At last! Actual journalism on the same-sex marriage beat

At last! Actual journalism on the same-sex marriage beat March 22, 2013

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War. I was an early skeptic of the war, back when that was a somewhat lonely place to be. Journalists who engaged in more cheerleading than skepticism toward that war have been spending the week issuing mea culpas for their failure to consider unintended consequences. In fact, so many people have been writing their “I was wrong” pieces that the contrarian in me wonders whether I should change my mind and now support the war.

Anyway, some of their regrets overstate how bad their coverage was — many media outlets provided at least some balance and gave skeptics a chance to say their piece.

But if we’re going to talk about journalistic failures, the pre-Iraq War coverage was Woodward and Bernstein compared to how journalists have handled the debates about whether to change marriage law to include same-sex couples.

There has been extremely little coverage of opponents and no skepticism present in the coverage. There has been very little that amounts to meaningful coverage beyond cheerleading. There has been no exploration of short- or long-term consequences — particularly those that might be unintended — to changing marriage law. And opponents have been derided with utter contempt on the very pages and programs that claim they’re devoted to news and not opinion.

Perhaps in 10 years we’ll see some mea culpas.

But here are two stories (admittedly, yes, out of the eleventy billion that have been published on this matter) that cover skeptics and their arguments. Who knew such a thing was even possible?

The first comes from the New York Times and it does what should have been done years ago and repeatedly since then — mentions the people and arguments in support of retaining marriage as a heterosexual institution. Yes, there are lots of qualifiers in the piece but it manages to mention some of the actual arguments — imagine that! — of traditional marriage supporters by looking at a group of young scholars working on the topic. For example:

Last week, the Heritage Foundation released a report by Ryan T. Anderson, 31, in defense of traditional marriage, “Marriage: What It Is, Why It Matters, and the Consequences of Redefining It.” Mr. Anderson, a Heritage Foundation fellow, has also held briefings for members of Congress, their staff members and others to explain his arguments against same-sex marriage, and he and two co-authors released a book last year laying out their case in depth…

“Proponents of same-sex marriage have done a fantastic job of telling the story of same-sex marriage through music and television and film,” said Eric Teetsel, 29, the executive director of the Manhattan Declaration, which describes itself as a movement of Christians for life, marriage and religious freedom. “I think it’s really a case where once they hear the other side of the issue, and really think about it deeply, we’re going to win a lot of those folks back.”

And the other side of the issue — the case for what proponents call traditional marriage — is simple, they say.

“In redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, what you’re doing is you’re excluding the norm of sexual complementarity,” said Mr. Anderson, the Heritage Foundation fellow. “Once you exclude that norm, the three other norms — which are monogamy, sexual exclusivity and permanency — become optional as well.”

The result, proponents of traditional marriage say, would be further rises in divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births.

Critics are also quoted. The piece makes it look so easy that it’s just scandalous that it took until March 2013 to get a story like this.

The other piece comes from the Associated Press and it begins:

WASHINGTON – They are moms and dads, authors and activists, a former police officer and a former single mom. They’re black and white and Hispanic. One’s a Roman Catholic archbishop, another an evangelical minister. Many have large families – including gay members.

They are among the leading opponents of gay marriage, or as they prefer to be called, defenders of traditional marriage. And they’re trying to stop an increasingly popular movement as it approaches two dates with history next week at the Supreme Court.

At times, it can seem a lonely battle. Outspent and lately out-hustled by highly organized gay rights organizations, opponents have struggled to get their story out. They’re portrayed as bigots, likened to the racists and sexists of yesteryear. Some have been compared with hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

For men of the cloth such as Roman Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, nothing could be further from the truth.

“Those who believe what every human society since the beginning of the human race has believed about marriage, and is clearly the case from nature itself, will be regarded, and treated, as the next class of bigots,” he says. “That’s untrue, and it’s not kind, and it doesn’t seem to lead to a ‘live and let live’ pluralism.”

Two stories that cover the skeptics of changing marriage law as well as their arguments? How to explain this? In some ways, it’s disorienting, no?

The reader who sent in the last story remarked:

A piece that takes opponents of same-sex “marriage” seriously. No name-calling, no derisive attitudes, no taking sides — just straight reportage. One wonders, though, if this is just a one-off in order to get critics off their back or if this will display a new, more positive — or at least neutral — attitude toward those who stand against redefining marriage.

