Fair and Balanced?: Fox News Clams Up Over Gay Teen Suicide
Fox News has plenty to say about anti-gay bullying--as long as it’s an argument against extending legal protections to GLBT youth. But when it comes to queer teens committing suicide, the infotainment giant is almost completely silent, a new report from Equality Matters says.
"While Fox News consistently rails against efforts to reduce anti-LGBT bullying, the network is virtually silent when it comes to actually reporting on cases of bullying-related suicide," an Oct. 31 Equality Matters media release noted.
"While CNN and MSNBC have made efforts to combat and cover the growing problem of anti-LGBT bullying, Fox has instead chosen to promote stories that reinforce right-wing talking points," the release added.
News outlets, by contrast, have presented comprehensive coverage as the crisis of GLBT youths killing themselves has continued.
"According to an Equality Matters analysis, Fox News almost completely ignored the September 18 suicide of Jamey Rodemeyer, a bullied gay teen from New York," the release said. "In the two weeks following Rodemeyer’s death, CNN mentioned the story nine times, and MSNBC mentioned the story five times. Fox mentioned it just once, while discussing proposed anti-bullying legislation in New York. Fox never mentioned Rodemeyer by name."
What’s more, news outlets have undertaken proactive campaigns to combat the trend in gay youth suicides, whereas Fox News has done nothing, the release noted.
"CNN launched a ’Stop Bullying: Speak Up’ page to serve as a resource about school bullying, including anti-LGBT bullying," the release said. "Time Warner, CNN’s parent company, worked with Facebook to launch a ’multiplatform campaign’ against bullying, including an app that ’will allow users to make a commitment to stop bullying and recruit others to join the cause,’ " as well as hosting a Town Hall dialogue on bullying and commissioning a study for Anderson Cooper’s program on the problem.
Moreover, Cooper has been aggressive in his coverage of anti-gay harassment, reporting on stories as diverse as an assistant state DA’s cyber-stalking of an openly gay university student body president and the tragic aftermath of a so-called "treatment" delivered by anti-gay activist George Rekers to a young boy in the 1970s. That patient came out as gay in his 20s and killed himself in his late 30s.
In terms of the ongoing crisis in youth suicides, the release noted, "Cooper interviewed Rodemeyer’s family, documenting the harassment targeted at Jamey even after his funeral."
Nor was CNN alone in its efforts.
"As part of its ’Education Nation’ series, MSNBC invited Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to discuss government anti-bullying efforts," the release noted. "MSNBC host Thomas Roberts spent several segments to discussing the Rodemeyer’s death. In the days following the suicide, Roberts interviewed Nadin Khoury, a student activists working to stop school bullying. Roberts also interviewed TV host Steve Wilkos, who discussed the problem of cyber-bullying and anonymous harassment."
Fox News has adopted the opposite approach, the release suggested.
"Fox has a history of criticizing anti-bullying efforts as overreaching and unnecessary," the release said. "According to an Equality Matters analysis, Fox News devoted five segments in the month of September to criticizing New Jersey’s new anti-bullying law for allegedly being too expansive."
Continued the release, "Fox News ran multiple segments criticizing a California public school for introducing students to lessons on gender diversity. One Fox guest objected to the lesson by stating: ’Bullying is such an excuse because kids do not bully each other based on gender.’ "
What’s more, "Fox News repeatedly attacked California’s FAIR Education Act, which requires public schools to recognize the contributions of LGBT historical figures," the release reported. "Fox guests called LGBT history lessons ’irrelevant’ ’propaganda.’ "
But when it came to anti-gay organizations attempting to paint the GLBT community as lawless thugs intent on terrorizing innocent heterosexuals, the infotainment giant took a decidedly more sympathetic tone, the release indicated.
"According to an Equality Matters analysis, Fox News was the only major network to criticize Vanderbilt University’s non-discrimination policy, which prohibits religious groups from excluding LGBT students," said the release.
"Fox ran six segments about the university’s policy between September and October," the release continued, going on to report that "Fox interviewed Rose Marie Belforti, a New York town clerk who refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs."
"It’s no secret that Fox News has a habit of injecting its anti-LGBT bias into its supposedly straight news coverage," Carlos Maza wrote in an Oct. 31 Equality Matters blog post. "Whether it’s criticizing same-sex parents, fear mongering about marriage equality, or making crass jokes about transgender people, Fox makes its anti-LGBT viewpoint known whenever possible.
"Fox’s bias, however, is also evidenced by what stories the network chooses not to cover," the blog article added. "Previous reports have found that Fox consistently ignores news stories that don’t fit into its anti-LGBT narrative."
Among the stories Fox News has ignored were weddings in New York as gay and lesbian families seized the opportunity to wed legally earlier this year. Another was the major news that broke when ABC and other outlets covered the story of Marcus Bachmann’s Christian counseling clinics reportedly engaging in so-called "reparative therapy," a religiously based therapy that claims to "cure" gays and turn them into heterosexuals.
Such therapy has major problems associated with it, according to reputable mental health professionals, who say that the therapy does not work. Worse, gays who subject themselves to reparative therapy may be seriously harmed when the ineffectual treatment produces no result, potentially leading to deep feelings of shame.
Another major story Fox virtually ignored was "the certification of the repeal of the military’s ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy," the blog post noted.
But the most alarming aspect of Fox News’ refusal to conduct thorough and in-depth investigations into GLBT issues, the blog posting suggested, is that young lives may hang in the balance.
"Over the past several months, the network has spent segment after segment misinforming about California’s FAIR Education Act, which would require public schools to teach students about the historical contributions of LGBT Americans," the blog posting reported. "And in the weeks lea ding up to Rodemeyer’s death, Fox ran five segments attacking New Jersey’s new anti-bullying law for allegedly being too expansive."
The blog posting added, "it’s clear that Fox’s approach--ignoring real bullying stories while attacking anti-bullying efforts--is aimed at making the problem of anti-LGBT bullying seem exaggerated and trivial.
"This kind of one-sided reporting plays directly into the hands of anti-gay groups, which work tirelessly to stand in the way of creating safe environments for LGBT students."
Suicide is an extreme result of anti-gay bullying, but it is not the only result. Studies indicate that gay teens cut classes and even drop out of school as a direct result of the abuse they encounter at the hands of classmates and, sometimes, school staff.
Anti-gay bullying in the legislative, political, and clerical arenas also have a deep and damaging effect, not only on gay youths but on adults as well. Studies have demonstrated that when states allow the rights of gay citizens to go up to popular vote, anxiety and depression rates soar in the GLBT community.
Gays of all ages are also more likely to resort to drinking in excess, drug use, and other forms of self-destructive behavior when they are subjected to social, political, and judicial forms of discriminatory treatment, studies suggest.
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.