being treated like anyone else ... if a racial hate group makes an obvious or nearly obvious false claim, a good reporter will find a way to fact-check and definitively show the news consumer that the claim is false. This is where the major news houses chicken out if a Christian group is involved -- presumably, because the backlash would be too great.

But, backlash or not, truth is truth. As the possibilities of the Internet expand, the GLBT news world has to do what the mainstream media doesn't have the gonads to do. We have to put together those counter-proofs ourselves, and every chance we get, spoon-feed them to the mainstream media.

"...I'm sorry, I just don't see the CBS, NBC and ABC anchors doing this."

Then our anger should be directed at these anchors, or any other media representative that doesn't do their job. Attempting to silence these anti-gay groups simply isn't going to work, and if their arguments are wrong, they should be challenged and countered. Shutting off the mic makes us look like they have something we don't want people to hear. And by the way, "neo-Nazi groups, white supremacy groups and the Klu Klux Klan" were given plenty of media space in their respective heydays, and groups like the ACLU, JDL, and NAACP countered them word for word until the audience for the bigot's arguments were no longer willing to put up with them.

We have work to do, and we shouldn't lazily expect others to do it for us.

More and more Americans are laughing at these crazy Christians. They are not changing any minds, they are marginalizing themselves. Let them.

Here's another way to look at it: Tom Brokaw understands that television news is a business, and it's not exactly the same business the New York Times and the Washington Post are in.

There's a reason why the hardcore news shows like Meet The Press and Face The Nation are all on Sunday mornings, not during primetime.

Viewers tune in to news channels and programs for drama and conflict as well as actual information, and the networks do everything in their power to provide just that.

The reality is that the wackjobs and the hatemongers are going to get lots of airtime because they tend to yell the loudest. The way to counter these people to compete on their playing field. Quiet and reasonable just isn't cutting it anymore.

In the marketplace of ideas, we're being shouted down by our opponents and that's not the media's fault, it's ours, for not doing anywhere enough to be heard and taken seriously by those in power until just recently.

I'm sorry Rebecca, just the opposite is happening. These misfits are being marginalized - not us, and the numbers confirm that.

Have a look: http://advocate.com/Politics/Commentary/The_Majority_Report/

I don't think we have to imitate these fools, we have to let them continue to demonstrate to the world how crazy and insignificant they are. Maybe you have a need to have an "enemy," but engaging and/or enraging them is counterproductive. They are not changing any minds and our acting like them or even arguing with them isn't going to change minds either.

Plus, nobody takes the "news" seriously anymore. Maybe 30-40 years ago the media was trusted or respected, but not anymore. The Right has Fox News and the Left has MSNBC - neither one is objective. The majority of Americans are over religion - especially the nutjobs.

I'm with you to a point Andrew, but only to a point. The reality I've come to understand after almost a decade of covering ENDA (and hate crimes until it passed) is that as long as we remain polite and relatively quiet in the media, we give the politicians all the space they need to simply ignore us and our issues. It's only when we start causing them actual problems that they bother to start paying attention.

I don't think it's a coincidence that all of a sudden Democrats are finally getting serious about DADT right after an election in which the LGBT community and other progressives simply didn't bother to show up, do you?

The biggest problem has always been keeping the pressure on consistently. Historically, every time we've let up or tried to unite around the Democratic Party or one of their national candidates we've ended up getting screwed.

We sent a clear message last month about the price of inaction. Now we have to make it clear that there is no longer any middle ground. One is either in favor of fair and equal treatment of all Americans or one is not, and those who are not will not receive our votes or our support, regardless of what party they hail from.

The democrats aren't "all of a sudden getting interested in DADT." The "Compromise DADT Repeal" charade was done back in February and it has gone almost exactly as advertised.

I just don't see how we "pressure" anyone. I think people have to be interested or paying attention for that to happen.

I think we have to (at least, try) see ourselves as something more than "victims" and take advantage of the changing public opinion about the LGB(and sometimes T) community. The world isn't out to get us, an ever-decreasing crowd of religious zealots continues to make noise, but they are mostly ineffective. I'd rather we focused on advancing our community than pretending to be fighting with a weakened and weak enemy.

We have won the fight, it's time to start understanding that.

We most certainly have not won the fight, Andrew. It's still legal to deny employment to someone for being gay in 29 states and for being transgender in 37...and let's not even get started on marriage, housing, and immigration.

It is true that for the first time in 2010 public support for LGBT rights has shifted to over 50%. That's an encouraging sign, one which shows we're gaining ground, but by no means is it an indication that the fight is over. It means that for the first time the wind is finally at our backs and now is the time to push our advantage for all it's worth to win, not declare victory early and go home empty-handed.

