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"Dont Ask, Don't Tell" Coverage: The Ugly (Peter Sprigg on CNN)

Watching the media cover the Senate's passage of a bill that will allow 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' to be repealed has been relatively encouraging. Overall, the respectable outlets have done a good job of keeping their coverage focused on fact and firsthand experience and avoiding the speculation of anti-gay activists. There's certainly been a bit of oversimplification. For example, this bill does NOT repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'  - it merely allows for its repeal. Until that's done, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" remains the law. But on the whole, the coverage has been solid, fact-based, and well reported.

Which is why it stuck out like a sore thumb when CNN's John King decided to invite Peter Sprigg from the Family Research Council onto his show last night. 

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Peter Sprigg, who in the past has said hurtfulmean-spirited and dangerous things about the LGBT community. Peter Sprigg, whose anti-gay rhetoric was so inflamatory, Tony Perkins had to go on Chris Matthews to walk it back.

I feel like I need to say that again.

Tony Perkins -- was forced to basically say "whoa, hey now, I wouldn't go that far," -- about Peter Sprigg's opinions on LGBT rights.

And yet, there was John King, on CNN last night, giving Peter Sprigg a national television platform and lending him his credibility. King gave Sprigg a platform from which to assert that soldiers will be "injured or killed" because gay and lesbian service members are allowed to serve openly.  King did call Sprigg on this claim, albeit while insisting, "It's not my job to take side in debates." But why bring him on to begin with? Would John King allow a representative of another Southern Poverty Law Center-branded 'hate group' to discuss other topics?

Sprigg was there, ostensibly, to 'balance' Alex Nicholson - founder of Servicemembers United and a former Army intelligence collector who was discharged under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'  Nicholson is a man with firsthand experience, who could speak to both the genuine ramifications of the Senate's vote, and the realities of more than a decade and a half under this law. The discussion was supposed to be about how best to implement a repeal. And yet John King felt that Nicholson shouldn't be allowed to speak to this subject without standing next to someone who has made it his life's work to oppose LGBT rights. 

Most of the questions directed at Sprigg were asking him to defend FRC's statement following the Senate vote. But by doing so, King simply exposed FRC's anti-gay rhetoric to an audience who would not have otherwise seen it. John King gave Sprigg a platform from which to spout his organization's hurtful talking points about this issue and about marriage. Why are anti-LGBT groups still given legitimacy by respected media outlets like CNN?  Why does John King feel this discussion is one that requires "balance?"

We encourage journalists to challenge groups like FRC on their assertions, out in the open, and based on the facts. But these groups and their hurtful attitudes simply do not belong in a serious discussion about issues of LGBT rights, and certainly not to serve as "balance" to someone of Nicholson's integrity.

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