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All-Starr Bias reporter Penny Starr's propensity for slanting stories covers many subjects beyond art and abortion.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 7/5/2011

Sure, reporter Penny Starr can manufacture a controversy over gay-themed art at a Smithsonian museum. She can also hurl some mean bias on the subjects of abortion and Planned Parenthood.

But Starr is able to churn out slanted reporting on any number of subjects, from President Obama to gays. Let's take a look at some of Starr's most biased hits.


During the 2008 presidential election, Starr promoted numerous misleading attacks on Obama:

  • Starr touted the "300 mostly free-market economists" who signed a statement declaring that they support John McCain's economic plan. While Starr noted that "not all experts in the field are enthusiastic about his proposals," she didn't note that some of that lack of enthusiasm comes from economists who signed McCain's statement. As the Politico reported: "Upon closer inspection, it seems a good many of those economists [who signed McCain's statement] don’t actually support the whole of McCain’s economic agenda. And at least one doesn’t even support McCain for president."
  • Starr wrote: "Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) calls his [pre-K] plan 'Zero to Five,' which promotes placing infants in government-run preschools." Why would an infant go to preschool? Unless Starr thinks 4-year-olds are "infants." Obama's "Zero to Five" plan, by the way, said nothing about "placing" infants to preschool; rather it point out the importance of "voluntary, high-quality preschool programs for three- and four-year olds."
  • In attacking Obama's position on abortion while a state legislator in Illinois, Starr repeated a claim that "the Illinois version of the Born Alive Infant Act, along with a Roe-v-Wade shield amendment identical to the language added to the federal version of the bill" without noting that, as Media Matters detailed, a state law containing the same language as the federal law would not have offered the same protection because federal laws do not regulate abortion as state laws do. Thus, a state law that declared it was not undermining Roe v. Wade -- the provision cited by anti-abortion activists as the identical clause in both the state and federal laws in question -- would also need to specifically state it was also not undermining relevant state abortion regulations as well. Starr also failed to mention Obama's other defense for not supporting a "born alive" law -- that it was unnecessary because the behavior it banned was already illegal, meaning that such a law would be a political statement instead of a new prohibition. She further failed to note that in 2005, a "born alive" law did pass in Illinois that specifically stated that it would not affect "existing federal or state law regarding abortion," a clause missing from earlier versions of the bill.

Starr has tried to get in on the Obama-bashing operation that is the basis of CNS' current agenda in an April 1, 2010, article co-authored with Fred Lucas, in which she attempted to paint Obama as insensitive because he was "scheduled to fly past flood-ravaged Rhode Island aboard Air Force One twice on Thursday as he traveled to Maine to give an afternoon speech lauding his health care bill, then to Boston for an evening fundraiser for the Democratic Party, and then back to Washington, D.C. late Thursday night."

But that attack got overtaken by events; an editor's note was appended to the top of the article stating that Obama "had made an unannounced visit to Framingham, Mass., to discuss the flooding in New England with Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick." Nevertheless, Starr tried to keep another smear alive in a separate article the same day complaining that FEMA administrator Craig Fugate "was in sunny Orlando, Fla., giving a speech" instead of going to Rhode Island. Starr did not explain what Fugate should be doing in Rhode Island, or why he must go to Rhode Island to do it instead of directing any needed federal operations from Florida.

Starr also attempted to foment right-wing resentment against Obama in a June 22, 2009, article stating that "Despite ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ongoing violence in Iran, and an economy that Obama has described as the worst since the Great Depression, the president has golfed multiple times in the past several weeks." Starr added: "Obama’s golf outings have generated favorable reports from the media, in contrast to his predecessor, George W. Bush."

Starr tried to gin up a bogus controversy (which CNS loves to do) in a July 31, 2009, article in which she asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius whether "a section of the Senate health-care reform bill that requires her to 'develop standards for the measurement of gender' -- as opposed to simply relying on 'male' and 'female' -- for use in a new federal database that will collect information about all beneficiaries of government-run or government-supported health care programs." Sebelius replied that she had "no idea" what Starr was talking about.

As it turns out, neither did Starr. As Media Matters noted when Rush Limbaugh picked up on the story, when discussing standards for collecting data on gender, geography, socioeconomic status, etc. the bill appears to use "collection" and "measurement" interchangeably in a way that couldn't possibly be considered controversial -- unless it's taken completely out of context, which Starr apparently did. Starr followed up a few days later with Sebelius claiming that the database "will only use the categories 'male' and 'female' -- not lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender -- when making entries for a person’s gender"; of course, there was no admission by Starr that she had taken words out of context.

