Tony Perkins yesterday had a horrible, no good, very bad day. On Thursday, Perkins appeared on Chris Matthews‘ MSNBC show, “Hardball,” and for the first time ever, Chris Matthews actually played hardball with Perkins. Perkins, head of the certified anti-gay hate group Family Research Council, thought he was appearing to discuss President Obama’s position on same-sex marriage. Perkins no doubt was assuming he could just spew his usual anti-gay religious junk-science-shrouded boilerplate hate, but instead ended up being in the hot seat, having to try to defend his own positions on marriage and homosexuality, rather than attacking the President’s.
Matthews, who has been repeatedly asked to stop inviting Perkins onto “Hardball,” recently admitted he and his producers have been debating just that. Apparently, the decision was to treat Perkins as a hostile witness — which is why Hardball is named Hardball — and not as an emissary of the Holy See. It’s about time.
Matthews attacked Perkins, who has presided over the Family Research Council, one of the most virulently homophobic right wing activist organizations, (which was, to put it biblically, created from the rib of Focus On The Family — another radical religious right anti-gay group,) on his anti-gay positions, including his ludicrous recent statement that he would never have a gay child because he and his wife have been teaching their children the “right ways.”
It was a one-two punch, with Congressman Barney Frank doing some of the heavy lifting when Matthews was done.
This is how leaders of hate groups should be treated by real journalists — instead of how they’re usually treated. Allowed to not answer questions, these anti-gay haters generally get a pass from journalists, like Wolf Blitzer on CNN, and use their time to spew their real agendas: anti-gay hate.
But Hardball wasn’t the only door to close on Tony Perkins yesterday.
Perkins, who has been the head of the anti-gay hate group, FRC, since 2003, (although he was a Louisiana State Representative until 2004,) started his day with Soledad O’Brien on CNN’s “Starting Point.” O’Brien has been very chummy before with Perkins, and even extended that post-interview camaraderie to Twitter, where in March blogger Matt Algren took O’Brien to task for not revealing Perkins’ background. While she claimed she was going to have to disagree with Algren’s comment, “You wouldn’t have a Klan leader on and pretend it wasn’t a problem,” perhaps O’Brien actually did her research this time, and found out that Tony Perkins has financially supported the KKK.
O’Brien asked Perkins what was his “big argument against gay marriage,” and Perkins pulled out his typical boilerplate response. “Well, it’s an argument for marriage.” Any journalist worth their salt would never let that claptrap twisting go unchallenged.
“When government takes a policy position on marriage, it has an effect,” Perkins responded, tossing in 1960s-era no-fault divorce and adoption as culprits in his imaginary war on marriage.
“We’ve seen the consequences of that and have over 40% of children being born out of wedlock. We have a decline in marriage, the rise in cohabitation. The social costs of that are tremendous,” Perkins lamented.
O’Brien challenged: “When government took a position, let’s say, against the ban on interracial marriage it had an effect too, right? It brought legal marriage to blacks and whites.”
“You’re talking about redefinition,” Perkins said. “There is no rational reason to keep people of different races that were of opposite sex to marry. They met the qualifications of the definition of marriage. What we’re talking about here is a further redefinition of marriage…”
“But hasn’t marriage been redefined and redefined?” O’Brien interjected.
“It’s going to intentionally create environments where you have children growing up without a mom and a dad,” Perkins argued.
“But we have environments where children grow up,” O’Brien responded. “Forgive me for interrupting, but we have environments already in heterosexual couples where they grow up without a mom or dad. You’re certainly not arguing gay marriage is fine as long as the couples don’t want to have kids because you will avoid that problem, kids growing up without a mom or a dad, or an older couple who aren’t going to have kids?”
“There’s no argument that those things have occurred and that the state of marriage in this country is problematic,” Perkins conceded. “There’s no argument there. What I’m saying is you look at the consequence, the cost do government as a result of that, the increased social cost. Why would we want to intentionally do more of that? The point here is public policy — what we set doesn’t mean that everybody is going to reach that standard but we should set a standard that is best for society.”
“Doesn’t public policy follow culture? But it sounds to me like you’re saying public policy sets culture. I would say culture maybe actually goes first and public policy follows?” O’Brien followed up. “Certainly if you’re going to talk about equality and rights to sort of say, well, you know, I’m concerned about this issue, so we’ll overlook the equal rights part of it. seems a little unfair at the least.”
“Well, it’s not an issue of equal rights,” Perkins said. “Everybody has the same rights.”
O’Brien wasn’t having it, and continued pressuring Perkins, who trotted out his incest laws as reasons to discriminate against gays, and added in all the terrible trouble, albeit unsupported, same-sex marriage would cause businesses.
Noting that, “my mom’s white, my dad’s black,” O’Brien said that “marriage is always being ‘redefined.’”