Please think about whether we should still be fighting with a defeated enemy, or if we should be enrolling those that support our equality? Americans that support our full equality outnumber the religious nuts by 2:1. You can't enroll half of those supporters if you keep fighting with their fellow Christians. They take that personally.

Fighting doesn't add to our majority. We must educate, enlighten and ENROLL.

That's easy to say Andrew, but the reality is that if your message doesn't get the attention and therefore the coverage of the media, it's all just shouting in the dark.

Certainly, we must educate and we have been. The days when no one understood what a transgender person is are long over.

Yet, at the same time, we must constantly remind people, fellow progressives especially, that we are still not afforded the basic civil rights in this country which most citizens take granted. When those who claim to be our spokespeople and advocates, be they politicians or advocacy organizations, fail to represent our interests fairly and properly, then we must not hesitate to call them out as an object lesson to others who would behave toward us in the same way.

Now's the time to turn up the heat and keep it turned up all the way into the 2012 election season. Maybe then we'll see some serious action our issues now that they know for a fact that failing to do so will almost certainly result in a loss of even more progressive support and votes than the Democratic Party experienced in this year's election.

Everything is "easy to say."

Here's the problem Rebecca. Those that have historically either disagreed with us or have fought us are "religious." They make up two-thirds of the US adult population today. Half of that group has become more spiritual than religious, softly (and mostly quietly) rejecting certain traditional Christian beliefs. That "half" supports our equality unless we attack their "other half," those crazy "literalists." They are still their brothers and sisters because they are ALSO "Christians."

Twenty years ago we did have to respond and counter their lunacy, but to win today we have to focus on the group that will support us and ignore the crazy haters.

Let the crazies continue to marginalize themselves while we enroll those religious people that have grown enough to reject literal interpretation of the Bible and are willing to embrace the simple human principal of equality.

Fighting doesn't create support, understanding does.

Regan DuCasse | December 12, 2010 4:36 PM

The Washington Post had an article about Brian Brown, calling him someone with a charming, and civil way that he's going about his business as the new president of NOM.

Newsweek printed a hit piece on Lawrence King that virtually made him responsible for his own murder by saying he acted provocatively. Very telling was that such an indictment had the stereotypical rationale for the murders of gay males written all over it.

Print media gives even LESS opportunity for a gay person to speak in their own defense. Broadcast media DOES allow people like Perkins, or Gallagher to throw out their talking points unchallenged or questioned.
And MG has an exceptionally overbearing style of talking so that the opposite side doesn't get a word in.
Great offense is taken by small minorities of people, if there is a suggestion that the realities of gay life is spoken about in the public square.
And shut down as well.

Dissent is not allowed on FRC, AFTAH or NOM's FB page or websites.

And this coming from the very people who complain of being silenced.
If only...

The opposite certainly is true. If anything, the media DOES have an out as far as the anti gay their complaint is concerned.
These outlets could say that the views of Perkins and so on, show evidence of being LIES and such lies are a liability. No media is obligated to allow falsehoods, slander, libel and propagation that puts people at risk and such speech isn't protected.
Which is all true.
Fact checkers could back this up, whereas Perkins never CAN back up his claims as the truth.

So the media have an opportunity here, at least that's the most diplomatic way I can think of to excise Perkins, while at the same time committing to the responsibilities of free speech.
Perkins needs to understand that with rights come responsibilities too.

I don't think I've seen a time when people in positions to do something, have spines of Jell-O.

When I first heard Dan Savage on CNN talking to Kyra Phillips about not giving haters a platform when it's clear that American public opinion has past the tipping point on LGBT rights, at first I was in his corner. He makes a valid point that there is no "other side of the debate" any more and that news outlets like CNN would never allow hate speech toward other minorities to be presented as just another opinion.

But then I remembered something that I myself have written on my own blog several times, if you want the world to see these haters for what they are, let them rant.

Alvin McEwen writes in Sunday morning's "Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters" http://tinyurl.com/29tm67g :

"And in the middle of this complicated muddle, religious right groups zero in on one issue, i.e. censorship, and begin to control the debate."

"This issue is not about gay marriage per se, nor is it about condemnation of religion. It's about the intentional propagation of falsehoods and junk science in order to smear a group of people."

"Therefore demanding that the news media keep people like Tony Perkins or groups like the Family Research Council off television is extremely counterproductive. It gives the inaccurate notion that somehow their ideas are so truthful that the lgbt community is fearful of letting them be heard."