Starr even tried to revive a failed CNS non-story in a June 19, 2009, article in which she noted that "Obama’s keynote speech at the 2009 National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast referenced Muslims, Hindus and “non-believers” in the first moments of his remarks." ConWebWatch documented how, shortly after Obama took office, CNS tried and failed to make a big deal out Obama's acknowledging the existence of people who aren't Christian.

Starr was also a player in CNS' obsession with words Obama says and doesn't say. Starr complained that Obama's National Prayer Day proclamation "mentions God once" while "God is mentioned five times" in Abraham Lincoln's proclamation; and she co-wrote one article on how Obama "stripped the word 'Creator' from the Declaration of Independence when giving a speech."

Immigration attacks

In a May 22, 2008, article, Starr played gotcha with a trio of Democratic Hispanic lawmakers "who spoke Wednesday about alleged anti-immigrant coverage by conservative media outlets," describing them as "not aware of a recent State Department travel alert warning Americans about military-like 'combat' along the southern U.S. border in Mexico, where Americans are being kidnapped and murdered." Starr didn't explain the relevance of border violence to the issue of coverage of immigration in the media. Further, buried in the article are statements from all three members of Congress questioned -- Reps. Robert Menendez, Luis Guiterrez and Hilda Solis -- that make it clear that, contrary to what the lead of her article suggested, they were all quite aware of the problem of border violence.

A Dec. 3, 2008, article by Starr on the appointment on Cecilia Muñoz, "[a]n 18-year veteran of the National Council of La Raza," to President-elect Barack Obama's White House staff carried the headline, "Pro-Amnesty Activist Joins Obama White House Staff." But at no point in the article did Starr describe Muñoz as supporting "amnesty" -- indeed, the word "amnesty" appears nowhere in the article itself. Starr did write that Muñoz "advocated for federal legislation to give the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States a path to citizenship," further describing her position as supporting "comprehensive immigration reform that required people who are in the United States illegally to come forward, prove they have no criminal record and are paying taxes, pay a fine, start to learn English, and then be put on a path to citizenship that would take about 10 years to complete" -- but no effort is made to explain how this position equals "amnesty," or even to reconcile this position with Starr's quoting of an attack on Muñoz by FAIR's Bob Dane, who claimed "La Raza exists as a way to systematically dismantle enforcement and any semblance of discipline in the immigration system."

An Oct. 21, 2009, article by Starr asserted that "Liberal, pro-amnesty advocates" oppose a Republican proposal to "ask all individuals whether they are citizens or lawful residents of the United States" and exclude illegal immigrants from being counted for purposes of congressional reapportionment. While Starr listed several groups as being opposed to the amendment, at no point did she establish that the groups are "pro-amnesty," let alone liberal.

CNS frequently misidentifies any immigration reform plan that involves creating a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the U.S. as "amnesty," even though by definition it is not because numerous conditions are established before citizenship is granted.

Anti-gay attacks

A Sept. 14, 2010, article by Starr began:

The Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau (RMCVB), which is funded in part by hotel taxes, is promoting an initiative by local businesses to attract homosexuals to Virginia’s capital.

But Starr never explained why this is a bad thing, beyond the implication that spending tax money on gay people is inherently a bad thing. Starr's laughable attempt to find something wrong with a city expanding its tourism reach is best exemplified by this section, in which Starr details her incisive questioning:

Erin Bagnell, public relations manager for the RMCVB, and Jennifer Carnam, vice president of marketing, confirmed that although White and other sponsors are funding the Rainbow Over Richmond campaign, hotel tax funding is used to pay for all of the RMCVB’s operating costs, including its Web site and the pages it hosts and promotes.

Bagnell and Carnam told that this mission of RMCVB is to promote and support all efforts to increase tourism in the Richmond region, be it an item added by a local arts group on its Web site calendar or by hosting a landing page on its Web site for initiatives like Rainbow Over Richmond. asked Bagnell and Carnam, “According to your Web site, your organization is funded in part by lodging, a portion of the lodging taxes from people who come and stay in hotels in Richmond, correct?”

Carnam answered, “Yes.” also asked the following: “If you go to Rainbow Over Richmond, you end up on your Web site [a landing page for Rainbow site], so your organization is funded – everything you do, whether it’s your personnel, office space, your Web site, your utilities – that a portion of what you do as a group, as a non-profit, a portion of your income is from lodging taxes? Correct?”

