BY ED SIKOV | “Earlier this month, in Des Moines, the prominent home-schooling advocate and pastor Kevin Swanson again called for the punishment of homosexuality by death. To be clear, he added that the time for eliminating America’s gay population was ‘not yet’ at hand. We must wait for the nation to embrace the one true religion, he suggested, and gay people must be allowed to repent and convert.”
So began a New York Times op-ed piece on November 16. Penned by Katherine Stewart, the short essay continued with a detail that must have come as a surprise to people who get their news only from the Times: “Mr. Swanson proposed this at the National Religious Liberties Conference, an event he organized. Featured speakers included three Republican contenders for the presidency: the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.”
Yes, you read that correctly. Not only does a well-known Christian minister want us all to be executed, presumably by the United States government, but three Republican candidates for the presidency were oh so pleased to attend a conference he organized. Astoundingly, this was the first time the Times mentioned it. Apparently, the newspaper of record didn’t think the idea of mass murdering gay people was newsworthy on its own –– outside of the opinion page –– let alone the fact that Huckabee, Jindal, and Cruz embraced the executioner.
It isn’t as if no other news sources covered the story. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow devoted a good deal of time to it on November 9. “This is a political event,” Maddow felt the need to point out. “This is a Republican presidential candidates’ event. It really was a ‘kill-the-gays’ call to arms. This was a conference about the necessity of the death penalty as a punishment for homosexuality.”
Michelangelo Signorile, writing for the Huffington Post on November 12, wondered why no one in the mainstream media gave a rat’s ass.
“CNN's Jake Tapper asked Cruz if it was appropriate to speak at the conference before the event,” Signorile wrote, “and Cruz dodged the question, claiming to know nothing of the pastor's views, and spinning back to religious people supposedly being under attack, but there was no coverage I could find on CNN after the conference and focused on this evangelical leader who called for a future genocide after introducing presidential candidates who lauded him. As far as I can tell, no broadcast networks or major American newspaper covered the blood-curdling speech in which several times Swanson said the punishment for homosexuality is the death penalty.”
HuffPo’s Marc Leandro wrote a stinging story on November 13 in which he contrasted the GOP’s warm acceptance of Pastor Kevin Swanson with the Republican rage over then-candidate Barack Obama’s relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, whose fiery commentary on race relations in American looks like love letters to white people compared to Swanson’s call for gay gas chambers.
Salon’s Amanda Marcotte was one of the precious few reporters who saw the conference coming and wrote about its newsworthiness before it convened: “Republican candidates may want softball questions for the rest of the debate season, but here’s something that the moderators should be confronting at least some of them about: Three candidates — Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal — are scheduled to speak this weekend at a conference hosted by a radio host named Kevin Swanson who has openly advocated for putting gay people to death.” Her insightful article went up on Salon.com on November 2.
But to repeat Mike Signorile’s question, where was the rest of the news media? I can understand waiting until the conference actually happened before writing about it, but given Swanson’s extraordinarily vicious, Final Solution-esque proposal, the near-absolute silence of the media after the event occurred is breathtaking, frightening, and shameful.
As a point of comparison, according to the veteran journalist Bill Moyers, the number of news stories devoted to Jeremiah Wright between March and April 2008 was somewhere around 3,000. By my rough estimate, Pastor Swanson’s call for the murder of five million Americans and the tacit endorsement of the three Republican presidential candidates who served as star attractions at the good reverend’s conference have captured the attention of only about 60 news outlets, and that figure includes LGBT publications and websites, the readers of which personally have more than a little at stake.
Correction: The original draft of this piece incorrectly stated that the Signorile piece ran only in the Huffington Post's Gay Voices vertical. In fact, it also ran on the blog's front page, as well.