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05/09/2014

They hate nothing more than own words: Tony Perkins debates legitimacy of fully sourced quotes

by Jeremy Hooper

Clearly the most obvious reason why the anti-LGBT movement annoys me has to do with their insistence that certain kinds of human beings are somehow less deserving of equality, less capable of morality, less in need of decent treatment, and generally less fit for their game we call life.  But while the aggressive agenda that has forced all of us into decades of contrived "culture war" is the most glaring injustice that the self-appointed "values" crowd has imposed onto public life, there is another component of the opposition movement that is downright stupefying.

I'm talking about the way so many of the professional activists on the other side seem to be almost proud of making the most obtuse and anti-intellectual arguments possible.  Whereas good political actors strive to raise the debate, making really tough concepts a little easier to understand while giving childishly simple notions a positive tone designed to unify, the professional anti-LGBT activists seem to take great pride (but not of the parade variety) in reducing the debate to ridiculous talking points that mean absolutely nothing, a tone of fear that is designed to frighten and divide us as a people, and an overall dumbed-down spirit that prizes myopia and misunderstanding as much as (if not more than) the more exploratory thinkers among us cherish accuracy and nuance.   

Which leads me to last night's segment from Fox News, wherein primetime host Megyn Kelly hosted viciously anti-LGBT Family Research Council president Tony Perkins for what seems to be his standing gig on her eponymous show. The subject was that latest reality TV show controversy, which I have less-than-zero desire to rehash here; Google it if you're not familiar.  Instead, I want you to just focus on the way Tony spins his way out of the pertinent issues that Megyn, to her credit, put in front of him:


[SOURCE: Fox News]

Alright, so let's discuss this.  Right Wing Watch is, in fact, a partisan site that is, by name and labor, designed to challenge right-leaning (and particularly far-right) talking points.  That much is true.  But what is also true is that RWW is a site that largely consists of audio clips, video snippets, press releases, and other ephemera that conservative pundits and media outlets contribute to the debate.  There is very little outside commentary on RWW.  For the most part, a post on that site consists of a brief set up, the clip at the center of the discussion, some links to other pertinent things the commentator or media outlet in question might have said, and maybe a closing thought or two.

You might agree or disagree with the view of the RWW site and its editors.  However, the facts are solid.  RWW always sources its clips, reliably links out to the source material, and takes strides to ensure that all of the information is there.  Within that context, the reader is free to agree or disagree.  The clip in question might lead one to question or strengthen his political beliefs.  However, there should be no dispute about the data.  The clips are the clips; the words are the words.  This is true if it's a clip from Tony Perkins radio show that appears on RWW or if it's a copy of the U.S. Constitution that appears on an anti-LGBT website. Regardless of how we feel about the editorial purview of the site, the raw data is what it is.

But here's the thing: even if you don't want to trust RWW's data, there is an easy fix.  RWW provides the direct links to every single thing that Megyn Kelly mentioned! In the case of David Benham saying we need to stop “homosexuality and its agenda that is attacking the nation,” RWW provided a direct link (through a back link to its initial post on the subject) back to the 5/9/2012 edition of The Janet Mefferd Show where Mr. Benham made his comments.  If you don't trust RWW's snip, you can go listen to the full interview for yourself. 

When it comes to Benham citing what he sees as a biblical death penalty that he believes speaks to homosexuality as we know it, RWW didn't just quote his words verbatim—writer Brian Tashman provided a direct link to the Christian Post commentary where Mr. Benham made his claims.  If Tony Perkins feels like the words hold more value on the Christian Post site, he can read them there instead.  It won't change anything.

And the truth is that Mr. Benham's rhetoric goes even further.  GLAAD's Commentator Accountability Project, a project that I work on, has rounded up (and sourced and linked) many more incidents of animus from Mr. Benham.  Whether or not he has said these things is not up for debate.  However, I can guarantee you that if I presented Tony Perkins with the link to Mr. Benham's GLAAD CAP profile, Tony would do the exact same thing and try to attack the veracity of Benham's quotes, simply because they appear on GLAAD's website.  Just like with RWW, it wouldn't matter to Tony that all of the quotes are presented intact and linked out to their sources.  I know it wouldn't matter because I've had countless figures from Tony Perkins' allied movement tell me exactly that whenever I present them with the solid data. They use the fact that they dislike and disagree with GLAAD as a way of discrediting the hard facts.

What Tony did in his Kelly File appearance is a perfect encapsulation of the really terrible mindset that the anti-LGBT movement, in general, brings to the debate. When we raise pertinent points, they respond with meaningless talking points.  When we say we won't to have a debate about civil rights, they resort to biblical opinion.  When we push back against something discriminatory that they said or did, they turn themselves into the "victims" of "free speech."  And when we show then their own words, intact and beyond any reasonable debate, they act like we and our friends in the entertainment industry colluded to make up that which they themselves put on the record.  If you track this stuff with any regularity, as I do, it can feel like living in a bizarro world—one where the war on critical thinking feels almost as stifling and in some ways as damaging as the fight against tangible rights.

And why do they keep doing it?  Well, did you hear Megyn Kelly push back against Tony's spin?    

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