The politicization of pancakes

cheney_pancakeWhen the California Secretary of State released the latest report on donors to Proposition 8 related campaigns, I was a bit surprised at the lack of coverage. But then stories started rolling in. The latest filing shows that gay marriage supporters raised $43.3 million while Prop. 8 supporters raised $39.9 million. It was already known to be an expensive campaign, but those numbers are pretty impressive. People care about this issue, it seems.

Anyway, a reader sent along a somewhat funny story from the Colorado Springs Gazette with the headline “Focus gave $657,000 to kill gay marriage.” To “KILL” it, mind you. Anyway, that would be Focus on the Family, which gave $657,000 in money and in-kind support to Prop. 8. That is half the money given by the California Teachers Union in opposition to Prop. 8 — and at least Focus donors were actually in support of what their organization did.

National Public Radio had a great story with original research showing that the $1.25 million of teacher money given in support of an issue with questionable relevance to the interests of teachers wasn’t backed up by the teachers themselves. Turns out the teachers who donated to the cause donated in the opposite direction:

Teachers, aides and counselors in California public school systems gave about $2 to support the marriage ban for every $1 they gave to oppose it.

Back to the Gazette story:

The top donor in support of Proposition 8 remains Knights of Columbus, the New Haven, Conn.-based political arm of the Catholic Church.

That group gave $1.275 million to defeat gay marriage, records show.

Um, the “political arm of the Catholic Church”? No. I’ll let the reader who submitted this story respond:

Describing the Knights of Columbus as the “political arm of the Catholic Church” is not just factually wrong, but pretty hilarious. While the Knights no doubt did contribute the largest single reportable amount of resources to the Prop 8 campaign, the overwhelming majority of Knights’ work involves the politically troubling and clandestine activities of pancake breakfasts, insurance sales, track meets and tootsie roll giveaways to raise cash for disabled kids. And most of their resources go to the missions and dozens of other Catholic social and educational ministries. They are a loose fraternal order, not political apparatchiks.

And please don’t forget fish fries. Seriously, the Knights back in my hometown had such an amazing and addictive batter that they got every Protestant in the county pouring money into their coffers each Friday during Lent. But political arm of the Catholic Church? No.

I’m not sure how surprising it is that religious groups that hold traditional views of marriage would put time and money into defeating a huge threat to the institution and am somewhat surprised at all the coverage of same. Or rather, is it more surprising and newsworthy that religious groups — who openly claim to support heterosexual marriage and consider it a key building block of society — would give moolah to Prop. 8 or is it more surprising that a teachers union with no discernible interest in the issue would give money against it? The disparity in coverage is somewhat intriguing.

Put another way, no matter which angle you choose to report on, make sure you put the contributions in context.

Tomorrow we’ll look at more of the many stories on Prop. 8 contributions.

Dick Cheney with pancake painting via Dan Lacey, painter of pancakes.

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  • Joe

    FotF is a Colorado Springs organization whose finances–and recent layoffs–are an important local story. CTA is based in Sacramento, so not exactly fodder for a Metro story.

    And now I’m hungry for pancakes,

  • http://darsb.blogspot.com Dean Barnett

    It’s hard to see how allowing gays to marry is a “huge threat to the institution” of marriage. The facts seem to contradict this assertion. The state with the most experience in the matter, Massachusetts, legalized gay marriage in 2004 [http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/06/16/feyerick.samesex.marriage/index.html]. To date it has the lowest divorce rate[http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/divorce.htm] of any state for which data are available.

    Pretty benign “threat.”

  • http://www.GetReligion.org Mollie

    Dean,

    Are you familiar with the arguments of traditional marriage advocates? I don’t think one of them is about any short-term change in the divorce rate.

  • Tom

    Someone who calls the marriage of gay people “a huge threat to the institution” of marriage ought to be able to back up that assertion. With facts, of course, not prognostications.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Tom, et. al.

    You’re reading too much into it. Defenders of traditional marriage believe that the law should define marriage as a heterosexual institution. Laws that define it as anything other than that are, by definition, a huge threat. By definition.

