Icing on the cake: Tasty coverage on bakery fined $135,000 in religious freedom vs. gay rights case


Wedding cakes — specifically wedding cakes for same-sex couples — are making headlines again.

In the past, we've discussed the "frame game" as it relates to how news organizations characterize these cases pitting religious freedom vs. gay rights:

Here's the journalistic issue, related to framing: Is "deny service" or "refuse service" really the right way to describe what occurs when a baker declines to make a cake for a same-sex wedding?
Or does such wording favor one side of a debate pitting gay rights vs. religious freedom?

So let's consider how the media covered the latest case making news, starting with The Associated Press:

The AP's lede:

PORTLAND, Ore. — An administrative law judge proposed Friday that the owners of a suburban Portland bakery pay $135,000 to a lesbian couple who were refused service more than two years ago.

Sorry, but that lede doesn't cut it.

Why not? Because it reflects only one side of the debate: the gay rights side. It ignores the religious freedom claim (although readers do learn those details as they keep reading the AP story).

Next up: Reuters:

Reuters' lede:

An Oregon judge has ruled that the owners of a Portland-area bakery who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple should pay the couple $135,000 in damages, state officials said Tuesday.

Sorry, but that lede doesn't cut it either. 

Why not? Again, it fails to reflect the religious freedom claim.

But the second lede is better than the first in this respect: Rather than use a generic statement like "refused service," Reuters specifies that the bakery "refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple." 

Last up: The Oregonian:

The Portland newspaper's lede:

The lesbian couple turned away by a Gresham bakery that refused to make them a wedding cake for religious reasons should receive $135,000 in damages for their emotional suffering, a state hearings officer says.

That lede may not be perfect, but it's certainly adequate. It supplies the facts. It reflects both sides.

In fact, The Oregonian's story does a nice job overall of treating the subject matter in an evenhanded, impartial manner and giving all sides a voice.

Leading up to the judge's ruling, The Oregonian produced a related story interviewing a handful of Portland-area bakers and florists on the issue: 

Some tasty journalistic icing from that Oregonian cake:

Seri Lopez is a cake artist and designer who works out of her home in the Stafford area, near Lake Oswego. She's been in business since 2005 as sole proprietor of SeriousCake.com.
Like Aaron and Melissa Klein, the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, she is a Christian.
"I do have my beliefs," Lopez said. "I know what the Lord says about gay marriage, but it's not for me to judge. As a business owner, you have to serve everybody.
"Should I tell someone who's lying, stealing or committing adultery that I'm not going to serve them? It has nothing to do with sugar, flour and eggs."
Lopez said she has prepared cakes for many gay clients' weddings, birthdays and other special occasions.
She understands the emotional investment involved - on both sides - when a couple selects someone to bake a cake to celebrate their wedding. And, she said, she understands why people who oppose same-sex marriages - not just Christians, but people of other faiths - might hesitate to prepare a cake for a gay wedding.
"People are making a covenant between the person they are marrying and God, and they (the baker) are blessing that recognition of matrimony," Lopez said. "If it's against their beliefs, they wouldn't want to put their blessing on it."
Lopez knows the Kleins and considers Melissa a friend. She said it's been sad to see the couple vilified on social media.
"I can't believe what happened to Aaron and his wife," she said. "I see people's hate against this family. As a society, we're like dogs. We're attacking and there's no stopping. Where's the fairness?"

Amid an ongoing debate such as this, it's easy for a news organization to focus on the talking heads and familiar arguments. As a result, the coverage becomes predictable and stale.

Kudos to The Oregonian for taking the initiative to interview real people on the front lines and produce a story that is interesting and enlightening.

Please respect our Commenting Policy