Kurtz explores the “law of gravity” on social issues

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Based on the number of people who have sent me the URL, many of our readers have already read the Howard Kurtz column in the Washington Post entitled “When Left Is Right and Right Is Wrong.”

Anyone who cares about a classic, balanced approach to American journalism has to read it. It is a remarkable sign of the times that many will hail this column as courageous. The key is that the nation’s top journalist on the state-of-journalism beat has come very close to stating what I like to call the “law of gravity” in many elite newsrooms today.

That law: The Religious Right must lose.
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When faced with a cultural or political debate, figure out the position that will be taken by the vast majority of traditional religious believers — evangelical Protestants, pro-Rome Catholics, Orthodox Jews — and then go the other way. Here is what that looks like in the opening of the Kurtz column:

When San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom defied state law by allowing same-sex marriage licenses, a New York Times profile reported him sporting “a wide grin,” “describing his motives as pure and principled,” and cited his “business acumen, money, good looks and friends in the right places.”

But when Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore also defied the law — by installing a Ten Commandments display in his public building — a Times profile said that “civil liberties groups accused Justice Moore of turning a courthouse into a church,” while allowing that he had also become “an Alabama folk hero.”

“Hundreds of news accounts” have followed this template, noted Kurtz.

What is going on? San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders is pro-gay marriage, but still worried about the impact of all of this on journalism and the city. Newsom’s “lawlessness” is “just unbelievable,” she said. “Most people in the newsroom, particularly in the Bay Area, believe in gay marriage and aren’t overly worried about how it becomes legal.”

And, noted Kurtz: (cue: drumroll)

It’s hard to avoid noticing that Moore’s defiance (for which he was ultimately removed from office) appealed mainly to Christian conservatives, while Newsom’s flouting of California law has been welcomed mainly by liberals and gays.

In other words, coverage of this particular issue is out of balance — in terms of the traditional values of American journalism. How would these journalists defend this howlingly obvious attack of advocacy journalism? Would 50-50 coverage of this issue constitute a victory for the Religious Right?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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