Rachel Maddow Falsely Claims Ex-Gay Author Gave 'Support and Encouragement' for Execution of Gays in Uganda

December 17th, 2009 10:41 AM

It's one thing to justifiably criticize an author for dubious claims. It's quite another to assert that the same author supported something heinous he adamantly opposes. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow did both over the last two weeks.

Maddow's regular viewers have recently learned a great deal about Ugandan politics, as nearly every broadcast of her show since late November has featured a segment on proposed legislation in Uganda calling for harsh penalties against gays, including execution.

Here's Maddow during one of her first segments on the subject, back on Dec. 1 (first part of embedded video) -- 

MADDOW: We are learning more today about anti-gay extremism in Uganda and its connections to American extremists. Last night investigative journalist Jeff Sharlet laid out for us the web connecting the author of the bill calling for the death penalty for so-called aggravated homosexuality in Uganda, the connections between him and pastor Rick Warren, and to our favorite denizens of C Street, the Family (a Christian fellowship described in Sharlet's book, "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power").

But three other Americans are also closely linked to the proposed kill-the-gays law. They are members of the so-called ex-gay movement who back in March spoke at a conference in Uganda aimed at riling up anti-gay fervor in that country. The direct results of that conference, according to in-depth reporting in London's Guardian newspaper, was this bill that's now before the Ugandan parliament.

So, who are these Americans who went to Uganda to stir up anti-gay fervor and why are at least two of them now distancing themselves from the harsh consequences of their rhetoric? We'll have much more about them on tomorrow night's show. You may want to clear your schedule.

The following night, Dec. 2, Maddow identified the three American evangelicals who attended the conference in Uganda and elaborated on their backgrounds (follow this link to see the segment in its entirety at Maddow's MSNBC site). The three men were Don Schmierer of Exodus International, Caleb Lee Brundidge of the International Healing Foundation, and Scott Lively, president of the Defend the Family group and author of "The Pink Swastika."

Asked by the Maddow show for comment, Schmierer denied supporting the legislation, Brundidge's organization released a statement opposing any "harsh and extreme" punishment of gays, and Lively was quoted telling LifeSiteNews.com that he also opposed the proposed law and said its impetus was resentment toward American and European gay rights activists perceived as foisting their agenda on Ugandans.

That "in-depth" Guardian newspaper article cited by Maddow got it wrong, however, when it came to the three Christians cited by Maddow allegedly supporting the draconian proposed law in Uganda.

"This article was updated on 1 December 2009 to add a later comment by Scott Riley," reads an addendum at the end of the story. "A sub-heading -- US evangelicals are main activists behind measure -- was amended to clarify that the evangelicals were pressing for tougher laws, rather than specifically the death penalty."

Ah, thanks for clarifying.

I couldn't help but wonder if Maddow was aware of the Guardian's correction when she revisited the subject Dec. 3 (second part of embedded video, starting at 1:05) --

MADDOW: This bill was written by a Ugandan legislator reportedly taken in by Republican senator James Inhofe and the Family here in America. Having lit this fuse and created this environment in Uganda where a bill like this can exist, some American evangelicals and conservative politicians are now sort of washing their hands of the whole situation. Pastor Rick Warren saying, 'It is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations.' The evangelical leaders who went there in March now saying their intent was not at all to inspire this type of legislation.

Then on Dec. 8, Maddow interviewed International Healing Foundation founder Richard Cohen, whose organization sent Brundidge to the conference in Uganda back in March. Even by cable television standard, this interview was unique -- Maddow is gay while Cohen used to be, until converting to heterosexuality through therapy and faith.

Cohen wasted no time disputing Maddow's earlier contention that his organization was "closely linked" to the proposed legislation in Uganda (third part of embedded video, starting with Maddow introducing Cohen at 1:40) --

MADDOW: Joining us now is Richard Cohen, author of the book "Coming Out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality." Mr. Cohen is also head of the International Healing Foundation, which purports to be able to turn gay people straight. Mr. Cohen, thank you very much for being with us tonight, I really appreciate your time.

COHEN: Thank you for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: First, let me ask you if I've gotten any facts wrong in anything I just said. I know you haven't been happy with our coverage.

COHEN: Well thank you, I appreciate that, I appreciate this opportunity. You know, Uganda got it wrong and I'm sorry to say, you did too, Rachel, and I'm grateful to be here to set the record straight about the misrepresentation of our work. Since the 1950s the Uganda government has punished people for engaging in homosexual behavior, so this is not new. We were invited in the spring of this year, as you said,  we sent Caleb Brundidge and he shared his wonderful story of change from homosexual to heterosexual. And he told them to have compassion, love and understanding for all people who experience homosexual feelings.

So, we do not believe in this legislation, we had no knowledge of it, and we disavow all relationship to it. We are promoting loving people, loving all homosexual people, people who choose to live a homosexual life or decide to live that, and those who decide to come out straight, like myself and Caleb.

Earlier in the segment, Maddow showed footage from the conference with its main organizer, Stephen Langa, holding up a copy of Cohen's "Coming Out Straight" and praising Cohen as "very authoritative."

