According to exit polling of the 2012 election, just 5 percent of voters who turned out were gay. Yet voters said their states should legalize same-sex marriage by 49 percent to 46 percent. Indeed, social issues like gay marriage and the media-concocted “war on women” probably gave President Obama his margin of victory.
Consider another figure: According to a May 2011 Gallup poll, most U.S. adults “estimate that 25 percent of Americans are” gay or lesbian. In reality, the number of people who identify themselves that way is just 3.4 percent, according to a Gallup survey released in October 2012. But it’s understandable that so many people might overestimate the number.
Gay issues are sympathetically presented everywhere in the media. From gay characters and themes in movies and TV to journalists crusading for same-sex marriage, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) topics command an ever-increasing share of attention.
When New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane admitted the paper’s liberal bias in his final column in August 2012, he wrote that issues like “gay marriage seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.” Brisbane’s example, gay marriage, wasn’t chosen at random. Print, electronic and broadcast media have taken up the gay agenda.
That normalization is the goal of groups like the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). “What people see in the media has a huge impact and GLAAD ensures images of LGBT people and allies grow acceptance, understanding and build support for equality,” they state. Journalists have been happy to help, pushing issues like same-sex marriage, and gay adoption and parenting, hate crimes legislation, and gay-focused anti-bullying initiatives. Those issues also figure in their coverage of politics, religion and education.
Anxious to make the 2012 campaign about anything other than President Obama’s record and the foundering economy, news outlets take every opportunity to introduce social issues – especially candidates’ position on gay marriage – to paint conservative politicians as outside “the cultural mainstream” and “anti-gay.”
Nowhere is pro-gay bias more apparent than the three broadcast networks. ABC, CBS and NBC have all but abandoned objectivity in covering gay and LGBT issues. Network reporters and anchors often used the language of activists, asserting that conservatives “fight against protections for gay Americans” that gay marriage is “progress” and “morally right.” Some have even made explicit comparisons between gay issues and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
The Media Research Center’s Culture and Media Institute analyzed the coverage ABC, CBS and NBC gave to LGBT issues from Jan. 1 – Aug. 31, 2012, on their morning and evening newscasts. CMI discovered pro-gay bias in both the amount of stories coverage and how stories were reported. The networks have indeed formed a marriage of convenience with gay advocacy groups and the results show in their coverage.
A Sense of Disproportion
One possible reason Americans overestimate the gay population is simple: the outsized influence of gays on the media – in news as well as entertainment.
Take the three broadcast networks for example. ABC, CBS and NBC covered LGBT stories 213 times from January through August 2012.
In that same period, they ran just 131 stories about the Catholic Church. Ironically, Catholics really do comprise 25 percent of the U.S. population. There are 78 million Catholics, making the church the country’s largest Christian denomination. And since May, when a number of Catholic diocese and institutions filed a historic lawsuit against the Obamacare mandate that would force them to pay for contraception (something they deem immoral), it garnered just three mentions on ABC, CBS and NBC.
Overall, the networks’ coverage of the church was fair, with 36 stories on positive aspects of Catholics and Catholicism, 41 negative stories, and 54 that were essentially neutral. Such balance makes the networks’ cheerleading for gay issues all the more pronounced.
Perhaps if public interest in gay issues was high the networks could say they are just responding to public demand. But that’s not the case. It’s an election year, and the public is heavily focused on the economy, despite the best efforts of liberals and the media to turn the conversation to social issues.
An April Pew poll found gay marriage dead last among issues, with just 28 percent of people saying it was “very important” as an electoral issue. NBC’s Chuck Todd reaffirmed that point on May 22. “As for gay marriage, for a large majority of voters, 62 percent, neither Obama’s pro-gay marriage stance nor Romney's anti-one make any difference in their 2012 vote, they told us,” he said.
But many reporters are eager to overstate public support for the gay agenda. On July 26, ABC anchor Ron Claiborne misrepresented the controversy that arose when Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy told a Christian newspaper his management team supports traditional marriage. “Chick-fil-A did try to do some damage control later, but they are really embroiled in a, quite a disagreement with the public,” Claiborne said.
Apparently, nobody told the public about the disagreement. Consumer use of Chick-fil-A was up 2.2 percent, market share was up 0.6 percent, and total ad awareness was up a 6.5 percent in recent consumer research.
Networks Rely on Gay Advocates
Gay issues are inherently controversial – otherwise, the networks wouldn’t be spending so much time on them. But too often, ABC, CBS and NBC forgot that it takes two sides to have a controversy. By a margin of nearly 4-to-1 (65 vs. 18), stories included pro-gay voices over traditional marriage supporters.
Having chosen their side, the networks rarely provided balance.