“Marriage has always been the union of a man and a woman,” Perkins said.
“Marriage has always been, as someone has decided to define it,” O’Brien said. “We’re going to agree to disagree on this one,” she added.
But it wasn’t just the all-out war on Hardball or the rough and tumble on CNN that was troublesome for Perkins.
GLAAD’s new President, Herndon Graddick Thursday afternoon posted an excellent op-ed on The Huffington Post, “CNN Has Its Own ‘Evolving’ to Do on Marriage Coverage,” attacking the news network for hosting Perkins without telling the audience exactly who Tony Perkins really is:
So with a wealth of political thinkers, analysts and strategists to go to — why has CNN turned to Tony Perkins three times in the last few days to represent the “other side?” He was on with Piers Morgan Tuesday night to talk about the vote in North Carolina. He appeared with Wolf Blitzer Wednesday evening to talk about the President’s support for marriage equality, and then was interviewed by Soledad O’Brien Thursday morning on the same topic.
All of this is fine, as long as Perkins is put into the proper context. Which he sort-of was by Morgan and O’Brien, but Blitzer didn’t even come close.
Here’s the crux of the problem — and the exact reason why GLAAD’s Commentator Accountability Project was born. Tony Perkins and others of his ilk cannot be used to exemplify those who simply oppose marriage equality. CNN is more than welcome to interview him on the issue of marriage equality, of course. His is unquestionably one of the loudest voices in the nation speaking about the issue.
But when Perkins gets interviewed, a responsible journalist needs to tell the audience exactly who Perkins is speaking for. Based on his own statements — Tony Perkins represents people who believe supporting LGBT equality is akin to being a terrorist. Who believe marriage equality is the same as bestiality. Who say that gay people are “vile,” “hateful,” “spiteful” “pawns of the enemy.” Tony Perkins does not represent people who oppose marriage equality. Tony Perkins represents those who oppose LGBT people — period.
If CNN wants that side represented in this discussion, then Perkins is absolutely the right man for the job. But they need to make it clear to the audience that that’s what he’s there for. And by not doing so, they have not told the whole story. Wolf Blitzer’s interview with Perkins is a perfect example of this.
Blitzer asked Perkins how he felt when he heard the news, that Obama supports marriage. Fine. He then asked Perkins “What’s wrong with giving gay Americans the same rights as heterosexual Americans?” Then he asked Perkins whether he agrees with Romney about giving same-sex couples hospital visitation rights. He followed it up with “What about allowing gay couples to be on each other’s health insurance policies? Would you have a problem with that?”
What on earth was Blitzer doing here? Why were we spending so much time finding out exactly which rights Perkins does and doesn’t support gay couples having? Finally he ended the interview.
Blitzer: “Do you accept the concept that gay people are born that way?” (Which Perkins answered by incorrectly claiming “there is no conclusive evidence to suggest being gay is genetic.”)
Seriously. That’s what he closed with. Blitzer had five minutes to discuss the significance of a sitting president endorsing marriage equality with one of the leaders of the country’s anti-gay movement, and the audience learned next to nothing about this issue.
The LGBT media has had a field day with this. The Advocate’s headline, “Barney Frank, Chris Matthews Shred Tony Perkins for Antigay Views,” one example, AmericaBlog’s “Chris Matthews takes down Tony Perkins over gay rights,” another.
But mainstream media outlets have not let this go unignored, with even The Washington Post weighing in: CNN’s O’Brien jousts with Tony Perkins on gay marriage, and of course, Mediaite: “Soledad O’Brien Tangles With Tony Perkins Over Whether Marriage Has Ever Been Redefined.”
(In all fairness, we should note the CNN video and some of the O’Brien-Perkins transcript were from the Mediaite piece.)
But Perkins didn’t even have to be present for his day to end poorly. Thursday night, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell schooled a non-present Perkins on the Bible, and marriage.
Via The Advocate:
Social conservatives like Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, have grown accustomed to claiming that allowing same-sex couples to marry is “redefining” marriage, and that redefining it alone is a radical step.
But marriage has actually had to be legally redefined several times — to allow interracial marriages, for example. Or, to ban polygamy. O’Donnell points out that Perkins and other religious aficionados should know this well if they read their Bibles.
Tony Perkins on Wednesday no doubt thought President Obama’s embrace of same-sex marriage would keep him in business for a long time to come.
On Thursday, responsible journalists decided otherwise.
Perkins yesterday had a really bad day. And unlike the children’s book by a similar title, it’s not going to end well. There will be no lessons learned, no optimism to find. This was the first of many more.
It won’t be long before Perkins appearing on CNN, MSNBC, or in other polite media outlets will be as unconscionable as David Duke or other KKK leaders being interviewed on cable TV.
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