What we have here is a Nixon-goes-to-China case of media bias analysis. In the new "Look Left" column in The New Republic, Jonathan Chait challenges the basic template that most newsrooms are using as they cover the ongoing same-sex marriage story.
The working assumption is that President Bush is, by backing a marriage amendment, throwing red meat to his religious conservative base and, by doing so, risking the loss of millions of moderate swing voters. This assumes that there are legions of voters who are basically Libertarian -- conservative on economics, but with liberal moral views. Here is what that template looks like in print:
"It's a cardinal rule of politics," The New York Times declared in a front-page story last week. "Pay attention to the party's base. In recent weeks, on a variety of fronts, President Bush has done just that. ... His impassioned endorsement on Tuesday of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, after weeks of intensive lobbying by social conservatives, was the culmination of this rapprochement. But will he pay a price with the centrist voters who so often decide presidential elections, as the Democrats hope?" USA Today chimed in, "Bush's support of a proposed amendment had long been sought by conservative Christians, who are among the Republican Party's most loyal supporters." And the Post story quoted above asserted, "So when gay marriages advanced in Massachusetts and San Francisco, Bush felt a need to respond to the cries of social conservatives--even if it meant losing some swing voters he needs in November."
But what if there was evidence that there were still lots of people from the old Democratic coalition -- Hispanic Catholics, for example, or black Protestants or even labor folks of many ethnic varieties -- who are progressive on economics and conservative on cultural issues? Few journalists, notes Chait, seem to have considered this option. Why is that? Perhaps it is a matter of class. Perhaps it is a matter of religion. Whatever it is, Time magazine is singing the same song:
... (The) voters that Time is referring to -- i.e., upper income, socially moderate, economically conservative folks -- don't make up the entire swing vote or even the largest portion of it. A larger bloc of swing voters has essentially the opposite sensibility -- culturally traditional and economically populist. "The greatest bloc of contested voters watching politics from a distinct perspective is noncollege and blue-collar America," writes Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg in his new book The Two Americas. "These are the voters for whom church and faith are important and who think values and family are under pressure too."
Chait says this is all a "perfect case study" of how socioeconomic assumptions influence what happens in newsrooms. Maybe. But perhaps this is another case study that illustrates a genuine lack of diversity in mainstream journalism when it comes to religion and "traditional" ways of thinking. Perhaps we need more journalists who -- at least at the professional and intellectual level -- "get religion." Here's Chait again:
It's not hard to understand why the national media fails to grasp the continued strength of cultural traditionalism: In Washington and New York, where many journalists dwell, gay marriage is an increasingly mainstream proposition. Unfortunately, in most of the country, it's not. And, even if the media doesn't realize this, it's a good bet Karl Rove does.