Scarecrow journalism

scarecrow2 usermythThe concept of "religious rights" makes a walk-on appearance in a recent Los Angeles Times article -- only to be yanked unceremoniously off the stage. In advance of November's vote on Proposition 8, Maura Dolan and Jessica Garrison wrote a long, detailed article arguing that California's role as a gay rights leader, the fruit of a long campaign in in the legislature and the courts, will not be changed by a vote to bar gay marriage.

Only a few paragraphs into their story, Dolan and Garrison bring in a conservative voice:

The changes have delighted some Californians and alarmed others.

Gay rights have been expanded in "little bites that people found hard to argue with at the time," said Matt McReynolds, staff attorney of the conservative Pacific Justice Institute. "And all of a sudden, we are at a point where gay rights trump religious rights."

They do?

Readers curious about what McReynolds meant by "religious rights" never have a chance to find out. When he reappears in one other paragraph, near the end of the story, the quote from him doesn't address that issue at all.

You can read anything into the concept of "religious rights" that you want to -- and because the writers never allow him to explain himself, many readers probably do.

In an article replete with the voices of gay rights activists and legislators, it would have been helpful, as well as fair, to allow a few more quotes representing the thousands of voters likely to turn out to support Proposition 8 in November.

In an otherwise informed summary of California's history of recent gay rights advocacy, this spectral appearance qualifies as straw-man journalism.

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