So what is the mainstream press to do with President Barack Obama’s refusal — so far — to take a clear stance on gay-rights issues, especially same-sex marriage?
Well, there are basically two options — one journalistic and the other, well, not so journalistic.
First of all, it is possible to write news pieces that are based on the president’s own words and actions, including the public stances taken and defended by his own church and/or religious denomination, which is the United Church of Christ. Then it would be possible to focus on his political reasons for not taking a clear stance, which would almost certainly lead journalists into a religious thicket as well, one centering on the beliefs of most African-Americans and Latinos who frequent church pews.
Then again, it is also possible to write stories that merely hint at the above factors and then focus totally on why people on the political and moral left are disappointed with his lack of courage.
What we have in the following Washington Post story is a classic example of the second approach. Here’s a sample, taken from a story that basically says Obama is hurting his standing with young people by being silent on North Carolina’s Amendment One that would ban civil unions and domestic partnerships:
The issue is particularly complicated in historically conservative North Carolina. Obama scraped together a razor-thin victory there four years ago with a multicultural coalition that included independents, African Americans and Hispanics — constituencies that are less uniformly enthusiastic about expanding gay rights than campus activists.
North Carolina is widely seen as a bigger challenge this year for Obama than it was in 2008, when he won with a margin of roughly 14,000 votes. Not only does the state’s unemployment rate continue to hover near 10 percent, but its Democratic Party is in disarray and is expected to be of little help to president. …
None of these challenges have stopped Obama from planting a flag in North Carolina, as he did by deciding to hold his party’s national convention in Charlotte this year. His campaign has opened more than a dozen offices around the state. In fact, Obama’s grass-roots organization never really dismantled four years ago — and actually as grown since then, state campaign officials said.
And in case you missed the main point (I can certainly understand why even careful, well-informed readers might miss it) there is this:
It will … be up to Obama to navigate the political crosscurrents of a complicated state in which he must court multiple constituencies that do not all agree on all the same issues.
The fate of Amendment One, for instance, is uncertain, with one public poll predicting that it will pass easily and another projecting a loss. Quietly opposing Amendment One, but keeping his distance from on-the-ground efforts to defeat it, could be an essential strategy for Obama to pull back together the diverse coalition that elected him last time.
The story presents all of this as a political issue — alone. Clap your hands if you are surprised.
This is a political issue, of course. I get that. But the key is that Obama is trying to skate over the fact that most African-American and Latino churchgoers are not convinced that, in terms of civil rights laws, sexual orientation truly equals race. I would imagine that the White House has very specific data on this reality and that Amendment One must, at this stage, be polling well with people of color. Thus, the president is smart to remain silent, until he is reelected (as Maher would say).
Here is my main point: Here at GetReligion, we have long insisted that the voices and views of leaders on the religious left are inadequately covered in the mainstream press. Would it have strengthened this story to note that Obama is part of the United Church of Christ, the liberal Protestant denomination that has, in the actions of its national leaders, long served as a trailblazer in the field of gay rights? Is that relevant to this story? Why not talk to UCC leaders in North Carolina?
Also, in terms of the pro-Amendment One viewpoint, why didn’t the Post ask African-American and Latino pastors WHY THEY believe Obama has elected to remain silent? Call me old-fashioned, but I really think this news story needed to include voices from both sides of that debate. It’s a journalism thing.