I have no idea what happened here but I’ll be curious if other reporters begin to think that covering both sides — and both sides fairly — might not be such a bad idea after all.

Photo of reporter via Shutterstock.

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26 responses to “At last! Actual journalism on the same-sex marriage beat”

  1. As my mother would say, will wonders never cease!? Who knew you could do a fair and balanced story on gay marriage? The comments on the NYT article are anything but fair or balanced, but that was expected. Btw, the link is broken on the Associated Press article.

    • I am stunned at the even temperament in these articles and am grateful to see it happening.

      There are still aspects of the issue that are not being covered, and I hope one day that they are, and that they’re raised — and reported on fairly — in the arguments presented next week.

    • I’m not sure that fits with the narrative. Probably won’t see it. And who would ever find such a story interesting or compelling? Stories only go one way on this topic — stories that don’t cheerlead for same-sex marriage aren’t as newsworthy.

  2. Hopefully, this will be a starting trend. I hadn’t seen the stuff from the Associated Press or the New York Times. On Thursday, CNN gave a spot to the authors of “What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense.” I believe you had mentioned this book before in one of your previous posts Mollie. I was pleasantly surprised by the write up. Not too sure why this is all happening now, but hopefully it’s going to continue.

  3. Mollie,
    To give credit where it’s due, it looks as though the second report was not by the AP but by Richard Wolf, writing for USA Today.

    • It’s definitely the same report — maybe it was mislabeled at the other outlet and that explains why the url is dead.

      Anyway, all should be fixed and properly attributed.

    • The rash of articles for and against gay marriage are all a part of the sides preparing for the Supreme Court hearings on Prop 8 and DOMA next week. Each party is trying to get their message out in every way possible to help shape and influence the debate in the courtroom and beyond next week. That, in part is what is what has made so much of the one sided reporting leading up to these hearing so frustrating. It’s made the cases feel pre-decided by those who shape and drive the media narrative in the build up to their hearing.

      • I see that connection, Jeremiah, but I don’t understand why the media are — all at one time — letting those supporting traditional marriage speak. They don’t have to, but they are. Have the MSM suddenly gone all civic-minded on us and decided to present both sides of the story so that people are able to follow it when it’s argued before SCOTUS? That would be a nice change, but with NPR getting on the bandwagon (thanks for the link, Joe Riley), I am more of the mind that sharks have come bearing gifts.

  4. Maybe some of the media outlets see their empires crumbling and crashing because the mainstream media is so biased on so many issues both in number of opinion pieces run and in the slant of what is supposed to be news.
    Could it be they are trying to keep their Titanic from sinking by doing some last minute fair play to keep the icy waters of bankruptcy and unemployment from swallowing many of them.???

  5. On the negative side I agree with darkward that its a preparation for an attack on the real arguments since real people will be allowed a voice in the Supreme Court. On the hopeful side, perhaps the news outlets know something we don’t and the Supreme Court will uphold bans on gay “marriage.” These would then be softening the impending doom for those who think gay “marriage” arguments are structurally sound and opponents without merit.

  6. I think what we are seeing is a major victory attributable to GetReligion.
    These journalists and their editors really do think of themselves as noble professionals. It has to have stung to see themselves portrayed as cheerleaders, called out with non-emotional appeals to the basic tenets and ethics of their profession. Consistently, for years, they have promoted one side of an important cultural issue. So, there has been a pent-up interest built by GetReligion in some, you know, balance.
    Also, it is finally dawning on these bone-heads that they will be trying to explain the Supreme Court arguments next week to a readership/viewership that have never seen or heard any presentation of one side of these important cases. These are necessary catch-up articles.

  7. Congratulations, GetReligion. These articles are in part due to your diligent pursuit of fairness in journalism when it comes to issues with important religious angles.

  8. I agree with MJBubba that this is the result of journalists doing prep work for the court case coverage, and realizing they have a lot of catch up to do. I have this mental image of a reporter cynically clicking links and reading pro-marriage arguments, and calling around to find out what kind of arguments opponents will use against marriage redefinition, and winding up completely shocked to find out that reasonable sounding people have reasonable sounding reasons to want to preserve the traditional meaning of marriage. Now they’ve got to cover it so that it isn’t so obvious next week that they’ve been falling down on the job for years.