Accuracy in Media

HuffPost responded to news the Department of Housing and Urban Development was changing its mission statement by accusing HUD Secretary Ben Carson of being motivated by homophobia and lack of concern for the poor.

It contrasted HUD under Carson, who “has a long history of making comments opposing equal rights for the LGBTQ community,” with Shaun Donovan, who served as President Obama’s first HUD secretary and the first cabinet member to publicly support gay marriage.

Under Donovan, “the agency worked to prohibit discrimination by HUD-funded housing authorities, recognized state and local laws that are more LGBTQ-friendly than federal ones and raised awareness of resources available to the LGBTQ community.”

But a video embedded in the story went considerably further in its attacks on Carson.

The video opens with a cut of Carson saying, “We need to put them back in their place because we are the owners of the country,” providing no context for which, on its own, could be taken as incendiary.

Then, as images flash, words come on the screen that say, “Ben Carson’s license to discriminate. The Housing and Urban Development secretary has rewritten his department’s mission statement. Ben Carson is abandoning promises of creating ‘inclusive communities … free from discrimination. It’s not surprising given his outspoken homophobia.”

HUD officials say they updated the statement to “align HUD’s mission with the secretary’s priorities and that of the administration” and to “make it a more clear and concise expression of the historic work this agency performs on behalf of the American people.”

The old statement read: “HUD’s mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD is working to strengthen the housing market to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination and transform the way HUD does business.”

The new statement reads: “HUD’s mission is to ensure Americans have access to fair, affordable housing and opportunities to achieve self-sufficiency, thereby strengthening our communities and nation.”

Though neither mission statement mentions gay rights, the HuffPost video declares the changes indicate homophobia on Carson’s part. Its case centers on a clip that shows Carson saying, “Everybody according to our Constitution should be treated equally and should have the same rights. But nobody gets extra rights.”

“Carson scrapped HUD projects and resources designed to help the queer community access safe public housing,” a claim for which it offers no proof.  

It then brings up other agencies that have made changes to their operating practices under the new administration. The video doesn’t mention – but the story does – that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has removed the phrase “America’s promise as a nation of immigrants” from its mission statement.

“The [Department of Health and Human Services] recently expanded ‘conscience projections’ allowing health providers to refuse to treat trans patients or perform abortions. Because of ‘religious freedom.’”

The video then states, “rewriting mission statements in line with Trump’s agenda is an emerging trend.” It’s an emerging trend at this point in all administrations as officials become familiar with their roles and seek to change the direction of the agencies they run.

The story itself points out disapprovingly that “‘self-sufficiency’ has been a major focus of Carson’s. Last year, he said he didn’t want low-income Americans receiving federal assistance to feel too ‘comfortable’ in their housing because it might make them say, ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’”

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