Today’s New York Times profile of the American Family Association (AFA) stops short of accurately portraying it as the hate group that it is. Under the guise of Christian values, AFA spreads some of the most demonizing rhetoric about the LGBT community of all Religious Right groups, as blogs Right Wing Watch and Good As You document on almost a daily basis. These attacks flow primarily from the group’s spokesperson, Bryan Fischer, but they are amplified by Republican presidential candidates who appear on his radio show, reinforced through the organization’s news outlet, One News Now, and further disseminated through 10 state-level affiliates. For instance, AFA’s president, Tim Wildmon, has confirmed that one of the goal’s of this week’s high-profile prayer rally headlined by Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is to end the “increasing acceptance of homosexuality” by American society.
But the New York Times both downplayed and even humored some of AFA’s rhetoric — so much so that bloggers have called it “rightwashed” and a “glowing tribute.” Mainstream media outlets often attempt to create a false “balance” on LGBT issues by ignoring much of the harm caused by those who oppose equality, as NPR did earlier this week. The Times achieved this by merely ascribing AFA’s designation as a “hate group” to “liberal critics,” juxtaposed against the Values Voter Summit honoring the group’s founder, Don Wildmon, as “one of the most effective Christian leaders of our time.” The reality is that the “hate group” language doesn’t just come from “liberal critics,” but from the prestigious Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). A year ago, the SPLC designated 18 organizations, including AFA, as anti-gay “hate groups” for the way their rhetoric and actions encouraged violence against the LGBT community. Here is how SPLC rationalized the label:
Even as some well-known anti-gay groups like Focus on the Family moderate their views, a hard core of smaller groups, most of them religiously motivated, have continued to pump out demonizing propaganda aimed at homosexuals and other sexual minorities. These groups’ influence reaches far beyond what their size would suggest, because the “facts” they disseminate about homosexuality are often amplified by certain politicians, other groups and even news organizations. Of the 18 groups profiled below, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) will be listing 13 next year as hate groups (eight were previously listed), reflecting further research into their views; those are each marked with an asterisk. Generally, the SPLC’s listings of these groups is based on their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling. Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.
Another problem with the article was its poor framing of some of Fischer’s rhetoric. For example, the article highlights Fischer’s outlandish claims that Hitler was gay and that Nazis were “homosexual thugs,” suggesting it’s all part of the same “disputed theory” and up for debate. While some historians have raised questions about Hitler’s sexual orientation, no legitimate historians suggest the holocaust was evidence of the “inherent pathologies of homosexuality.” It’s unfortunately ironic that the story was published on the same day as the passing of Rudolf Brazda, who was the last known survivor of the Nazis’ persecution of homosexuals.
By ignoring the SPLC’s research on AFA and humoring Fischer’s rhetoric, the New York Times grossly misrepresented the group’s intentions and the incredible harm it does to the LGBT community.