Carnam answered, “Correct.”

“That’s what we’re charged with at the convention and visitors bureau; to drive people to this area,” Bagnell said.

“We’re a welcoming destination,” Bagnell said. “We are welcoming to all.”

“Our goal is to promote the Richmond region as a welcoming destination, whether you’re coming for a family with your kids from the Washington, D.C., area or whether you’re bringing your family reunion, or whether you have a religious conference,” Carnam said. “We’re one of the top destinations for religious organizations who come here and use our convention center.”

An Oct. 7 article by Starr gave away the story in the overly long and cumbersome headline: "Marriott, Comcast, Giant, Hyatt, Food Lion, Macy’s, Chipotle, Hershey's and Other Businesses Sponsor Dinner for Leading Gay Activist Group That Promotes Same-Sex Marriage, Attacks Catholic and Mormon Churches." That would be the Human Rights Campaign, and describing its criticism of anti-gay behavior by the Catholic and Mormon churches as "attacks" is stretching things a bit.

In an echo of WorldNetDaily's longtime fixation on companies who support gay causes, Starr contacted a few of the companies for a response, albeit botching the description of one. She wrote that Giant Food, an East Coast grocery chain, is a "a Dutch-owned multi-national corporation"; in fact, Giant is a division of that "Dutch-owned multi-national corporation," not the corporation itself. Starr also quoted the anti-gay Robert Knight ranting about how "Many corporations have bought into the false idea that people are born gay, can’t change, and that sexual inclination is the same as race," but she gave the corporations no opportunity to respond to those remarks.

A June 23, 2010, article by Starr is headlined, "Hillary Clinton Urges State Department Employees to Let Teens Know It's Okay to Be Homosexual." Starr didn't explain why she apparently believes this to be a bad thing.

An April 29 article on the royal wedding focuses how the bishop addressed the couple and wedding guests by stating that "marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves." Starr then referenced "a 9-page statement on the church’s position on marriage that includes a reference to the union as between a man and a woman" and a 2008 investigation into "the 'marriage' of two homosexual priests in one of London’s oldest churches."

Gays can't be demonized enough for Starr's taste. In a nod to CNS' obsession with words that Obama and his officials say or don't say, she wrote in a June 20 article:

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that gay and bisexual men comprise “the only risk group in the U.S. in which new HIV infections have been increasing since the early 1990s” and make up 53 percent of all new HIV infections in the United States each year, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius did not mention them in a speech she gave about the disease.


In her speech, Sebelius only referred to “Americans,” “people,” “children” and “human lives.”

Apparently, according to Starr and CNS, gays aren't Americans or even human.

Starr has even taken to video to promote her anti-gay views. In one edition of the occasional MRC webcast "The Girls" -- a confab of female MRC employees that attempts to be a version of "The View" in which everyone has the conservative political views (though not the on-screen charisma) of Elisabeth Hasselbeck -- focused on the pressing issue of a lesbian dancing with another woman in the Israeli version of "Dancing with the Stars," Starr said, "it seems like they're mixing up two things, gay rights and dance. Because ballroom dancing, if you're a real dance fan, it's for a man and a woman, the whole art form. And it's just interesting to see them turn that into a gay-rights issue." Starr complained about shows that "are really seeming to go over the top," adding that it goes beyond entertainment to "a messaging tone." Starr went on to declare that if she had young children and there were same-sex dance partners on "Dancing with the Stars," "they wouldn't be watching it. And to tell you the truth, they wouldn't be watching 'Glee' either." Starr did admit, though, that she enjoyed "Glee" for its music.

One-sided attacks

Despite CNS' stated editorial mission to "fairly present all legitimate sides of a story," Starr has a habit of presenting only one side of the story and not permitting anyone to respond to conservative critics. For instance:

  • An Aug. 19, 2009, article promoted the idea that sentencing teenagers to life in prison without parole is not "cruel and unusual punishment," quoting only "legal experts and those whose loved ones have been killed by juvenile offenders." Starr at no point quoted anyone who objected to the idea.
  • An Aug. 20, 2009, article quoted only "conservative analysts" claiming that because an amendment was rejected to the health care reform package that explicitly sets up a "verification provision" to exclude illegal immigrants from taking advantage of public health care, the bill "opens the door for millions of illegal aliens and other non-citizens to receive medical services paid for by taxpayers."
  • Pushing the idea in a Nov. 6, 2009, article that requiring Americans to obtain health insurance is unconstitutional, Starr uncritically quoted right-wing radio host Mark Levin claiming that those who support the idea "are saying 'the hell with the Constitution.'" Starr made no apparent effort to find anyone to respond to Levin.
  • Starr asserted in a Feb. 16, 2010, article that "When the federal government closed for four days and two hours last week because of snow and ice in the Washington area, U.S. taxpayers still had to shell out an estimated $425 million to $670 million in wages and benefits to those workers." Starr makes no mention of the fact that approximately one-third of federal workers in the Washington area logged on to federal servers from home, meaning that, contrary to Starr's suggestion, some work was indeed getting done during the snowstorms.