    Now, it is true that the mainstream media has done a horrific job of explaining, mentioning or even acknowledging the actual beliefs of traditional marriage.

    But that’s for another post. Perhaps tomorrow.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    beliefs of defenders of traditional marriage, I meant to write.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    How about the MSM running as many polls and stories about the differences on social issues between leadership and members in unions as it does running polls and stories involving disagreements between leaders and some members in the Catholic Church?
    30 years ago I went to jail rather than cross my union’s picket line per order of a judge. Recently, I retired and couldn’t drop my membership in our radicalized on social issues union (The Teacher’s Union) fast enough.

  • dalea

    Defenders of traditional marriage believe that the law should define marriage as a heterosexual institution. Laws that define it as anything other than that are, by definition, a huge threat. By definition.

    This sounds like circular logic. And arguing something is a ‘huge threat’ by definition does not sound very convincing either. In fact, I do not see current heterosexual marriage norms as very traditional either. It certainly does not resemble my parents WW2 marriage. Let alone my grandparent’s preWW1 marriages. These give every sign of being very recent ways of being married.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Oh my goodness.

    People, this isn’t about whether YOU think gay marriage is a threat to traditional marriage. It’s about whether people who believe society should define marriage as a HETEROSEXUAL UNION believe ANYTHING OTHER THAN THAT is a threat to traditional marriage.

    Not that difficult, people.

    And this is not the place to debate gay marriage.

    We’re looking at mainstream media coverage of same.

    I’ll delete all further posts that stray from the topic.

    This being possibly the least edifying weekend of GetReligion comments in our history, I’m a bit trigger happy.

  • dalea

    One of the reasons that the Teachers’ Union gave so much is that they have a great many Lesbian and Gay members who pushed for the donation. Plus the GLBTQQ2S on and on community has a record of supporting the Union during negotiations and local elections. In CA, and many other states, there is an informal coalition of general liberal to left groups that support each other at the polls. There exists a comparable coalition on the right. The press seems to act as if people interested in politics know this, so it rarely is ever spelled out in news stories.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Deleting comments that don’t address media coverage.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Dalea,

    That would be helpful for the media to explain. Thanks.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Hint to commenters:

    If you want to be a part of the community here, don’t be rude and stay on topic.

    Not that difficult, folks.

  • dalea

    The amount of coverage has been fascinating. The total spending by both sides is still less that 2.50 per Californian. There is a need for perspective here, which the press is not giving. Simple fact: more people live in California than in all of Canada. Only 11 states have a population greater than that of Los Angeles County. Our metro areas are huge, LA runs on for miles in every direction. Campaigning here is done by TV and it is horrendously expensive. This looks like a great deal of money, but not so when considering the marketplace. Less than 2.50 per citizen.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Dalea,

    That’s what I always think about all stories on campaign finance — particularly the ones about “reform”. I remember reading that politicians spend less money per person trying to win the presidency than chip companies spend on trying to get people to eat Fritos or whatever.

    Still, this was the most expensive ballot initiative race ever and something like the 3rd most expensive race period.

    That’s significant.

  • Ben

    Good point, Mollie. There were clearly more stories looking at the source of funding for the yes on 8 side than on the opposition. To some degree that’s because some on the losing side decided to boycott those who backed prop 8 — so that’s where the action was.

  • http://goannatree.blogspot.com Goannatree

    Note…not really about the media coverage….
    Can I say Mollie, that I think the title of this post is awesome! that’s it, i have no other 2 cents on this fine sunday evening…

  • John D

    In order to “get religion,” the press must be aware that people of varying religious perspectives will be reading the piece. This leads us to the dilemma of how do you acknowledge one group’s views without denigrating another’s.

    Mollie, I think you’re part of the problem on this.

    I agree that an article that fails to address people’s religious views concerning same-sex marriage is lacking. However, the line between journalism and polemic is crossed when an article explicitly endorses one side or another.

