Early on Monday's NBC Today, fill-in co-host Willie Geist hyped "the growing debate over a controversial law that critics call anti-gay....[who] say it permits businesses, among other things, to refuse service to same-sex couples on religious grounds." Correspondent Gabe Gutierrez followed: "This morning a huge backlash against Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Governor Mike Pence is on the defensive."
Like ABC's Good Morning America and CBS This Morning, Today was promoting left-wing condemnation of Indiana's effort to protect the religious liberty of those opposed to gay marriage. However, things took a particularly odd turn on the NBC morning show when the hosts introduced a week-long series on faith later in the broadcast.
After fretting over Indiana's "controversial" religious freedom law early in the 7 a.m. ET hour, Geist promoted the show's faith series in the 8 a.m. ET hour: "With Easter on Sunday and Passover beginning Friday, we're kicking off a special week-long series we're calling Do You Believe?" Co-host Savannah Guthrie explained: "Each day we're going to be talking about faith, spirituality, and their influences on our lives."
The irony of touting attacks against religious freedom legislation and then appealing to religious viewers in the same show was lost on the hosts.
Over the weekend, NBC, ABC, and CBS devoted a significant amount of air time to bashing the Indiana law. In addition, a Media Research Center study found that the broadcast networks cited opponents of the law over supporters by a margin of two to one.
Here is a full transcript of the March 30 report from Gutierrez:
7:05 AM ET
WILLIE GEIST: Now to the growing debate over a controversial law that critics call anti-gay, signed by Indiana's governor last week. Critics say it permits businesses, among other things, to refuse service to same-sex couples on religious grounds. NBC's Gabe Gutierrez is in Indianapolis on this story. Gabe, good morning.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Religious Freedom or Prejudice? Indiana Gov. Defends Law Amid Growing Backlash]
GABE GUTIERREZ: Willie, good morning. Supporters of this law stress that it's meant to protect businesses and individuals from government interference. Later this morning we're expecting to hear from lawmakers here at the statehouse about new efforts to clarify this law's intent.
This morning a huge backlash against Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Governor Mike Pence is on the defensive.
GOV. MIKE PENCE [R-IN]: We're not going to change the law, okay?
PROTESTERS: No hate in our state!
GUTIERREZ: Fighting back against critics who is say it legalizes discrimination against gay people, the Governor calls opposition to the law "shameless rhetoric," but he hinted there might be room for clarification.
PENCE: If the General Assembly sends me a bill that reiterates and amplifies and clarifies what the law really is, then I'm open to that.
GUTIERREZ: He and other supporters point out there are already similar laws protecting religious freedom in nineteen other states.
REV. LARRY GEMBER [ST. JAMES LUTHERAN CHURCH]: I haven't seen any credible evidence that people are going to be discriminated against.
GUTIERREZ: But opponents argue Indiana is getting more attention because it does not have a state-wide nondiscrimination law that protects people no matter what their sexual orientation. Critics say that could allow businesses to deny services to gay people.
With the Final Four set for next weekend here, the NCAA issued a statement promising to "examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events."
The firestorm has spread across social media under the #BoycottIndiana. Celebrities from Charles Barkley to Miley Cyrus have slammed the law. Overnight, The Washington Post published an Op/Ed from Apple's Tim Cook, the highest profile openly gay CEO in the country. "This isn't a political issue. It isn't a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings." Some businesses here are now displaying signs declaring they welcome everyone.
CHRIS GAHL [VISIT INDY TOURISM GROUP]: Hoosier hospitality is part of our brand perception and unfortunately this bill doesn't align with that.
GUTIERREZ: The president of Indiana's Chamber of Commerce has called this law unnecessary. The CEO of the website Angie's List has also announced that it is putting plans of a $40 million expansion on hold. Many business leaders feel that this is unwanted attention, especially ahead of the Final Four here this weekend. Matt and Savannah – Willie and Savannah.
GEIST: Gabe Gutierrez on the story in Indianapolis. Gabe, thanks.