McEwen calls on us to hold the media accountable for not calling out these liars for what they are. When these snake oil salesmen get up there and tell the most outrageous falsehoods and go unchallenged someone like Brokaw, it gives them credibility.

Another fact is that if the MSM properly vetted Perkins, LaBarbara and their ilk, they wouldn't give them the time of day. But proper vetting takes time and news happens fast these days. They need to get somebody -- anybody -- in the chair.

Besides, the more outrageous the guest is, the better TV it makes. That's why Barbara Walters included The Jersey Shore skanks in her 10 Most Fascinating People Show.

In their desperate attempt to stay relevant, The Nightly News on any broadcast network has become just another reality show giving a platform for fame whores.

So, as I said before, let them rant, but hold them accountable. Demand that news people follow up with tough questions and expose these liars for what they are. When they don't, call them out on it. Start e-mail campaigns, make phone calls, protest, demonstrate and make a whole lotta noise. That's something we've relearned how to do very well in the last couple of years.

"Asked how anti-gay views should be presented, he said, 'You just say that they've got strong opinions. You treat like them like anyone else. You cross-examine and ask them the right questions.'"

Not when they're flatly lying, you don't -- and groups like the Family Research Council routinely lie. The media have two options consistent with their professional responsibility: either don't air the lies, or make it clear that they are false. Asking the speaker questions isn't enough. The media had the same responsibilities decades ago, when white supremacists were making their arguments. Anyone in the media who uncritically aired or published racist lies wasn't doing their job. A lie isn't a "strong opinion" and shouldn't be treated as one.

Reporters and interviewers are disregarding their responsibilities because (1) they're not informed enough to recognize homophobic lies and (2) they're prejudiced enough that they view homophobia as more acceptable than other forms of bigotry. We've got to call them out, and that includes Tom Brokaw. They're helping the bigots deny us our constitutionally guaranteed rights.

I'm curious. Who in today's media do you think adheres to your suggestion that "the media have two options consistent with their professional responsibility: either don't air the lies, or make it clear that they are false.

I mean, who does that in the media today? There simply isn't much journalism going on anymore, most people get their news from the source that spins it nicely for their tastes. They choose that "style" of news.

The "lies" that piss off most of the LGBT community are "religious beliefs" from these groups. they don't think they're lies, they think they are the truth.

In today's media journalism success equals ratings, not honest objective reporting.

In most cases people probably see these groups for what they truly are. There is a concern that a very small few may view the lies as truth. Shouldn't the role of a good interviewer be to address statements which are clearly false?

Interesting. Michael you and i see this problem from different perspectives. I had a wonderful day at church. I returned to read this thread and the comments. From my perspective Brokaw simply doesn't know much about scripture and therefore has inadequate knowledge to put false pretenders in their place. He is uneducated for the task at hand.

Groups like the FRC will go on national television and make homophobic statements backed by junk science. When Tony Perkins was on Hardball debating with SPLC's Mark Potok, he said that "Homosexuality poses a risk to children," quoting the American College of Pediatricians. He said that the study had never been debunked. It took two days for Chris Matthews to say that the American College of Pediatricians is not the official American Academy of Pediatricians, but is a group of 100 conservative doctors who formed this after the Academy made a supportive statement of gay parents.

That lie sat in the air for two days, but was corrected. On MSNBC. How many other lies are aired and never debunked? How many fake sources are quoted as truth?

What is the responsibility of our spokesgays? To memorize the fake associations and junk studies? To take time from making positive statements of our cause to say "Your information is bogus" only to have bigot of moment to say that his evidence is true?

Is it up to those watching to google the "facts"? That's not going to happen. This is very tricky, because hate groups can back themselves up with the Bible and with false studies, and with fear-mongering. Excluding them because they use junk science is the only way to be sure their lies are not validated and not aired.

Yeah, Brokaw won't be the one to ask the other side the tough questions. He's got issues with the gays.

But they do this on other issues, not just LGBT ones. Like the lead-up to the Iraq War, where they just presented the lies that Iraq had WMD's without much question. Or now as they discuss various economic plans without ever explaining whether they'd actually help the economy or not. It's easier to just report what someone says without following up and checking if it's right.

We seem to have more,more and more lies in our USA government, Media, Internet and just regular life!
We have major slants and biases by our news organizations! Go outside the USA and see the blatant slants, Eye opener! The Hate shown to LBGT's
by groups like AFA, FRC, AFTAH, NOM or the Mormons continues to occur! No News Organizations like 60 Minutes, 20/20. or 48 hours has done an Expose or investigation into AFA, FRC, AFTAH, NOM or the Mormons! Why?