OVERREACH…. A friend of mine forwarded a crazy email he received today from the American Family Association, one of the religious right movement’s nuttier organizations, urging its membership to call Capitol Hill about the pending hate-crimes legislation. According to the email, AFA Chairman Donald E. Wildmon believes urgent action is needed because the Senate is “poised to give special protection status to pedophiles.”

My friend and I joked about why these far-right groups always seem to overreach. After all, what kind of sane person is going to seriously believe that Congress would give “special protection status to pedophiles”? Why not go with an argument that’s at least vaguely believable?

Of course, the AFA is just some bizarre religious right outfit. It’s so much more offensive when a major cable network repeats the same nonsense.

Discussing the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which defines as a crime acts of violence or attempted violence “motivated by prejudice based on the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim,” Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Bill Hemmer, and The Fox Nation, have all recently advanced the false claim that House Democrats voted to “protect” or “defend” pedophiles by voting against an amendment to the bill by Rep. Steve King (R-IA) stating that “the term ‘sexual orientation’ shall not include pedophilia.”

In fact, as Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) noted during an April 23 House Judiciary Committee hearing, the term “sexual orientation” is already defined by federal statute as applying only to “consensual homosexuality or heterosexuality,” thereby excluding pedophiles, who engage in nonconsensual sexual relationships with children. In providing her reasons for opposing King’s amendment, Baldwin said that it “is unnecessary and, I would add, inflammatory in terms of insinuations.” […]

Hemmer teased the segment by saying Democrats had reportedly “voted to give special protection to pedophiles.” Also, a May 6 headline on The Fox Nation — Fox News’ purportedly bias-free website — read: “House Democrats Defend Pedophiles Over Veterans.”

There are legitimate concerns about the hate-crimes legislation, and some of the arguments are more persuasive than others. But once the right starts throwing around the “soft on pedophiles” garbage, it’s safe to assume the credible arguments just aren’t working.

As for the fact that Fox News’ coverage of a legislative debate is mirroring that of a strange religious right group, I’m starting to get the impression that Fox News isn’t a serious news outlet interested in informing the public.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.