An April 19, 2010, article on an executive order by Obama that will lead to hospitals not circumventing requests from patients to receive visitation from their homosexual partners was packed almost exclusively with critics of the order, chiefly "conservative activist " Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council, who called it a "solution in search of a problem." While Starr endeavored to talk to Sprigg and hospitals for her article, she made no apparent attempt to contact any gay advocacy groups. The one quote she includes from the head of the Human Rights campaign is lifted from "a statement posted on his group’s Web site."

The headline of a March 24 article by Starr read, "Breakdown of Black Families in U.S. Linked to Planned Parenthood’s Birth Control Campaign, Experts Say." But Starr quoted no "experts," only right-wing activists -- only one of whom made the claim in the headline.

Starr's subject was a panel at the Frederick Douglass Foundation’s annual conference, but she didn't identify the foundation as a right-wing group, which is obvious from its self-description as an organization that "brings the sanctity of free market and limited government ideas to bear on the hardest problems facing our nation." The conference was stocked with right-wing activists such as Michael Steele, Alveda King and Ken Blackwell.

Starr did correctly identify the activist making the headline smear of Planned Parenthood -- Patrick Fagan of the Family Research Council -- as being with "a conservative group." But one would think his other claims would be more headline-worthy, such as that “Since the introduction of contraception, everything else has fallen.”

But Starr identified Patricia Funderburk Ware only as "president and CEO of PFW Consultants Inc., and the former director of the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in the George W. Bush administration." But Ware would not be a speaker at this conference if she was not a conservative -- indeed, this very panel was co-hosted by the "conservative" FRC. Yet Starr chose to hide that affiliation and that sponsorship.

Starr weaseled out of balancing the story by writing, "Planned Parenthood did not respond to a request for comment on Fagan's remarks before this story was posted."

Random bias and freak-outs

Starr tried to protect the tea party movement in an Aug. 5, 2010, article reporting that "Black conservative leaders from around the country gathered in Washington on Wednesday to denounce the NAACP for its resolution charging that elements of the Tea Party movement are racist," at an event "organized by the Tea Party Express." But Starr is silent on the reason the Tea Party Express held this event -- to counter racially inflammatory remarks by own of its own former officials.

Mark Williams is the Tea Party Express spokesman (and former vice chairman of the PAC that operates the group) who wrote a blog post mocking NAACP president Ben Jealous and portraying blacks as wanting the return of slavery so whites will take care of them. Tea Party Federation publicly repudiated Williams and kicked the Tea Party Express out of the movement. As TPM pointed out, Williams was unmistakably the reason for the Tea Party Express event, even though nobody on the podium would admit it.

Even though this history is key to the event in question, Starr didn't mention any of it.

In a related article interviewing event attendee Alan Keyes -- in which he asserts that "President Barack Obama and liberals in Congress are promoting a dependence on government that mirrors slavery" -- Starr also failed to mention the Williams incident, even though he was not afraid to criticize Williams by name to other reporters, and even though Starr described Keyes as among "more than a dozen other black conservative leaders at a gathering in Washington to condemn accusations by the NAACP that the Tea Party movement has a racist faction."

The headline on Starr's Feb. 9 CNS article shouted: "U.S. Transportation Secretary: I Told My Daughter to Buy Japanese Car."

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said today that he told his daughter to buy a Japanese car--a Toyota Sienna--and that she did so.

LaHood's comment came as he announced the results of a 10-month long Department of Transportation study that was undertaken to determine whether electronic systems could have been responsible for reports of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles. The study determined that this was not the case.

LaHood's statement that he told his daughter to buy a Japanese car also came less than two months after he announced a "Buy America" campaign at the Department of Transportation (DOT).

What Starr didn't tell her readers: the Sienna is built in Indiana.

Also, the DOT's "Buy America" campaign is targeted at infrastructure improvements, not vehicle purchases. If it did apply to vehicles, the Indiana-built Sienna would likely qualify.

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