Oh well, here we go again. I realize, at this point, that I am severely testing the patience of the many GetReligion readers who are convinced that our elite media have little or no interest in balance and fairness when it comes to covering the hot-button issues that severely divide our nation, yet trigger severe group-think in so many newsrooms.
So, to set the stage for this latest bias case study, let’s try to imagine the following fictional scenario.
It’s late January, 2013, and — in a bizarre turnaround in political affairs — President Mitt Romney is naming the key members of his administration.
As director of the often overlooked, strategically crucial, Office of Personnel Management the Republican president repays a crucial debt and appoints a conservative evangelical activist, someone best known for his work with, oh, Focus on the Family or the National Organization for Marriage.
So, The Washington Post eventually decides to run a profile of this social activist turned government executive and, over the course of this 1,700-word text, focuses almost completely on the voices of people who think this appointment is perfectly normal, or even a giant step forward in American life.
Where are the culturally and politically liberal critics of this appointment, the people who believe that their stunned and furious voices should be heard in this piece? Where are the liberal voices offering balance in this piece of advocacy journalism? Well, they are nowhere to be found, in this pretend Post piece. In fact, the only voices critical of this activist come from those who are even further out on the political and cultural right.
Can you imagine this happening? Me neither.
Now, with this in mind, read through the recent Post story that ran under the headline, “John Berry, head of OPM and openly gay, helps Obama reach out to LGBT community.”
Who are the informed, critical, conservative voices quoted in this piece? Come back when you’re done with this quick reading assignment.
So, did you spot any? Instead, readers are given paragraph after paragraph of hagiography that sounds like this:
On that summer evening, the unassuming but effervescent bureaucrat gave a passionate recitation of the president’s record on gay rights and a pledge that a second term would bring full equality. And threaded through those remarks was Berry’s personal story. It’s a tale of humanity that has resonated so widely that he’s become a quiet figurehead, not so much fighting a full-throated battle for gay rights as embodying a philosophical shift: Gay relationships, Berry suggests with his presence, are normal, humane, right. An openly gay man can run a federal agency. He’s accepted by conservative veterans.
Berry told the donors in Rehoboth how he made the risky decision at 25 to come out to his devout Catholic parents, his terror that they and God would reject him, his Marine father’s painful decision to ban Berry’s partner from the family’s Rockville home for Sunday dinners. And redemption: When the partner, Tom, was dying of AIDS in 1996, the elder Berry held him in his arms and told him he loved him as a son.
There are, however, critical voices. They sound like this:
Speaking in July to gay Latinos gathered in Las Vegas, Berry chose his words carefully, promising that the president still is committed to crossing the next big hurdle to gay equality: workplace discrimination.
“We have not taken it off the table,” he assured activists at the National Council of La Raza’s annual convention. But he would not commit to a date when Obama would sign an executive order barring discrimination by federal contractors, leaving impatient activists to wonder if the White House is serious about the pledge Obama made during his first presidential campaign.
Weeks before, Berry had told activists the president would not sign the executive order until after the November election.
“He defended the decision,” said Tico Almeida, president of the LGBT group Freedom to Work, who was at the White House when the activists learned the news. “It shows the tension and challenge of being on the inside of an administration.”
This dual role has left some activists wondering whether Berry is their best representative. The same skepticism came up over the Defense of Marriage Act, which the administration initially defended. Berry had to fall in line.
See the balance? On one side, in this report, are those who cheer him. On the other side are those in the LGBT community who think he has not pushed hard enough for the changes they seek.
Would a Post piece about a conservative activist be constructed in this manner? Of course not. It would — and properly so — include the voices of representative LGBT leaders and other progressives. That’s journalism. So what, precisely, in journalistic terms, should this Post feature be called?