Not surprisingly, the interview became contentious and Maddow succeeded in tripping up Cohen at least twice while citing passages from his book (the segment can be seen in its entirety here).

After Maddow read an excerpt claiming homosexuals are much more likely to molest children and students, Cohen conceded that the would remove the passage before the book is reprinted "because we don't want such things to be used against homosexual persons."

Maddow challenged Cohen about his assertions on "factors that may lead to homosexual desires," including "divorce, death of a parent, adoption, religion, or race."

After initially denying that race was among the factors he cited, Cohen conceded that it was and, when pressed by Maddow, he could not elaborate. "How does race make you gay," Maddow asked. "It doesn't," Cohen said. Probably not a moment he'll share with the grandkids.

After also challenging Cohen on his professional credentials, pointing out that he is not a licensed therapist, Maddow asked Cohen if he is still attracted to men (4:28 in embedded video) --

MADDOW: You're not licensed by any accrediting body and so you've just stated that your credentials are your personal experience of not being gay anymore. If those are the basis of your credentials, I feel like, although this is weird for me to ask you because it's personal, I have to ask you, because it's the basis on which you make these claims that are being unfortunately taken seriously all around the world. Since you have been married, have you been attracted to men? Have you ever had a relationship with a man since you got married?

But based on Cohen's response, Maddow knew the answer to this question before asking, and it came from Cohen's acknowledgement of it in his own book --  

COHEN: If you read my book "Coming Out Straight", and I know you have it, you've been looking at it today, so you know the answer to this question already, you're just ...

MADDOW: What is it?

COHEN: In the beginning of the relationship, I was told before marriage, find the right woman and she'll straighten you out and that was ridiculous. So what I learned in my own healing process and in my own journey was that I wasn't looking for a sexual relationship with a man, I was trying to experience the unobtained bond that never happened with my dad and myself and with other guys in pre-adolescence, then after puberty those needs become sexualized. So when I heal those wounds and when I experienced healthy love with guys, my same-sex attractions left me, Rachel, and I'm living my dream today. 

MADDOW: It should be noted, though, that when other people, like the promoter of the anti-gay, kill-the-gays legislation in Uganda cites you as an inspiration, he's not only talking about the things that are in your book that you say you'll now take out, he's also talking about your marriage as evidence of your cure, as the fact that you've come out of homosexuality and been cured by the fact that you're married, so the fact that you continued to have same-sex relationships even after you got married ...

COHEN: I didn't, you're mischaracterizing that. I, I, as I said, I got married stupidly. People who say, get married, it will take it away are ridiculous.


COHEN: I was only looking for the right kind of love. That's one reason I became a therapist because people didn't know how to help me then. And so I was told, like you were saying, just pray and God will take it away. It doesn't work like that 'cause there's deep psychological reasons for this. When I dealt with them, since that time, Rachel, I am strictly attracted to my wife and to women. It's not on my radar screen. Change is really possible.

It turns out the Ugandan conference in March 2008, the one repeatedly cited by Maddow as providing the genesis for the "kill-the-gays" legislation, was not when it was first proposed. And fittingly enough, the source of this information was frequent Maddow guest Jeff Sharlet. Here's what Sharlet told Maddow on Dec. 9, the day after Cohen was on the show (6:36 in embedded video) --

MADDOW: Now, as I understand it, you have some new reporting today about when and where Mr. Bahati (member of the Ugandan parliament) first announced his intent to introduce the kill-the-gays bill.
SHARLET: Yeah, exactly. I think a lot of us have focused on that March Kampala conference and the idea being that the Ugandans sort of got this idea from Scott Lively and Richard Cohen and so on. It seems David Bahati was thinking about this before that, as far back as the October 2008 Ugandan national prayer breakfast where he floated the idea in a private meeting. There was some pushback, I should, it's important to acknowledge that members of the Family sort of expressed some disapproval of it, but in the balance as one Family associate explained to me, there's always a balance between access and accountability, access to power and holding power accountable, and in that instance they seemed to prefer continuing the access to power of these Ugandan officials rather than stepping in and nipping that thing in the bud.

But Maddow, having settled on Cohen as one of the culprits for the Ugandan legislation ever since the erroneous story in the Guardian newspaper more than a week earlier, was not prepared to relinquish this belief.

Sharlet added that members of the Family were having second thoughts about inviting Bahati and Ugandan ethics and integrity minister Nsaba Buturo, who also supports the anti-gay legislation, to their national prayer breakfast in the US in February which Obama is expected to attend. After hearing this, Maddow crossed the line into wholesale fiction about Cohen's alleged enthusiasm for the legislation, and Sharlet looked appropriately startled in response (at end of embedded video) --

MADDOW: And if not there's the prospect of the American president speaking at an event before an invited audience that includes the guy who promoted, who introduced legislation to execute people for being gay in his country, with the support and encouragement of American quacks like ex-gay fake therapists. Wow!

Wow, indeed. Same thing said from the right side of the aisle and this is a hate crime.