    Mollie, we all know that you’re opposed to same-sex marriage. As a result, your language is consistently biased against those whose views (religious and otherwise) on this subject differ from yours.

    My religious denomination does not consider same-sex marriage to be any kind of threat to the institution of marriage, quite the contrary. My rabbi feels that Proposition 8 was a threat to the institution of marriage.

    This is the journalistic dilemma.

    I think your statement

    I’m not sure how surprising it is that religious groups that hold traditional views of marriage would put time and money into defeating a huge threat to the institution …

    could be amended

    I’m not sure how surprising it is that religious groups would put time and money into defeating what they see as a huge threat to the institution as they perceive it

    I get irritated when I see promotional materials going out under the guise of journalism, whether it’s an article clearly drafted from a company press release or an attempt to make the journalist’s political or religious views seem normative.

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    Well, that’s the biggest ghost in the whole issue, John D. Where exactly does the notion of “marriage” come from? It has seemed to me for some time that the issue is really grounded in a Judeao-Christian theory of what is going on in marriage, married (as it were) to a particularly American notion of legality as legitimization.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    John D.

    For knowing my views you sure managed to get them 100% wrong! It makes me smirk.

    However, I do agree with your proposed amendment. It’s just that people had already responded to my original post so I didn’t think it fair to change.
    My personal view, which I’ve shared before, is that I don’t see any role for government in marriage.

    What I’ve written here has zero percent to do with that personal view.

    My coverage of this topic is based on the fact that the actual views of people who support traditional marriage have been almost absent from mainstream media coverage.

    It’s the biggest problem with media coverage from the last several years, I’d argue.

  • John D

    Mollie,

    First, thank you for your handy piece at http://www.getreligion.org/?p=7024 in which you provide links to all of your posts on same-sex marriage. That was handy. So I read them all.

    Yes, you do repeatedly make the statement that you favor an end to government involvement in marriage. (Just for the record, I think this would be a poor solution, though it would end the debate, since each religious group could then go and make up its own mind. Of course, there’d be no legal benefit to marriage at that point.)

    I did see the consistent thread that the voices of those opposed to same-sex marriage have been ignored by the media. I disagree with you on this; I’ve seen plenty of pieces written about opponents and they seem to predominate on Op-Ed pages and letter columns. But you use the term “traditional marriage.”

    Here you’re favoring the language of one side. Language choices are, of course, important (check “pro-choice” vs. “pro-life,” apparently no one in that debate is against anything; they’re just “pro”). I question the practice of using the term “traditional” without questioning just how “traditional” this may be. My reading in history shows me that the great tradition of marriage is government intervention and control.

    Further, you have been fairly critical of media profiles of same-sex couples, which you have characterized as cheerleading. It seems clear that same-sex couples are going to be more affected by laws concerning same-sex marriage than opposite-sex couples (some of whom may take personal offense to same-sex couples getting married, but that’s about it).

    I think it would be akin to an article on a woman in one of the professions which were once closed to women. At the time these pieces were written, certainly some men in these professions were opposed to women in their fields, but profiling them wouldn’t have made interesting stories (unless, of course, their colleagues were refusing to work with them over the sexism).

    Ironically, when the LA Times covered a couple who opposed same-sex marriage (http://www.getreligion.org/?p=3518), you wrote:

    Why write about this one family? All. Alone. And. Bizarre.

    I still remain mystified how opposition to same-sex marriage equal support of traditional marriage. Are they doing something to make opposite-sex couples more successful in their marriages? When you use their words as your own, it becomes difficult to separate their views from yours.

    Certainly, it would be wrong to describe the supporters of same-sex marriage as “opponents of traditional marriage,” yet if they’re opposed to the “people who support traditional marriage,” isn’t that what they work out to be?

    Finally, if I can be indulged, to move away from the language used to discuss this, I’d like to answer C. Wingate’s question:

    Well, that’s the biggest ghost in the whole issue, John D. Where exactly does the notion of “marriage” come from? It has seemed to me for some time that the issue is really grounded in a Judeao-Christian theory of what is going on in marriage, married (as it were) to a particularly American notion of legality as legitimization.

