After years of pointing out how unbelievably unprofessional the journalism of same-sex marriage coverage was, something weird happened last week. Instead of the typical media suppression and derision, we started seeing stories about the people and arguments in favor of retaining marriage as a heterosexual institution. Now, they weren't particularly good stories and they weren't particularly long. They were still outnumbered by the stories cheerleading in favor of changing marriage law to include same-sex marriage. But the difference was notable (see: "At last! Actual journalism on the same-sex marriage beat).
Many of us wondered what was going on. Reader Jeremiah Oehlerich wrote:
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.
Reader MJBubba gave props to GetReligion:
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.
Thanks! But I'm suspicious. Reader Kate noted:
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.
Maybe it's a combination of a variety of things. But a few days of mentioning the people and arguments in favor of marriage built around sexual complementarity is not really significant in any case. And the entire game is rigged. Here's one media outlet's tweet:
Opponents of gay marriage say they’re no bigots
So they say. But I want to know when they stopped beating their children.
And so many of the interesting angles that should be covered in news sections are being covered in opinion sections. Religion opinion writer Lisa Miller had a fascinating "Got news?" item in the Washington Post a few days ago headlined "Many Unitarians would prefer that their polyamory activists keep quiet."
Now, this is not a news story, but it is about a newsworthy trend. It's about how the presence and activism of polyamorous families -- a not insignificant part of the UU community -- helps those mean bad "conservatives" with their arguments that changing marriage law to include same sex couples would lead to recognition of polyamorous marriages since if gender is an unimportant component of marriage, number of involved is, too.
We can all wade through the snipes against conservatives and it's a very interesting and provocative piece but it would be nice to just see it as a news article, complete with religious arguments about the UU community and the families its members create.
And then there's an opinion piece at CNN -- written by the veteran Jewish legal theorist Marc Stern -- on the collision between gay rights and religious liberty. It's a scandal how little has been written about this and how poor the imaginations of reporters are when it comes to this topic. More news on this instead of opinion pieces would be and would have been nice.
The New York Times published a piece on the importance of pessimism:
People interested in truth seek out those who disagree with them. They look for rival opinions, awkward facts and the grounds that might engender hesitation. Such people have a far more complicated life than the optimists, who rush forward with a sense of purpose that is not to be deflected by what they regard as the cavilings of mean-minded bigots. Here in Britain, discussions on gay marriage have been conducted as though it were entirely a matter of extending rights, and not of fundamentally altering the institution. Difficult issues, like the role of sexual difference in social reproduction, the nature of the family, the emotional needs of children and the meaning of rites of passage, have been ignored or brushed aside.
Again, though, this was just an opinion piece and we see no engagement with these issues in the news pages of major media.
Finally, the media have shown surprisingly little substantial interest in the amici briefs filed before the Supreme Court.
Andrew Ferguson obliterates some of the media coverage on this angle in his piece on Harvey Mansfield and Leon Kass' brief about the very serious limitations of social science research on the matters under dispute at the court (and media treatment of that issue) as well as how the media have treated the briefs of same-sex marriage enthusiasts. But his piece, which is a fantastic read, is in the opinion magazine the Weekly Standard.
What we see in the mainstream media is along the lines of the intellectual rigor Contessa Brewer applies to her coverage of the issue.