Fisching for attention

CNN didn't need to give anti-gay activist Bryan Fischer airtime

You’d think there would be little to criticize about Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Mix It Up at Lunch Day” project, designed to teach children tolerance and prevent bullying in schools by asking students to “connect with someone new” during lunch on October 30. But American Family Association found a way! The nonprofit association, which SPLC designated as an anti-gay hate group in 2010, declared that the decade-old lunchtime campaign pushed a “pro-homosexual” agenda, should be boycotted, and that concerned parents should pull their children out of school on October 30, lest they be forced to sit next to a gay classmate.

And the association’s cry for media attention worked. The New York Times covered the boycott two days ago, and earlier today, CNN Newsroom had spokesman Bryan Fischer call in to explain the group’s logic. Unsurprisingly, considering Fischer’s track record on gay issues (see Jane Mayer’s New Yorker profile of Fischer from last June), or just his Twitter account (where he called the SPLC a “pro-bullying hate group” and extolled the health benefits of white bread, making me check several times to make sure this wasn’t actually a clever parody), Fischer spent four minutes making ridiculous and hateful statements about homosexuality over B-roll footage of schoolchildren eating lunch.

When anchor Carol Costello managed to get a word in edgewise, she tried to challenge his assertions, including claims that both Hitler and his soldiers were gay. Then she gave up and said the interview was over and Fischer’s statements were “just not true.”

Good for Costello for cutting Fischer off before he could espouse more of his group’s rhetoric to a national audience. But it would have been better if she hadn’t given him any time at all; his claims are clearly and obviously false. If CNN Newsroom had to report on the story (at the very least to clear up the lies that may have caused some schools to drop out of Mix It Up at Lunch this year), it could have easily done so without including Fischer. Not every pundit deserves a platform.

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Sara Morrison is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @saramorrison. Tags: ,