You really have to love readers who pay close attention and are willing to tilt at windmills every now and then.
Consider this note from a GetReligion reader — a radio pro — who kept his skepticism meter turned up, even when looking for liberal bias in a rather unusual place. The headline on this rather ordinary politics-meets-business story (with religion lurking in the background, of course) is: “Amazon opposes anti-LGBT Tennessee legislation amid activist pressure.”
Yes, that’s Fox News for ya. Our pro-journalism reader sent me an email that noted the following:
Fox is usually considered friendly to conservatives, right? Then why isn't there a single quote — count 'em, ZERO — in this story from someone defending the legislation? And why did they do this: "Sponsors of the bills claim they are trying to protect 'religious freedom'"? Scare quotes around "religious freedom"? Really?
The only thing that I disagree with in that note is that I don’t think one needs to be a “conservative” to defend the old-school, liberal model of the press that asked journalists to talk to people on both sides of a hot, divisive issue, while treating their views with respect. Then again, I am also old enough to remember the church-state good old days (that would be the Clinton administration) when you didn’t need to be a “conservative” to back an old-school liberal take on religious liberty (minus the scare quotes).
What does this Fox News story have to say? The problem isn’t that it includes lots of material from LGBT activists who oppose this legislation. That’s a big part of the story. The journalism problem here is that the story totally embraces, as neutral fact, the cultural left’s views on what the legislation would do. This starts right up top:
Amazon has signed a letter opposing a raft of anti-LGBT legislation in Tennessee as the tech giant plans to expand its presence in the business-friendly state.
"Legislation that explicitly or implicitly allows discrimination against LGBT people and their families creates unnecessary liability for talent recruitment and retention, tourism, and corporate investment to the state," the open letter to Tennesse legislators states.
The Jeff Bezos-led behemoth joined Salesforce, Dell Technologies, Postmates, Warner Music Group, Nashville Ballet, Nashville Cares and more than a dozen other companies in urging legislative leaders to reject several bills currently making their way through the Tennessee legislature. A spokesperson for Amazon confirmed the company did sign the letter.
Tennessee lawmakers are currently debating or considering bills that would ban same-sex couples from adopting and getting married, and restrict transgender people's access to public bathrooms, according to the Tennessean.
Wait, the source for this information is The Nashville Tennessean, a Gannett hub?
Is that the same newspaper empire that actually signed on the dotted line to endorse an earlier effort (Tennessee Thrives) to oppose this kind of legislation? These newspapers endorsed a political effort that they then ended covering, as the dominant news source in our state?
As I said in that earlier GetReligion post, writing as a newspaper subscriber and taxpayer in East Tennessee:
Yes, our state's major newspapers have signed on the bottom line and pledged their support in this effort.
So let's say you are a culturally conservative Tennessean … and you read that honest paragraph.
Are you now more or less willing to trust these newspapers when it comes to their hard-news coverage — as opposed to editorial-page material — of debates about Tennessee Thrives and its efforts to defeat anti-LGBT/pro-privacy and/or pro-religious liberty bills?
Back to the current issue at hand.
Fox News had its own sources for this second chunk of the story:
"Thank you to Amazon, especially the Glamazons, for standing up for LGBTQ Tennesseans today by opposing this hateful and discriminatory legislation," said "No Gay? No Way!" campaign manager Conor Gaughan in a statement provided to Fox News. "It sends an important message to legislators here in Tennessee, and across the country, that Amazon – alongside America's best corporations – are taking notice of laws and policies in the states where they do business; there will be consequences when states threaten LGBTQ rights."
Sponsors of the bills claim they are trying to protect "religious freedom."
What do the people supporting these bills have to say, in terms of defending their efforts? Do they accept the left’s summaries of the basic facts in the bills or their impact?
Readers have no clue about that, because that would have required Fox News to have talked to people on that side of the story and quoted their views accurately.
Recently, I wrote a post — focusing on a massive story in The New York Times Magazine — that’s linked to this topic, sort of. The headline on my post: “This may be a tough question: Does Rupert Murdoch have a soul? Does this question matter?”
How would you answer the question in the first sentence of this piece of that post? How is this question linked to the slanted, incomplete Fox News report about the religious-liberty debates here in Tennessee?
What kind of conservative is Rupert Murdoch?
Strangely enough, this rambling piece really isn’t interested in this question. The only gods here are economic and, of course, political.
So I will ask another question: Might this allegedly hollow chest (to use a C.S. Lewis image) have something to do with what many have noted is a strange lack of interest in religion-news coverage in Murdoch news operations?
I didn’t expect The New York Times Magazine to ask that question, of course. I did hope that this profile would offer a few clues, however.
Once again, politics is the only thing that is real. Religion? Not so much.
What kind of conservative is Rupert Murdoch? What kind of “conservatism” shapes some (repeat “some”) of the coverage at For News?
Meanwhile, please trust me when I say that, here in Tennessee, debates about sexuality, religious liberty, privacy, economics, etc., always stir up topics linked to religion. And, yes, that’s true on the religious left here as well as the right.
Fox News could have learned that with one or two telephone calls or even a few clicks of a mouse.