Politics & Policy

CNN Distorts Arizona’s Right-to-Refuse Bill

Jeffrey Toobin (left) and Brooke Baldwin
The Worldwide Leader In News ignores the text and import of the proposed law.

After drumming up a media frenzy over Ted Nugent last week, CNN this week is devoting ample coverage to Arizona Senate Bill 1062, in ways that mischaracterize what’s actually in the bill.

The bill, which was approved by the legislature last week and is now waiting for action by Governor Jan Brewer, would allow professionals not to provide services for events they object to for religious reasons. As Brewer decides to sign or veto the bill, the news network has gone to great lengths to try to portray the law as comparable to Jim Crow–era measures.#ad#

“Sounds like the 1950s-lunch-counter-esque policy,” anchor Ashleigh Banfield submitted on Monday. Erin Burnett called on Doug Napier with Alliance Defending Freedom, a group supporting the bill, to recall the struggles of the civil-rights movement. Crossfire co-host Van Jones used Friday’s closing monologue to point to segregationists’ use of the Bible to justify slavery, just as someone in Arizona might cite their faith.

Defenders of S.B. 1062 reject the claim that the bill effectively legalizes discrimination. Proponents have repeatedly stated — including multiple times on CNN — that the bill does not allow businesses to deny service to someone at an establishment such as a restaurant or coffee shop. The law looks to protect those with religious objections from being compelled to participate in or use their creative expression in circumstances that violate their conscience. Since there is no current law on the issue in the state, lawmakers hope to preempt situations such as bakers and photographers facing legal action for not working a same-sex wedding, as has occurred in neighboring states.

Nonetheless, CNN has continued to impugn and misrepresent the law. Take New Day’s Chris Cuomo’s maligning of Kellie Fiedorek, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, on Monday morning.

Throughout the interview, the brother of New York’s Democratic governor said it “seems pretty obvious” that Fiedorek and the bill’s supporters want to “enforce intolerance.” Fiedorek countered that gay customers cannot be denied entrance or service on the basis of their orientation. Cuomo continued to assert that the law encourages discrimination and called on her to “own that proposition.”

In a later appearance, Fiedorek criticized how her earlier interview had been misconstrued. But the network’s legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin would hear none of it. The law is predicated on “essentially the same” argument used by segregationists, he argued. Anchor Brooke Baldwin effectively endorsed Toobin’s take as she described him as her “go-to legal guy.” As Fiedorek attempted to present counter-arguments, Baldwin said she “didn’t even want to go there” and cut her off.

Brewer is set to make a decision soon, probably rendering moot CNN’s efforts to portray Arizona as what one reporter on the ground in Phoenix called “the crazy state.”

Brewer, who has until Friday to veto or sign the bill, is under considerable pressure to veto it. A Brewer adviser told NBC Tuesday morning that the governor is leaning toward a veto.

— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.

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