Do you hear what I hear?

How did NPR’s Scott Simon make it into this post? Hang on, gentle reader, and all will be clarified.

There’s been growing speculation in the media about President Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court seat to be vacated when Justice David Souter retires at the end of June. Here’s a fun, if slightly speculative article from the New York Times on Republican strategy as regards a pick for the Supremes (of course, there’s no name yet from the White House.)

The assumption is, and it might be a safe one, given that the Court only has one member of color and one woman, that the President will go for racial and gender diversity. Possibly a Hispanic. Perhaps an African-American. Even more potently symbolic, someone who is both a minority and a woman, though, as the Times points out, all candidates will piously probably deny that they have any opinions at all.

This weekend, Los Angeles Times’ writers Johanna Neuman and Andrew Malcolm reported growing advocacy for a gay Supreme Court nominee, a repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” and various other issues of particular interest to gays and “gay advocates.”

We’re seeing more and more columns that blend analysis, commentary and reporting, a trend (call me old-fashioned) I find a little confusing. Here’s Neuman’s and Malcolm’s gumbo-like (a dash of this, a hint of that) lede:

With more states enacting same-sex marriage laws, pressure is growing on President Obama to moderate his stance against gay marriage.

Advocates are urging him to appoint a gay man or woman to the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice David H. Souter. Even if Obama does not name a gay justice, senators are likely to question the nominee about the hot-button issue during confirmation hearings, propelling it to the top of the political agenda this summer.

Two gay women are among the candidates being considered, according to the New York Times: Kathleen M. Sullivan and Pamela S. Karlan, both of Stanford Law School.

Already, Christian groups are lobbying against such a selection by organizing protests in Washington, where the District of Columbia City Council recently voted to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

Take it from the top — what do they mean, “moderate” his stance on gay marriage? Errr — what would that look like? We know that the President favors civil unions. “Moderating” his policy beyond civil unions could only mean affirming gay marriage — what am I missing? Is the word “moderate” now a substitute for the term “progressive”?

Or are the writers implying that Obama’s views are, to use a term I loathe, “out of the mainstream”?

Which “Christian” groups are opposed to same-sex marriage? The United Methodists? The ELCA? The Presybterian Church (USA) or the Presbyterian Church in America? The National Baptist Convention? The writers only quote one pastor (actually, they quote the New York Times), and they don’t mention whether he’s part of a larger coalition.

Am I being too hard on two writers essentially doing a kind of a general round-up? Perhaps — but if you can’t be specific on the fundamentals, why bother to post such an item at all?

Now we get to NPR host Scott Simon’s wise and timely Saturday admonition to all of us who think we can approach a topic without bias. Simon takes two statements on marriage from two different speakers, and asks his readers to make a judgement about who said them. I won’t spill the beans — read the piece for yourself. Suffice it to say that it links nicely with a story we’ve been covering here. But though I cavil with a few descriptors, I love these sentences from the end of his comments:

I play this little exercise this week because it may show how people — especially intelligent people — hear what they want to …

It makes it a bit harder, but more important, to do real journalism and sometimes tell an audience, “We know what you think you know. But listen to this.”

One of the jobs of a good journalist is to look at his or her assumptions, figure out what she or he thinks they know — and then go looking for people and situations that test those assumptions. What they find might surprise them — and us.

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  • Jerry

    Scott Simon’s piece does underline the problem of assumptions and prejudice very well. Figures in the public eye do become “Rorschach tests” used by people to see what they expect to see.

    Going back to your point about “moderate”. Of course “moderate” means good whereas extreme is evil. And “moderate” means someone who agrees with me. So there you have it: another pretty decent English word has gone through the reality distortion zone and emerged modified by our cultural “Red Queens”.

  • JD

    “Moderate” is becoming corrupting, agreed. But couldn’t you, in this particular instance, just take it as meaning “somewhere near the middle of the political spectrum” ?

  • E.E. Evans

    JD, what would that mean as a position on gay marriage?

  • Dave

    With more states enacting same-sex marriage laws, pressure is growing on President Obama to moderate his stance against gay marriage.

    A heck of a lot more states have enacted referendum-driven constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage. If Obama were making this decision with his finger to the wind, he might “moderate” in the other direction.

  • JD

    The extreme left wants to go beyond monogamy, the mainstream left wants gay marriage, the centre wants civil unions, the moderate right only ad hoc recognition, the hard right no recognition, the fringe right to go back to criminalisation. That’s the spectrum on marriage rights for gays.

  • tmatt


    What would be taught as appropriate in tax-funded public schools?

  • JD

    Hey, that’s a policy, not a journalism question.

    Wrong person to ask. I’m sceptical on one-size-fits-all, centralised public school curricula. My position is more along the lines of voucher-privatise the schools, and let each constituency find its own curriculum. In most places you would not have to split the whole school, just the sex ed classes. (Speaking as someone who is on the “extreme left” on this issue. But then gay marriage was totally fringe not so long ago.)

  • Dave

    What would be taught as appropriate in tax-funded public schools?

    Take a leaf from “intelligent design.” Teach the controversy.

  • gfe

    This post reminds me a bit of a week or two ago when Marie Osmond was widely reported to have come out in favor of gay marriage. The fact is that she said no such thing — she said only that she favors civil rights for gays, a position that many opponents of same-sex marriage (including President Obama) also claim to hold.

    I don’t know what Ms. Osmond’s view are on the matter (nor do I care). But her supposedly contrary-to-what-you’d-expect position made for good copy, true or not.

  • Webster

    The only problem with the Simon piece is that it still assumes that someone irrationally enamored of President Obama to the point of not knowing what his policy positions are is “intelligent.” But, that’s just the sort of think that people who voted for John McCain might do, and “we” all know *they* aren’t “intelligent,” right?

  • Dave

    That’s not lack of intelligence, Webster, it’s refusal to exercise it. Somewhat scarier.

  • Webster


    Refusal to employ one’s intelligence shows lack of *moral* intelligence, lack of moral *seriousness,* lack of *conscience* — which, in my observation, afflicts Obama’s supporters quite as much as McCain’s.

  • Dave

    I don’t think Simon was using “intelligence” that broadly, but YMMV.