Last weekend, Faithful America members from the Boston area confronted Chris Matthews at a book signing in Framingham, Massachusetts about his track record of inviting Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on Hardball as a representative of Christian voters. FRC was named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2010 for spreading hateful lies and junk research about the LGBT community — and in part because of an incident in which a senior FRC staffer said on Hardball that there should be “criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior.”
Matthews, who just received Human Rights Campaign’s Ally for Equality award, responded by falsely claiming that Perkins has never “pulled that homophobic stuff on my show,” and insisting that “every time he’s on he’s challenged.”
That’s just not true. After SPLC named FRC a hate group, Matthews invited Perkins on to defend his organization. Perkins took the opportunity to repeat his false accusations that gay men are more likely than heterosexual men to molest children, and said “the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a risk to children.”
Since that November 2010 appearance (which did include SPLC Senior Fellow Mark Potok), Perkins has appeared on Hardball six times — and neither Matthews nor any of his guests have brought up Perkins’ long record of spreading hateful anti-gay lies.
Instead, Matthews has gone out of his way to give credibility to Perkins, calling him an “honest conservative” with “true views” whose conscience he trusts. Viewers who trust Matthews’s judgment and honesty come away with the impression that they should do the same of Perkins.
Asked to stop inviting Perkins on the air, Matthews accused the Faithful America members of “trying to silence people” — a curious charge given that he recently urged his fellow MSNBC anchors to stop booking Franklin Graham because of Graham’s persistent false attacks on the President’s faith.
As you can see in the video, when Faithful America member Jeff Bridges raises the question of legitimizing Perkins’s off-air comments, Matthews has no real response, admitting that “you may be right. I may agree with you, but not right now.”
It’s long past time for Matthews to stop giving Tony Perkins a platform. As Bishop Gene Robinson explained to MSNBC representatives last month highlighting the shockingly high suicide rate among gay teens, the lies people like Perkins tell “are killing us and they’re killing our kids.”
Just as Faithful America is continuing to make headlines for its rejected ad calling attention to hate group leader Tony Perkins’s frequent appearances on MSNBC, GLAAD has launched a new project on this same topic more broadly.
The Commentator Accountability Project (CAP) is focused on educating members of the media at all levels about the long record of hateful and false statements prominent Religious Right leaders have made over the years.
Given these spokespeople’s habit of code-switching — toning down their statements in mainstream outlets while saving their most vitriolic and extreme rhetoric for presumably friendly audiences — sometimes it really is the case that producers and hosts just don’t know their guests’ hateful histories.
To be clear, GLAAD’s campaign doesn’t call for any particular action on the part of news outlets. It is simply focused on giving them more information about their potential guests. But predictably, the conservative commentators whose records are being exposed are ignoring that fact to claim that they’re being “silenced.”
If these Religious Right leaders find themselves getting booked less often once the truth is out, it won’t necessarily signal any change in media policies. It will just be a sign that these figures have been exploiting news professionals’ unfamiliarity with their records for too long.
Perkins is clearly upset by the 20,000 people of faith who have called on MSNBC to drop him from their programming. In a rambling response, Perkins claimed “homosexual activist groups” are trying to “silence” him because they’re “afraid of the truth,” falsely attacked Bishop Gene Robinson and boasted about his recent appearance on MSNBC:
Wildmon: There’s something about, I didn’t read the whole story, something about you appearing on some news show the other night and now the homosexual activist groups want you banned for life or something, I don’t know.
Perkins: Well what’s new about that? They are afraid of the truth and they are probably listening because I know they like to monitor this program and that’s what it is, they are afraid of the truth. They do not want to have open debates, they know the facts simply do not line up, and so instead of publicly showing up and debating or putting their ideas out there on the table they simply want to silence Christians, that’s what it’s about. [emphasis added]
Perkins: You might remember the Episcopal Bishop Eugene [sic] Robinson who split the Episcopal Church because he’s openly gay and wanted to marry his lover or whatever you call it, and he gathered 20,000 signatures and presented them to MSNBC demanding that they keep me off of MSNBC because you know I’m on there you know talking about politics or whatever and usually it’s nothing to do with homosexuality, they just don’t want anybody who does have views that are counter to theirs.
Wildmon: I’ll tell you what, you’re in good company, the other day Kirk Cameron went on Piers Morgan on CNN, and man, Piers Morgan asked him a question about homosexuality, he said it was ‘unnatural,’ he just got torched.
Perkins: I talked to Kirk, I talked to him yesterday actually I was actually interestingly enough I was coming out of MSNBC where I was on yesterday with Martin Bashir, and I would actually encourage folks to go watch that interview that I did with him—they have it on their homepage; at least they did this morning on MSNBC—and thank them for allowing a balanced discussion. Obviously Martin did not agree with me but we had a very civil discussion on the issues and I tell you what I have to respect MSNBC for allowing debate and not buckling under the pressure of a loudmouth, Soros-funded group that is simply trying to silence the public debate over important public policy issues, so I will have to come to the defense of MSNBC for not buckling under that pressure. [emphasis added]
What’s more, Perkins’s appearance on Bashir’s show was a textbook example of how MSNBC lends Perkins undue credibility. After Bashir introduced him as a “committed Christian” he was “delighted” to have on to talk about the Rush Limbaugh controversy, Perkins proceeded to falsely claim that Sandra Fluke was testifying about “sexual promiscuity” and asking the government to fund her birth control.
Does MSNBC really think this exchange is a helpful one for its viewers?
We have many guests from a variety of viewpoints who all play roles in the political process. The views of our guests are not those of MSNBC.
But this, of course, is no defense at all. Faithful America isn’t suggesting that MSNBC shouldn’t have guests with a variety of viewpoints, just that those viewpoints shouldn’t include hateful lies.
Tony Perkins doesn’t occasionally get things wrong, he repeatedly uses debunked and discredited research in order to demonize an entire group of people. He’s simply not a trustworthy actor, and lifting him up as such does a disservice to Christians and conservatives alike.
But MSNBC’s viewers don’t learn that context when they see Perkins on television. Not only does MSNBC fail to alert its audience to Perkins’s credibility problems, they openly endorse him. Network anchors consistently treat him like a credible analyst and compliment him as an “honest conservative” whose conscience can be trusted.
Continuing their campaign demanding that MSNBC stop booking hate-group leader Tony Perkins on their news programming, Faithful America has produced an ad to educate the network’s viewers about the hateful lies the Family Research Council President tells about LGBT people and how frequently the cable network puts him on air.
Shamefully, MSNBC rejected the ad. After Faithful America attempted to purchase time to run the ad on the network, a representative responded:
Thank you for providing the ad and substantiation. Our policy states that we have sole discretion to accept or reject an ad based on its appropriateness. In this instance we are rejecting the ad.
Michael Sherrard, head of Faithful America, responded:
Clearly MSNBC doesn’t want its viewers to know the truth about one of their frequent guests. If network executives consider Tony Perkins’ false and hateful rhetoric about gays and lesbians inappropriate for an ad, then he shouldn’t have any place on their programming.
Here’s the information MSNBC doesn’t want you to see:
Earlier this month Faithful America, Bishop Gene Robinson and a delegation of clergy leaders delivered 20,000 petition signatures to MSNBC headquarters trying to raise this same issue. MSNBC responded to that event by featuring Perkins on air last week.