In May, when President Obama announced his “evolved” position in favor of same-sex marriage, NBC “Today’s” Anne Curry turned to MSNBC host, far-left liberal and open lesbian Rachel Maddow for analysis. Maddow, without a trace of irony, said “I am an openly gay person who works in the news media covering this but also feeling this as a gay person.”
The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics admonishes reporters to “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.” And although Maddow deals in opinion, Curry is not supposed to. Any segment like that one, which included Maddow praising the “symbolic value” of Obama’s announcement but saying, “mostly we want practical policies that help us” should have included the voice of a traditional marriage supporter.
On May 31, after the Vatican announced plans to reform the liberal U.S. Leadership Conference of Women's Religious (LCWR) for, among other things, flouting the church’s position that homosexual acts are sinful, LCWR’s Sister Maureen Fiedler appeared on CBS “This Morning” to defend the group. Fiedler, a very public liberal, criticized the Vatican’s view. “And if we`re at all concerned about people of a gay or lesbian orientation, we believe they`re equal too,” she said, though the church never suggested they weren’t.
Fiedler went on to describe her ideal “truly collaborative” and “more democratic” vision for the church. That prompted CBS “This Morning” co-host Gayle King to ask, “You know, it’s interesting that the nuns are being accused of being out of touch. Could it be that perhaps, maybe the Vatican is out of touch on this particular?”
After Obama came down in favor of same-sex marriage, NBC’s Anne Thompson called it “a modern definition of family, determined not by gender but by commitment,” on “Nightly News” May 9. That night, she profiled a gay man engaged to another and the father of two children. The gay man said that the president’s statement made him feel, “Finally like my family is justified.” Thompson got nostalgic about Ellen DeGeneres’ “historic coming out” and “Will & Grace.” She also talked to a New York City LGBT Community Center executive director. Opponents of gay marriage, were represented by two brief man-on-the-street statements.
Obama’s change of heart was a cue for a parade of gay celebrities to crow about it on the network morning shows during interviews without the interruption of an opposing viewpoint.
On CBS “This Morning” May 15, Erica Hill prodded actress Jane Lynch, saying, “You weighed in on President Obama weighing in on same-sex marriage … on Twitter actually and you thanked him … for the dignity that those words brought you.”
“Brought to our family, yeah,” Lynch replied. “When he – the president came out and said, you know, ‘I – I believe that gay people should be able to marry each other. I think it`s a right they should have as well. All of a sudden I took that, I – I that I – I – it really moved me. It touched me.”
On June 8, actor Neil Patrick Harris told CBS’s King, “I`m very proud of what the president has done. A lot of people I think feel like he`s moving too slow, but I think he`s always been a proponent and a – and – and friends of – of – of LGBT people.”
But in April, even before the president’s announcement on gay marriage, King gave perfect voice to the network’s sympathy with the gay agenda. On “This Morning,” she said to openly gay entertainer Harvey Fierstein, “Here we are in 2012 where it`s still very difficult I think for so many people to come out.”
Fierstein talked about his small, Connecticut town. “And when I first moved up there about thirty years ago and I went to register as a Democrat, I mean, they practically closed town hall to me. Now I see gay couples going into that very same town hall and getting married.
“Yeah, progress,” King replied. “And I just – yeah,” said Fierstein, “it`s a wonderful world.” “Progress,” King repeated.
In the fall of 2012, NBC debuted a sitcom that revolves around a gay couple and the surrogate mother of their child. It’s called “The New Normal,” and from the network’s point of view, the title is perfect.
Sadly, NBC’s news division – as well as those of ABC and CBS – shared that perception of “normal.” They relentlessly presented gay marriage, parenting and other issues as a fait accompli, moving them from the realm of debatable issues to just more human interest stories.
In a May report celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of Ellen DeGeneres’ coming out on her sitcom, “Ellen,” Diane Sawyer enthusiastically said: “From ‘Modern Family’ to ‘Glee’ and on and on, gay or not gay, we're all part of the big American family.”
Thompson’s May 9 “Nightly News” report also assured viewers that “gay relationships are part of the cultural mainstream,” and complained that “what's happening in some of America's homes is not being reflected in the nation's statehouses. Thirty-nine states define marriage as between one man and one woman, 30 of them by constitutional amendment.” She showed a gay father saying, “It's just we are a family just like every other family.”
On the eve of Fathers Day in June, CBS “Evening News” ran a story about two gay men raising children. Reporter Elaine Quijano spoke to a doctor that runs an agency “matching same-sex parents with a surrogate,” but no critic of gay parenting. Quijano’s only indication that the situation was controversial was her acknowledgment that “public opinion is divided” over gay parenthood. She didn’t explain why, but she did let one of the gay dads tell viewers how normal their situation is: “Our daily routines, our lives, what we do with our kids, is exactly what any other family would be like.”
