Last Thursday morning, CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien had Family Research Council (FRC) leader Tony Perkins on her show. Here’s a link to the entire segment, via FRC. Perkins’ appearance, with no mention of his dangerous extremist views, is bothersome enough, but O’Brien’s Twitter banter with one of the anti-gay industry’s most prominent leaders is really out of line for a mainstream news anchor, considering what is on the public record.
Saturday evening, I noticed O’Brien’s Twitter exchanges with Perkins and tossed off a quick question, which resulted in the following exchange. (By the way, I don’t bring up the Klan lightly. Tony Perkins has known connections to the conservative group, to use Ms. O’Brien’s term, that interviewers seem loathe to acknowledge on-air.)
I’m honestly flabbergasted by Soledad O’Brien’s shoulder-shrugging dismissal. Obviously, Twitter isn’t the best place to have a long-form conversation about the discriminatory views of Tony Perkins and FRC. (Ideally, that should be done on CNN before she jokes around with him about James Taylor music.)
Even accepting the inadequacies of the forum, though, Tony Perkins’ extremist anti-gay hate group isn’t something one can just disagree on. He is on the record comparing people like her colleague Don Lemon to pedophiles and terrorists, and says that people like Lemon are “pawns of the enemy.”
These are Tony Perkins’ undisputed official positions voiced in his professional capacity as FRC president. It’s not just a difference of opinion whether that’s worth talking about when she brings him on her program. Indeed, it must be mentioned, and her dismissal of the issue calls into question O’Brien’s professionalism, her journalistic ethics, and most importantly, her personal biases. What else has she decided her viewers don’t need to know? What other important information has she withheld? What other despicable hatemongers have she introduced as just conservative (or liberal) leaders?
In a well-timed coincidence, just 24 hours before Soledad O’Brien joked around with a hate group leader without mentioning to the millions in her audience that she was, in fact, joking around with a hate group leader, GLAAD introduced their new Commentator Accountability Program, or CAP. From GLAAD’s official project announcement:
â€œHate is not an expert opinion,â€ said GLAAD’s Herndon Graddick. â€œIn most cases, news outlets invite reputable experts to speak on the subject at hand, but when talking about LGBT issues, open hostility and anti-LGBT bias seems to be all the credibility required. This project holds these so-called â€˜punditsâ€™ accountable for the extreme anti-LGBT rhetoric they continue to spread.â€
The Commentator Accountability Project launches with a comprehensive set of online resources detailing the anti-LGBT, racist, and anti-woman sentiments of nearly three dozen anti-LGBT commentators who have appeared in local and national news. As more commentators engage in anti-LGBT rhetoric, new profiles will be added.
Soledad O’Brien should spend some time learning the FRC president’s extremist, vitriolic, and yes, racist views before the next time she laughs with him about funny music selections on his iPod. (Seriously. They did that.) I feel silly for pointing out something so obvious, but news anchors have a responsibility to their audience to acknowledge their guests’ professional credentials. Even if Perkins isn’t there to talk specifically about the eyebrow-raising parts of his organization’s platform, ignoring his extremism is a disservice to her viewers.
GLAAD has made it easy for journalists like O’Brien; they’ve even given Perkins his own page with links to video and transcripts of offensive professional stances. They’ve taken the work out of the journalistic vetting process. The question is whether she and her colleagues value their audience’s right to know over access to a smooth-talking pundit.