CNN's Zahn Zings 'Furious' Conservatives, 'Unfriendly' Virginia in Mary Cheney Stories

Mary Cheney’s announcement of her pregnancy and upcoming lesbian parenthood has inspired national-media stories playing up "furious" conservatives in the Vice President’s Republican base, even as activists on the gay left use the news to lobby against defense-of-marriage policies in Virginia and other states.

CNN’s "Paula Zahn Now" took up the permissive cause on Thursday night with a supportive news story by Mary Snow on how Virginia is "unfriendly" to gay rights, followed by an imbalanced panel discussion in which one liberal insisted homosexuals had to fight for their cause or "You're going to get dragged behind a truck otherwise." MRC’s Robert Knight, featured in the Snow report, told me that CNN didn’t use his remarks that "every birth is a blessing," or that loving fathers are important. Why? Because it wouldn’t match the "furious" conservative template? Paula Zahn started with the conservative fury, right from the beginning:

"Our top legal story is touching off a furious controversy in conservative America tonight, after Vice President Cheney's openly gay daughter announced that she's expecting a child with lesbian partner. Now, some of Mr. Cheney's staunchest supporters are very upset about this, and instead of congratulations, some conservative groups reacted by calling it disappointing and a disservice to the child. Others issued a terse no comment. But that may be the least of Mary Cheney's problems. She and her partner plan to raise the child in one of the most unfriendly states when it comes to gay rights. Here's Mary Snow."

Snow began with the gay-left complaint against Virginia:

"It is a pregnancy sparking intense interest, not just because of who is pregnant but because of where the mother-to-be lives. Mary Cheney, the vice president's lesbian daughter, is pregnant, expecting her first child with long- time partner Heather Poe. The couple live in Virginia, a state that's long billed itself as a state for lovers, but not if they're gay."

She then turned to left-wing Jennifer Chrisler of Family Pride, a gay advocacy group, but didn’t use the liberal label, even as the trashing of conservatives commenced: "It really makes real how aggressive the right and fundamentalists have been about attacking gay and lesbian families. And here, the vice president's own daughter is about to become a part of that in an even bigger way that she already is."

Snow relayed that Cheney’s daughter was a high-profile part of her father’s re-election campaign in 2004, and that earlier this year, she condemned President Bush’s support for a federal marriage amendment:

Cheney, from May footage on CNN: "The notion of amending the Constitution and writing -- basically writing discrimination into the Constitution of the United States is fundamentally wrong."

Snow: " And it's not just the country she lives in. The state of Virginia has long denied many rights for gay couples. Cheney recently supported a campaign that fought a ban of same- sex marriage in Virginia, but the ban was approved."

Snow then explained several Virginia custody clashes over lesbian mothers, but spotlighted a recent controversy between lesbians: "But a more recent case may determine how modern gay families like the Cheneys [why the Cheneys, and not the Poes?] are treated in Virginia. Janet Jenkins and Lisa Miller had baby Isabella in Virginia in 2004. They moved to Vermont shortly after to get a civil union and cement their family ties."

Jenkins: "Of course, we were ecstatic about that, because we knew that we wanted to be together. We knew we wanted to have a future together, be married."

Snow: "But then the couple split, and Lisa took the baby back to Virginia, where same-sex unions are not recognized.

Lisa Miller Jenkins, Gay Parent: "I am Isabella's mom. I did conceive her. I birthed her. I'm raising her. And in my opinion, Isabella needs to stay with me 100 percent of the time. Because I'm -- I'm the only person that she identifies as a mom."

Snow: "Janet, who has no parental rights in Virginia, has not seen Isabella in more than two years, as the women continue battling for custody. Meanwhile, conservative groups continue discouraging laws protecting gay families."

Robert Knight, Culture and Media Institute: "Mary Cheney and her personal life shouldn't be the driving force behind public policy. If we distort the law because some people have made decisions in their lives that don't comport with that, then that will not be good for society."

Snow: "How the courts rule on the Miller-Jenkins case will help decide not just Isabella's fate, but how Virginia will treat the gay families of the future. Mary Snow, CNN, New York."

Now wait a minute. What’s with describing conservatives as one the ones "discouraging" the "protecting" of "gay families"? Talk about using the left-wing interest-group lingo. If CNN said conservatives were still favoring "laws that uphold the traditional family unit," then maybe you could suggest CNN was conservative instead of liberal.

Isn’t it interesting that Snow seems to portray the custody squabble between the Virginia lesbians as a case of injustice by Virginia conservatives, but it’s not portrayed as evidence that some of these relationships end quickly – pitching the child into a broken home of two mommies and their lawyers?