Opposition Equals Hate
A rhetorical trick of groups pushing the gay agenda is to suggest that anyone uncomfortable with their demands is anti-gay and compelled by hatred. In effect, it made any dissent illegitimate. Network journalists have also adopted the practice.
When it came to the summer’s controversy over Chick-fil-A, reporters were quick to make the fast food chain an aggressor in the culture war. On Aug. 3, ABC’s Amy Robach said there was a “Showdown right now in one of America's most popular fast food restaurants as gay activists fight back at Chick-fil-A.” The company’s CEO had simply stated his support for traditional marriage – hardly provocation requiring anyone to “fight back.”
Robach’s colleague Steve Osunsami was particularly insistent that Chick-fil-A’s support for traditional morality represented an attack. On Aug. 1, he charged the company with giving “millions to groups that fight against protections for gay Americans.” Just two days later, Osunsami was at it again, saying that, “For years, the highly successful business has donated millions to groups that fight against gay Americans and gay marriage.”
Worse than being anti-gay, opponents of same-sex marriage may be causing hate, at least according to former NBC “Today” co-host Ann Curry. On March 20, she interviewed actor Kirk Cameron asking: “When you talked to CNN's Piers Morgan who asked you if you think homosexuality is a sin and you said, quote, ‘I think that it's unnatural. I think that detrimental and ultimately destructive to so many of the foundations of civilization,’ I've got to get your response. Many people are suggesting that this is hate speech. Are you encouraging people to feel hate towards gay people?”
When Cameron said adamantly that he was not, Curry kept pushing. “Do you feel – you feel any responsibility saying words like that, that might encourage people to feel that it's OK to treat – mistreat gay people?” Cameron, of course, responded that “Nobody should mistreat anybody.”
On May 10, to its credit, CBS “This Morning” featured an interview with conservative columnist and same-sex marriage opponent Dennis Prager. “Dennis, you recently wrote an article about that you can be against same-sex marriage and not be anti-gay,” asked Gayle King. “A lot of gays I keep hearing aren`t understanding your distinction. What do you mean?”
Is same-sex marriage a civil rights issue, comparable to the 1960s fight against Jim Crow laws and black segregation? Network journalists seem to want viewers to think so. When they don’t explicitly make the comparison, they use language that hearkens back to the civil rights era.
In her celebration of the anniversary of Ellen DeGeneres’s coming out, Diane Sawyer gushed, “In 1997, Ellen DeGeneres knew that she was taking a risk. Advertisers like JCPenney pulled their ads. There was even a death threat. But she marched forward.”
On May 10, Curry asked Maddow on NBC’s “Today” that about the recent defeat of same-sex marriage on a referendum in North Carolina. “In civil rights, generally speaking,” Maddow said, “when you ask for a majority vote on minority rights, generally minorities do not fare well.”
Months earlier, on the Feb. 18 “Nightly News,” NBC’s Lester Holt introduced a segment about a mixed-race couple drawing a parallel to the gay marriage issue. Holt said: “We've been hearing a lot lately about the fight for the right to marry. These days, of course, the debates center around same-sex couples. But more than 50 years ago, Richard and Mildred Loving became unsung heroes of the civil rights movement.”
In her interview with Prager on CBS, King argued that opposing gay marriage is the same as opposing gays. “It`s sort of like saying to a black person, listen, I want you to sit at the back of the bus, but I’m not anti-black.”
Drawing such equivalencies cheapens the memory of the civil rights movement, and the struggle of blacks to overcome real, entrenched, hatred and violence.
On gays and the gay agenda, ABC, CBS and NBC (and much of the rest of the establishment media) have abandoned even a pretense of objectivity. From injecting the language of the civil rights era into stories about gay marriage, to chatty interviews that take the perspective of liberal gay celebrities as the correct one, LGBT issues have indeed been “overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.”
Furthermore, the networks have grasped onto gay marriage and other social issues as weapons against conservatives in an election year. Obama’s mismanagement of the economy has given the networks little positive ammunition to use against his critics. A revival of the culture war was a means to change the subject, even though the public didn’t want that subject changed.
To improve coverage, CMI recommends:
Keep Perspective: Under 4 percent of the population is LGBT. According to NBC’s own reporting, “for a large majority of voters, 62 percent, neither Obama’s pro-gay marriage stance nor Romney's anti-one make any difference in their 2012 vote.” While gays issues may resonate in the studios of New York and Washington, in much of the rest of the country, they matter far less.
Give Traditional Marriage a Say: While they may be settled among journalists, issues like gay marriage, adoption and service in the military are still highly controversial. It shouldn’t be hard to find and include conservatives in a meaningful way in reports.
Watch Your Language: Using the terms and framing the debate in the same way as gay activist groups is good propaganda, but bad journalism. Organizations seeking to protect the definition of gay marriage aren’t “against protections for gay Americans.” Opposition is not “hate,” and comparisons to the black civil rights struggle are laughable.