Why Is the Daily Caller Channeling Putin on Anti-Gay Laws?

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March 27 2014 1:28 PM

The Daily Caller Channels Putin on Anti-Gay Laws

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Social conservatism's new bestie.

Photo by MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images

The Daily Caller is a conservative website written for conservatives (and, apparently, fans of “hotties rocking the handbra”), so only a naïf could be surprised by its severe right-wing spin. Still, it’s alarming to see a widely read American news source buy so thoroughly into noxious homophobic myths—especially when that credulity leads the website to parrot Putin’s party line.

Mark Joseph Stern Mark Joseph Stern

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

That might sound like an exaggeration, but the fact is that the Daily Caller’s most startling pieces would give Fox News’ darker moments a run for their money. Here’s a key section from White House Correspondent Neil Munro’s Monday column, which centered around Obama’s criticism of Uganda’s horrifying anti-gay law, mandating life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.” Munro’s article sported the URL “Obama Pressures Uganda to Aid Gays”—a mendacious assertion, given that Obama simply asked Uganda not to throw gays in prison—and includes the following chestnut:

[S]hortly before the Russian government decided to seize the Crimea, Obama repeatedly urged the Russian parliament to reverse its popular law barring advocacy of Western-style gay rights. …
The Russian law was intended to boost Russia’s shrinking population, which is expected to drop from roughly 140 million to 120 million by 2050. In contrast, the populations of China and the Muslim countries to Russia’s East and South are rising.
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Did you catch that? Russia’s “homosexual propaganda” law isn’t a vicious tool of anti-gay repression, or even a safeguard to protect children, as the Kremlin-funded RT would have it. According to the Daily Caller, it’s simply a means of “boost[ing] Russia’s shrinking population”—although Munro never explains how persecuting openly gay people could possibly lead to population growth. I emailed Munro telling him that I hadn’t seen the Russian law defended on those grounds and asking him where he got that information. He told me that “Russians tie family and sex (whodathunkit?) together,” and directed me toward the Putin quote in this brochure, which hardly justifies inserting anti-gay laws into the nexus of population growth. Still, Munro seemed keen to defend the “homosexual propaganda law,” insisting that “[i]t is not impossible that the Russians have a coherent vision, even if it is also unworkable, unfair, or painful. It's a diverse world.”

That’s not the only feat of cultural relativism in Munro’s piece. While most outlets described Russia’s law as a form of anti-gay persecution, Munro has a different take: To him, criminalizing open homosexuality isn’t oppression; it’s merely “advocacy of Western-style gay rights.” Munro’s Putin-esque doublespeak—really a simple case of convenient cultural relativism—would fit right in on RT. In fact, I hear the propaganda network is looking for a new anchor these days.

Elsewhere in the Daily Caller, frequent contributor David Benkof seems to be vying with Putin to prove which man is keener to protect children from lurking gay perils. I think this round is a draw: While Putin asks gays to “leave kids alone,” Benkof is certain gay couples make bad parents—and no amount of expert research can convince him otherwise. In light of a Michigan court’s stinging rebuke to anti-gay parenting studies, Benkof declares that “all the gay parenting studies are flawed,” but that he knows in his heart that “mother-father families [are] the ones that provide the best environment for the nurturing of children.”

Why are the hundreds of studies that confirm gay couples’ parenting abilities so flawed? Benkof provides a number of odd justifications: Some were conducted by gay people, which fatally biases them, because “subconscious factors could tip the scales in [the pro-gay] direction.” (Can straight people conduct unbiased studies on parenting? Or are these “subconscious factors” a uniquely gay phenomenon?) Many of them don’t pay enough attention to gender distinctions (“I don’t think a lesbian can ever be a good father”), a factor which Benkof has lent great weight—despite the fact that experts have dismissed the purported importance of gender essentialism in child rearing as conservative claptrap. But don’t listen to these experts, Benkof declares:

Frequently, people who say gay parenting is equal to straight parenting point to support from organizations like the American Psychological Association (APA) and the American Medical Association (AMA). But these organizations, like many national professional organizations, lean sharply leftward.

It’s obvious that Benkof has begun with his conclusion here (that gay people make inferior parents) and worked backwards, swatting aside any pesky empirical objections by warning of a pernicious liberal bias. That’s his job, of course, so we shouldn’t fault him too heavily. Still, it’s intriguing to see such a strongly conservative website align so closely with Putin—who, after all, only recently signed a law banning gay adoptions then banned adoption by single people in any country where gay marriage is legal. Putin, of course, was once the bête noire of the American right. But if the Daily Caller’s recent output is any indication, the Russian president seems to have become a welcome bedfellow for social conservatives. 

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