Knight told me that his soundbite was "fine," as he usually finds his interviews are treated at CNN. But he found it curious that when he arrived in Washington for the interview via satellite, "the New York producer asked me to shift in my seat to look upward and to the left instead of on an even level to the left of the camera." He was looking above the camera and at the wall, not at a producer. Perhaps more curious was what CNN didn’t use from the interview. Knight told me he said "The birth of every child is a blessing," but complained they were "creating a fatherless household by design." Why couldn’t both of those thoughts be included?

Knight said he also noted that "We can see in the character of Joseph in the current film The Nativity Story a clear picture of why fathers are essential as a masculine, protective presence…. Fathers are very important."

Zahn went back to noting "hard-line" conservative fury when the discussion began, saying to conservative Joe Watkins: "So, Reverend, help us understand the tough position the vice president is in here. First of all, as a father, who apparently has a pretty close relationship with his daughter. And yet he knows that this decision that she's made will alienate a lot of the hard-line conservatives." Watkins tried to praise the Cheneys and cite the Bible, including that it says we’re supposed to judge and not be judged. Zahn pounced on that to unload some Cheney-hating boilerplate from the left:

"Well, a lot of people certainly are judging tonight. Michael, Family Pride, a group that advocates for gays and lesbians had this response, which we're going to put up on the screen right now. ‘Grandfather Cheney will no doubt face a lifetime of sleepless nights as he reflects on the irreparable harm he and his administration have done to the millions of American gay and lesbian parents and their children.’ Do you really think gay parents harm their kids?"

Watkins said yes. (Zahn didn't ask the liberals if they really think Dick Cheney is an enemy to gay advocates, considering his public remarks.) In jumped former ACLU lawyer Michael Gross:

"Women, blacks, all of those civil rights movements which this country forward ran, went great. What's wrong with the civil rights movement when it comes to gay people? Why is it that homosexuals don't get equal treatment?

The law is real clear, and those states, Massachusetts and New Jersey, that have looked at it, there isn't any doubt, no doubt at all. People have rights, you can't take them away from them because of their sexual preferences. So why not?... Because this man thinks that the president, who what, talks to God? Tells us what -- that marriage is between a man and woman.

Watkins: "That's the Bible says. I mean..."

Gross: "Then what you're saying is that God wrote the Bible and God tells George Bush what to do."

Watkins: "I believe the Bible. I believe the Bible."

Gross: "If he heard that through his earpiece, we would know we had a serious, certifiable maniac. But that he tells us he knows what God wants for us, is something that frightens me and it should frighten you."

Then lesbian activist Rachel Maddow, a talk-show host for Air America, chimed in, and claimed all the lesbians want is privacy – an odd argument as the activists parade around Mary Cheney as their cause celebre:

"Let me jump if here. I think the way most people are reacting to this is to say, it's sad this has to be politicized. Mary Cheney and her family and the Cheney family and what they're dealing with here, this is their private family decision. What gay people want is we want to be left alone, really. We want to be left alone to make our family decisions. Whether it's we want to get married or we want to get divorced or we want to kids or we want to not have kids, we want to do those things privately the way that straight people get to do those things privately. And we want to have the same rights that everybody has. We want to be able to..."

Gross: "And you got to stand up and fight for them."

Maddow: "Well, thank you."

Gross: "You're going to get dragged behind a truck otherwise..."

Maddow: "We want to be left alone in order to do those things. The problem is that our private lives have been dragged out into the public so we can be used as Willie Hortons every time the Republicans decide that gay rights are a good bugaboo issue for an election. We need to be left alone."

Strangely, Zahn didn’t jump in at the thought of homosexuals dragged behind pickup trucks by conservatives (must have sounded plausible to her), but she did object gently to Maddow: "No one dragged this out. Mary Cheney was very happy to announce she was pregnant." She then turned her passion back on Rev. Watkins, leaning aggressively over her podium to ask:

"Do you think that a marriage constituted by same-sex partners is ruinous to a child they would raise, whether they choose to have the child themselves or adopt a child?

Watkins: "I know this much. I know my wife and I have been married for a good period of time. We have three children. And it's a challenge for a mother and father to raise children, who love each other and who love their kids."

Zahn: "What, gay people can't love each other?"

Watkins: "No. I'm sure that gay people love each other. I'm sure that gay -- that women raising a child love each and they love their children. And I'm sure the same is true with men who are raising, they love their child. However, that doesn't give me the right to change the word of God, which says that marriage -- the institute of marriage is between a man and woman."

Zahn: "I got to, unfortunately, leave it there."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis