LA Times opposes fathers, Santorum

This is rather interesting. The Los Angeles Times has, once again, come out against fathers. Let me explain. The paper suggests that fathers are completely disposable and useless at best and possibly even harmful. Here's the lede to a recent piece they wrote. (Apparently presidential candidate Rick Santorum's quote wasn't juicy enough on its own, so reporters Michael A. Memoli and Mark Z. Barabak had to spice it up even more in the set-up):

For the second time in as many days, Rick Santorum waded into the issue of gay marriage, suggesting it was so important for children to have both a father and mother that an imprisoned father was preferable to a same-sex parent.

Citing the work of one anti-poverty expert, Santorum said, "He found that even fathers in jail who had abandoned their kids were still better than no father at all to have in their children's lives."

Allowing gays to marry and raise children, Santorum said, amounts to "robbing children of something they need, they deserve, they have a right to. You may rationalize that that isn't true, but in your own life and in your own heart, you know it's true."

See, the Los Angeles Times didn't overtly come out against fathers -- or mothers -- for that matter, finding them unnecessary.

But you see how you could easily say that if you wanted to. Still, it's not fair. Neither is their lede an honest or straightforward presentation of Santorum's argument.

The Los Angeles Times reporters can barely contain their feelings about Santorum's idea that fathers are important for children -- from the headline to the last line. On that note, the headline is bizarre. In a story about Santorum being confronted about his views on same-sex marriage, the headline is that he "focuses" on it rather than is being confronted about it.

In case you hadn't noticed, the rise of Rick Santorum has been met with a bit of freaking out. In the world of punditry, some people mocked him for the American Pregnancy Association-approved way that he and his wife handled the death of their newborn son. (They spent a short time with the baby after he died and allowed their children to do so as well.) Sadly, this includes the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson. This was met in response by some beautiful essays from journalists who have lost their children. Here's the Boston Herald's Jessica Heslam and here's the Washington Post's Charles Lane. The personal essay is certainly one way to deal with this hot-button topic and I found both of those essays to be well executed.

Miscarriages, stillbirths and deaths in infancy are difficult to talk about and even in the undercovered area of death, stories about these losses are hard to find and hard to write. So I was also impressed that at least some media outlets took the opportunity to talk about infant death. As any of you who have lost a child in this manner know, caregivers at the hospital will encourage you to hold your baby and spend time with him or her. Guidelines also encourage allowing other family members this time together. But many people who have never lost a child are unaware of this. It's a valuable service for news outlets to get this information out.

Anyway, the same-sex marriage issue is definitely drawing a lot of attention. And it's actually been kind of interesting to watch. In part that's because the media are forced to cover his arguments regarding marriage (although I guess the Times managed to avoid them for the most part). These arguments tend to get short shrift in most media coverage of changing definitions about marriage. Or, if arguments do get coverage, it's more of the advocacy type.

The Los Angeles Times piece really was a mess. It's been corrected for a factual error and a mistaken illustration (it was accompanied with a picture of Mitt Romney, for some reason). It was almost like you could feel the reporters freaking out while writing it. Just for example, here's how they wrote up one part of an exchange Santorum had with an audience:

Santorum's comments once again drew attention away from his efforts to craft a blue-collar economic message. On Thursday he tangled with college students over same-sex marriage. In that encounter, a woman in the audience asked whether the right to happiness was grounds for gay people to marry, and Santorum responded by asking whether she believed more than two people could have that right. "If you're not happy unless you're married to five other people, is that OK?" he asked, prompting boos from the audience.

So, you see, you're supposed to be outraged that Santorum engaged a student about the rational basis for marriage. And in order for that to work, you can't mention that during the exchange the woman eventually acknowledged that she supported group marriage. You certainly can never talk about what marriage is and arguments for keeping it as a procreative union. What's important, of course, is the booing. Now, if you watch the video of the exchange (embedded at the top of this post), you can detect booing after the applause. Why not mention the applause, I wonder? Anyway, I actually can't think of a better reminder of the weak reportage on same-sex marriage coming out of the Los Angeles Times in recent years than this piece.

Now, not all media outlets lost their mind attempting to cover an actual debate about whether to change marriage law.

ABC News did a much better job. The reporters tasked with the assignment of describing what happened knew that they needed to add little to the story to make it compelling. Compared to the Times piece, the ABC News team used a fraction of the adjectives.

I wonder if the press area of the event could only hear the booing, actually, because they also emphasized that and didn't mention the applause -- although the ABC video of the event (again, above) indicates otherwise. The Washington Post writeup -- which was also good, actually -- also failed to mention the applause. Actually, having watched the video once more, I realize that the applause was probably coming from the voters while the boos are probably coming from the kids. I don't know if that makes the focus on the booing better or worse. Anyway, here's just a portion of the exchange ABC News wrote up, beginning after one student said that marriage law should be based on everyone getting to do what makes them happy:

“What about three men?” he asked.

The student angrily answered, “That’s not what we are talking about!”

Santorum continued, but threatened to end the discussion, telling the crowd, “I’m going to give people one more chance and then we are going to move on. I’m going to ask the question again. If three people happen to get married based on what you just said, what makes that wrong and what you said right?”

“That’s irrelevant,” the student responded. “My personal opinion is, ‘Yeah go for it,’ but what I’m asking [is] for you [to] justify your belief and your high morals about all men created equal–”

At that point, Santorum cut off the student and, for the third time, asked, “What about three men?”

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” the student answered. “I’m talking about the basic right that you have with another woman.”

He then told the crowd that he wanted to “have a discussion about what that means … that marriage really means whatever you want it to mean.”

“I believe we’re made that way. God made men and woman to keep civilization and provide the best environment to raise children,” Santorum said. “I have no problem if people want to have relationships, but marriage provides a good to society. It’s unique because it is the union that causes children to be raised.”

Santorum added that “every child in America deserves” to know their mother and father.

“We deny children that birthright, then I think we are harming kids and society and not promoting what’s best,” Santorum added, before moving on to the next question.

When he wrapped up, several questions later, the crowd loudly booed him.

See, when you have a good story, you don't really need to add too much color. Again, the Washington Post piece mentioned above also did a good job with the story, as did the New York Times here, including some angles I hadn't seen covered before about Santorum's well-known remarks on Lawrence v. Texas.

Oh, and someone might want to mention to National Journal that Santorum is not "a white evangelical."

As always, when discussing the topic of same-sex marriage and Rick Santorum, let's try to keep the discussion on how journalists should handle a given topic and not argue for or against a candidate or position.

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