Regardless of the details, one really must laugh when one sees a biased pundit like Tony Perkins criticizing a program for being too biased on a subject like marriage equality:
But when you throw in the details of this particular segment that Tony is blasting, the takeaways are even larger and extend beyond just the one vocal opponent. Let's consider.
First the segment. In a widely publicized clip from this past Sunday's edition of This Week with Geoge Stephanopoulos, all of the conservatives on the panel—political consultant Mary Matalin, strategist Matthew Dowd, and longtime conservative thinker George Will—noted the obviously changing tide in American public opinion. George Will, in particular, framed the issue of marriage equality as one that the aging opposition will never be able to beat back:
Let's stop here and remind everyone that all three of the conservatives who appeared on the panel (which you can watch in full here) were at one time arguing the other way. It's not like these are three pundits who have always bucked the trend. Instead, these are three conservatives, led most vocally by Will, who have spent time thinking about this issue, their own view, and the trend lines of the debate. It's because they have looked at it so closely and with some sense of objectivity that they now see the obvious writing on the wall.
That writing looks like this: =.
Back to Tony, He, someone who relies on anti-LGBT politics for a sizable portion of his paycheck, can't afford to note the obvious. Tony and FRC need this debate to go on because, quite frankly, the gay stuff has been a major fundraiser for these groups. That being so, Tony has no choice but to accuse these three conservatives of being something other than what they are. He might see and know the reality, but he has to say something different. He has to cry "BIAS!"
The truth, however, is that the makeup of the panel and its featured trio's expressed views are themselves statements on they way this debate is turning. It's unlikely that anyone involved in production at ABC sought out three conservatives who would speak to the obvious demographic shift that makes marriage equality inevitable. Instead, producers booked three conservative pundits who speak on all kinds of issues. When this one issue of marriage equality arose, they spoke the truth as they see it. The difference between these three and someone like Tony Perkins is that they are not beholden to the "culture war" for funding, access, and general support, so they are free to have a take that might not sit well with some of the more conservative voters who do want to waste time on obviously losing battles. This freedom actually makes them less biased than Tony, not more.
The fact of the matter is that it will become increasingly more difficult for TV producers to book the kind of back-and-forth sparring on marriage equality that some of them might even want for the sake of ratings. Outspoken activists like Tony are losing credibility because efforts like GLAAD's Commentator Accountability Project have reminded media bookers that their form of engagement tends to go well beyond policy and instead cuts right into LGBT people as human beings. That kind of commentary is getting increasingly diffcult to defend, not only within a media that should ideally strive for fair debate but also with the members of the conservative commentariat who are more concerned with winning elections and pushing through policy proposals than with fighting the contrived (and inevitably losing) "culture wars" of the past. This natural evolution is playing out in punditry, mirroring the evolution that is playing out all across the American heartland. The harsh noise that defined conservative resistance is still around, sure. But after this latest round of defeats in the states, an ever-increasing number of same-gender couples who are marrying without bringing forth the host of horribles that the anti-LGBT crowd predicted, LGBT visibility that is belying the misdefintions that our critics have ascribed to our lives, and poll numbers that are reliably showing majority support for civil marriage equality, it's becoming much more difficult for the far-right activist class to make a credible case.
Tony Perkins will surely try to get back on mainstream television as soon as he can, and he will likely score some high profile bookings in the coming year. Unfortunately for him, he is not free to name whatever reality fits his agenda. When he tries to discuss marriage as if he is coming at it from a policy position, we will remind the network that booked him that he is on record saying some of the harshest things imaginable about LGBT people (and LGBT children, most disturbingly). When he tries to spin away the changing tide that is so evident to anyone who values honest reads, we will cut through the noise machine that defines the "pro-family" movement. And when he tries to accuse conservatives who voice an opinion that doesn't fit his demanded script, we will remind everyone that Tony is the one whose strings are being pulled by predetemined factor$ greater than just a personal opinion that is guided by objective reality.
Our TV debates are getting more focused and less biased. We are all better for it. Even Tony Perkins the American citizen is better for it, if not Tony Perkins the paid pundit.
To visit GLAAD, a content partner with SDGLN, click HERE.