Why Did CNN Invite a Lunatic Hate-Group Leader to a Debate?

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins
Tony Perkins

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

On Monday, CNN guest host Jake Tapper spent seven regrettable minutes discussing a Utah federal court’s recent decision to decriminalize polygamy in the state. Tapper’s first guest, appropriately enough, was Laurie Allen, an anti-polygamy activist who escaped from a polygamist cult. Tapper’s second guest: Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

If that name doesn’t ring a bell, consider yourself lucky. Perkins isn’t just some garden-variety anti-gay shill; he is, in a field dominated by lunatics, one of the most insane of the bunch. Unlike the National Organization for Marriage, which camouflages its homophobia under the transparent guise of “protecting marriage,” Perkins believes, without apology, that gay men are pedophiles who strive to rape and molest little boys then convert them to homosexuality. He has compared gay-rights activists to terrorists, supported the death penalty for gays, and linked mass shootings to the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell by saying they were both a result of Americans turning away from God.* His deranged ramblings earned the Family Research Council the well-deserved label of “hate group.” Tony Perkins is not simply homophobic. He is deeply, contemptibly unhinged.

That lunacy was on fine display on Monday, as Perkins continually veered the conversation toward his usual (and thoroughly debunked) argument that polygamy is the logical result of legalized gay marriage. (“If a judge can arbitrarily change the qualities of marriage, i.e., a man and a woman, the quantities are easy to change. … Lawrence v. Texas was just the starting gun. We’ll see, the next step will be to then recognize these plural marriages.”) There may be sound counterpoints to last week’s polygamy ruling, but Perkins didn’t raise any. Instead, he predictably used the opportunity to trot out the battle-tested lines that have defined his career as an anti-gay hate-monger.

Why does CNN continue to invite him on live TV to spout this nonsense? Crass opportunism, probably. CNN understands that celebrity, even Perkins’ noxious brand of it, draws viewers to the increasingly irrelevant channel. Bringing crazy people to talk about juicy topics is, of course, a time-honored cable strategy. But by hosting Perkins semi-regularly, CNN is playing a dangerous game, broadcasting his fringe views and normalizing them under the CNN brand. Those of us familiar with Perkins’ style can smirk at his doltish casuistry. But those still on the fence about gay rights might start to wonder if the well-dressed guy on television doesn’t have a point about gay men being predacious pedophiles. Perkins is one of the most contemptible public figures in recent history, and it’s nothing less than shameful for CNN to provide him a soapbox from which to broadcast his dishonest, mephitic, morally perverse opinions.

*Update, Dec. 19, 2013: This post has been updated to clarify that Tony Perkins linked the repealing of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and mass shootings by saying they were both a result of Americans turning away from God.