Few news consumers would be surprised that the journalists at Baptist Press frame their coverage of controversial moral and cultural issues in a way that supports the doctrines affirmed by the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest non-Catholic flock of believers.
After all, this is a denominational wire service that is funded by a doctrinally conservative body. The wider world of Southern Baptists (and often former Southern Baptist) is complex enough that it also supports a second wire service — the Associated Baptist Press — that affirms what is usually a more doctrinally liberal, oldline Protestant view on social issues.
Thus, it isn’t surprising that, when framing the decision by Judge Clark Waddoups to strike down a key section of Utah’s anti-polygamy law, the Baptist Press team used several quotes from moral conservatives. In turn, it is not surprising that these sources linked this event to the “slippery slope” argument that says once a culture starts redefining a concept like marriage, it is hard to stop. Here’s a typical passage:
Defenders of the biblical and historic view of marriage said the decision undermines the institution and provides more evidence that its redefinition will be more expansive than just incorporating same-sex relationships.
“Sadly, when marriage is elastic enough to mean anything, in due time it comes to mean nothing,” Russell D. Moore said in a statement released Dec. 14. Moore is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).
“This is what happens when marriage becomes about the emotional and sexual wants of adults, divorced from the needs of children for a mother and a father committed to each other for life,” Moore said. “Polygamy was outlawed in this country because it was demonstrated, again and again, to hurt women and children.”
Later in the report, the Baptist Press report included related several quotes from the Waddoups text and from defendant Kody Brown, who is featured with his four wives in a television reality show called “Sister Wives.” That’s pretty much to be expected, since the BP staff includes quite several scribes with mainstream news experience.
However, here was the voice that I found especially interesting in this context:
Jonathan Turley, lead counsel for the Browns and a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., connected the homosexual and polygamy causes in his reaction to Waddoups’ opinion.
“[P]lural families present the same privacy and due process concerns faced by [the] gay and lesbian community over criminalization,” Turley wrote.
“The decision affects a far greater range of such relationships than the form of polygamy practiced by the Browns,” he said. “It is a victory not for polygamy but privacy in America.”
Why bring this up? Other than in our “Got news?” posts, GetReligion rarely digs into the offerings of advocacy journalism sites.
Well, in this case it is interesting to contrast the Baptist Press piece with the coverage of the same decision that was offered in The New York Times.
As you would expect, the Times report — rightly so — features large blocks of material from the judge himself:
Judge Waddoups made clear that the Brown case was not an easy one for him, writing, “The proper outcome of this issue has weighed heavily on the court for many months.” He noted the shifts in the way the Constitution has been interpreted over the past century to increase protection for groups and individuals spurned by the majority.
“To state the obvious,” Judge Waddoups wrote, “the intervening years have witnessed a significant strengthening of numerous provisions of the Bill of Rights.” They include, he wrote, enhancements of the right to privacy and a shift in the Supreme Court’s posture “that is less inclined to allow majoritarian coercion of unpopular or disliked minority groups,” especially when “religious prejudice,” racism or “some other constitutionally suspect motivation can be discovered behind such legislation.” …
The judge cited the decision in Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 Supreme Court case that struck down laws prohibiting sodomy. He quoted the majority opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy that stated the Constitution protects people from “unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places” and “an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression and certain intimate conduct.”
The Times piece also quotes Turley, of course. That’s good.
The Times team, however, does not quote any voices on the cultural right in response to this decision. The material is framed by the judge, the Times and Turley, alone.
It would appear that the content of the Times story is — to be blunt — framed in a way that suggests classic advocacy journalism, in this case to a degree that is just as strong, if not stronger, than the Baptist Press story.
So my question: Why? Why would the great Gray Lady use the same journalistic approach as a denominational wire service such as Baptist Press?
If the Times editors are framing their coverage in accordance with a set of doctrines, what is the name of the “church” that determines the advocacy approach used in this case? The bottom line: Has the Times, on moral and cultural issues, evolved into a denominational news source?