    Certainly the issue in American politics is grounded in a Christian theorization of marriage. I suspect that most Americans consider the legal aspect of marriage to be almost optional. I spoke with an unmarried friend who was unaware that one had to go to a government office for a license first. “Doesn’t the clergy provide that?”

    As for where the notion of marriage comes from, the historian Stephanie Koontz demonstrates that it is well grounded in civil law, receiving a religious gloss about eight centuries ago.

    And here I return to the word “traditional.” I suspect many journalists are unaware that the opponents of same-sex marriage present an inaccurate history of marriage. Clearly, we’d all get bored if every time someone said “traditional marriage” there was a lengthy digression on just what the traditions of marriage are and how old they might be. (It’s just weasel words for “heterosexual marriage,” so you don’t end up with a blatant tautology.) The phrase is problematic, since its use not only favors one side over the over, but gives a sense of authority to a term of little historical validity.

    Would I like to see better reporting on the subject of same-sex marriage? Absolutely. Do I think it would favor the opponents of same-sex marriage? Absolutely not.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    John D.,

    Marriage has been defined as a heterosexual institution across all cultures and all time, no?

    Even if it had all sorts of variations within the heterosexual framework, it has always been heterosexual, no?

    How is that not “traditional”?

  • Bill

    Hey Mollie – media coverage, media coverage, media coverage…

    I think what people are trying to say is that the REAL faul tof the media coverage is not which sets of statistics are correct but that it is simply wrong.

  • Bill

    media coverage, media coverage

    wrong to deny gays the right to marry, I meant

  • John D

    Mollie,

    Marriage has been described as an institution in which the woman became the man’s property, across all cultures until the nineteenth century, yes?

    That would be traditional, right?

    As I said, I have to question the parsing of history used by people who use the phrase “traditional marriage.” The tradition as explicated by Koontz was described by one reviewer:

    Two people marry, usually in an arranged union. This is done to advance the family labor force and obtain political and economic advantage. In-laws are a huge key to the success of the marriage. Women are subservient.

    This is not, however, what people are talking about when they say “traditional marriage.” And if all they mean is “heterosexual marriage,” then why not say it?

    The parameters of marriage have been redefined almost continuously over human history. To privilege a certain group’s understanding of the institution as “traditional,” ignoring other aspects they have rejected from their tradition, is propaganda, not journalism.

    I think it is incumbent on journalists to use neutral language wherever possible. “Traditional marriage” is an inaccurate term that favors one side over the other. That all married women in the United States today have rights separate from their husbands would have been though quite untraditional in 18th-century America. I’m sure that when women were granted independent citizenship, someone must have pointed out it was against the concept of “traditional citizenship,” dating back at least to the Roman Empire.

    It is not “traditional” because many aspects of marriage today, apart from opening it to same-sex couples, would be thought untraditional a couple centuries ago. Where in history is the essential formulation of “traditional marriage,” and why are we privileging the norms of that particular era?

    Here it devolves into debate, and that I why I think responsible journalism steers clear of terms like “traditional marriage.”

    Finally, the opponents of same-sex marriage would have no problem with the legal recognition of a marriage in which the woman is the breadwinner, the couple has no children, nor do they live together. None of those is traditional. The wide variety of marital choices which exist with no comment from the so-called “supporters of traditional marriage” shows that the term has no useful, neutral meaning. It is purely a political term.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    John D.,

    It’s pretty staggering to realize that even if you try to make the most extreme variations of marriage the substance of your argument . . . every single one of those variations has been within the confines of an institution defined as a heterosexual union.

    Again, since that’s the traditional human way of looking at marriage — across all cultures and times — traditional is a pretty appropriate word for it.

  • John D

    And after I walked away from the computer, I realized the answer was “no.” Then I found that you had responded.

    There are actual cases, when we look across cultures and time, when there have been same-sex marriages.

    Wikipedia has an entry on “History of Same-Sex Unions.”

