I have three questions, after reading the latest New York Times news report about why President Barack Obama is hurting his chances in the upcoming election with his ongoing reticence to let his beliefs on marriage completely evolve into agreement with, well, the great Gray Lady herself. (1) Is the Times editorial staff, essentially, doing a Bill Maher riff here, chiding the president with story after story of wink-wink material that essentially says, "We think you're lying on this issue, so you might as well come clean" or words to that effect?
(2) Is the goal, in this kind of coverage, to change the minds of traditional Christians in African-American churches, to shame them or merely to ignore them? To use the term popularized by the Poynter.org crew, the Times team does seem to be deliberately ignoring a major group of "stakeholders" in this debate.
(3) Is this another case, after the great Bill Keller confession in Austin, in which readers are simply supposed to assume that it is now Times policy that it is no longer necessary for the newspaper's urban, sophisticated scribes to even attempt to accurately represent the views of leaders on the opposing side of a moral, cultural and religious issue such as this one?
The key to the timing of this story, of course, is that Vice President Joseph Biden, Jr., came within a whisker of endorsing same-sex marriage this past Sunday (during a talk show, as opposed to greeting reporters after Mass). White House aides said the statement was consistent with those previously made by the president, while gay-rights leaders (outside the administration) said Biden's words were unique and newsworthy.
Once again, this meant that the Times story needed to offer an explanation -- political, of course, not religious -- for Obama's silence. As usual, this background material mentioned religious beliefs, but did not explore them.
The political considerations for the White House and the Obama re-election campaign are complicated, and advisers are on both sides of the issue. But Mr. Obama’s senior strategists like David Axelrod and David Plouffe, confronting the prospect of a close election, are loath to raise a subject that could cost votes in swing states like Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado, say Democrats familiar with their thinking.
Yet Mr. Obama risks alienating gay Americans who have been among his strongest supporters and biggest donors, and same-sex marriage is strongly supported among many of the young and college-educated voters whom the campaign courts. But it is opposed by socially conservative blacks, particularly politically influential ministers, whose strong turnout Mr. Obama needs.
At the same time, some Democrats say that Mr. Obama, by continuing to straddle an issue that many supporters and gay activists believe he privately favors, risks looking politically calculating, even cynical.
Note, as usual, the lack of attributions for the ticklish statements in this part of the story.
Those who choose to read on will then note the complete absence of voices -- even pro-Obama voices -- explaining the point of view of these "politically influential" African-American ministers (as opposed to African-American ministers who are religious leaders and, thus, not all that important). Do Times editors realize how offended many African-American pastors are when told that they are important simply because of their political clout, and not their roles as pastors and community leaders?
Later on, the Times does offer this additional background on the North Carolina scene:
In North Carolina, polls indicated that the proposed state amendment banning same-sex marriage would be approved on Tuesday. While North Carolina has a law against same-sex marriage, Republican lawmakers said they worried that without an amendment, the law was in danger of being struck down by the courts.
The issue divides nearly all demographic groups, with ministers, lawyers, business executives, as well as black and white voters falling on both sides of the debate. ...
Christopher Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, said of the issue, “I think the less it’s talked about in a state like North Carolina, the better it is for Obama.”
The story accurately notes that ministers -- white and black -- can be found on both sides of this debate in North Carolina and nationwide. Once again, the goal here at GetReligion is to note that there are religious stakeholders on both sides and their views need to be covered fairly and accurately.
Meanwhile, over at The Washington Post, the same story received coverage that was just as one-sided and even more faith-free. In this case, the gay-rights side of the equation was backed by six sources (not including Biden) and there were no voices, in terms of new interview material, featured on the other side.
In this case, the big idea of the story is that Obama is attempting to balance African-American votes vs. the power of gay money:
Several people close to the White House said the episode has exposed internal tensions within Obama’s team between those who want the president to say he favors same-sex marriage before the November election and others who worry about a political backlash if he does -- not just among conservatives and working-class voters but among African Americans who are Obama’s most loyal support bloc but tend to oppose such unions.
About one in six of Obama’s top campaign “bundlers” are gay, according to a Washington Post review of donor lists, making it difficult for the president to defer the matter. Activists are planning a campaign for the adoption of a pro-gay-marriage plank in this year’s Democratic Party platform.
Stay tuned. I predict new and/or renewed coverage, soon, of how young African-American pastors are clashing with old African-American pastors on this issue. Also, if any GetReligion readers are faithful Maher watchers, please keep us posted on his news coverage of this issue.
Meanwhile, the Post also reports -- in a blog item -- that the White House press conference exchanges on this "evolving" issue were almost certainly worthy of Saturday Night Live -- with little or no editing needed. That is, if SNL still does skits gently poking Obama.