    In China, in the southern province of Fujian where female love was especially cultivated, females would bind themseleves in contracts to younger females in elaborate ceremonies.

    Same-sex marriage has been documented in many societies that were not subject to Christian influence. In North America, among the Native Americans societies, it has taken the form of Two-Spirit-type relationships, in which some male members of the tribe, from an early age, heed a calling to take on female gender with all its responsibilities. They are prized as wives by the other men in the tribe, who enter into formal marriages with these Two-Spirit men. They are also respected as being especially powerful shamans.

    In Africa, among the Azande of the Congo, men would take youths for whom they had to pay a bride-price to the father. These homosexual relationships likewise were understood to be of a temporary nature. In Ancient Egypt, Khnumhotep and Niankhkhnum are thought to be the first male couple in history.

    My argument was that there were other aspects of marriage that people in earlier periods would have claimed were important parts of the tradition. Nevertheless, Wikipedia indicates that it is inaccurate to claim that marriage has always been an opposite-sex affair.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Not that I’m a fan of argument via Wikipedia, but I’m pretty sure that entry does more for my argument than yours.

    Ascribing to non-marital relationships the word marriage doesn’t make them so. And working that hard to find anything even remotely approaching marriage and coming up that short rather proves my point.

  • John D

    What Wikipedia cites for the Azande sounds exactly like “traditional marriage.” A man transfers property to another man in exchange for his offspring (typically daughter, but among the Azande it sounds like it could be a on instead).

    Marriage sealed by paying the father is a very old tradition.

    This is not what you mean by “traditional marriage,” though I know that bride-price is still practiced in some areas. Sounds pretty traditional to me.

    Unless you do mean that the opponents of same-sex marriage favor men paying the fathers of their brides.

  • John D

    A comment from your fellow blogger, Terry Mattingly:

    Journalists must be more humble and own up to our mistakes. In particular, we need to be more careful about our use of religious language, especially loaded labels such as “moderate” and “fundamentalist.”

    We can clearly argue just what constitutes “traditional marriage,” or whether some marriage traditions include same-sex couples. I do not want to lose my point that I consider the phrase “traditional marriage” to be a loaded label that favors one side of this argument.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    John D.,

    Traditional is neither “good” nor “bad.” It just means customary, usual, old, long-established, etc.

    If you can’t see that marriage as a heterosexual institution is traditional, I honestly see no further use in discussing with you.

    Some traditions are crappy, some are great. Same-sex marriage activists think limiting marriage to heterosexual unions is a crappy and oppressive tradition. Other people think it’s a great tradition that preserves society. But to argue that marriage limited to heterosexual unions isn’t the established tradition is probably not going to get you very far. I mean, there’s no doubt — as the legal battles indicate — that at the very least it’s the established LEGAL tradition.

    Moderate and fundamentalist, I might point out, are value judgments.

  • Dave

    Mollie and John D, let’s get back to media coverage.

    John D’s point is that the phrase “traditional marriage” used in the media and on this board, puts a positive gloss on one side of the issue that tends to bias the report. I would go a step further and say that it reinforces an ignorant argument that the current format of heterosexual marriage — a contract, voluntary on both sides, between equals — has been around forever.

    I would also dispute whether “moderate” and “fundamentalist” are value judgements. About a hundred years ago a group of Christians decided that they knew what the biblical “fundamentals” of their faith were, and anyone who accepts them is a fundamentalist. Determination of whether, say, a legislator is a moderate is an application of what is known, not pejoratively but seriously, as fuzzy logic, a branch of mathematics that’s objective enough to be used in machine design.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Dave,

    The use of the phrase “traditional marriage” is a media coverage issue.

    And the AP Stylebook DOES permit the use of the phrase Fundamentalist for folks who believed as you described in the last phrase. It’s just that the phrase is used for this rather small group of Fundamentalist Christians rarely. Instead it’s used for people who ARE NOT Fundamentalist Christians, such as Gov. Sarah Palin, for instance.


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