TMatt has been looking at some of the larger issues of framing in coverage of Maine's vote to overturn a law legalizing same-sex marriage. But I'm also curious about some of the nitty gritty. I've been meaning to look at some of the coverage for days so let's begin with this pre-election story by the Washington Post's Karl Vick. The story explains the situation -- the legislature passed and the governor signed a bill to permit same-sex couples to marry and gets his perspective that the "libertarian" Maine will note vote to overturn that law. The campaign against same-sex marriage, we learn, is drawing heavily on its communications strategy from their successful fight over the same issue in California last year. And then this:
Proponents of same-sex marriage are also playing on Mainers' wariness of outsiders, calling attention to the California consultants and the volume of the "Yes-on-1" campaign from out of state.
Questions about the largest contributor have sparked an investigation by the state ethics commission and a court battle. The National Organization for Marriage, or NOM, has contributed $1.6 million to Stand for Marriage Maine but has declined to reveal its own contributors, despite a federal district court decision last week that it must do so under Maine law.
Okay, while the figure for the National Organization for Marriage is incorrect (they actually say they contributed $1.8 million to the Yes on One campaign), perhaps the true amount wasn't available at press time. But what I do find absolutely fascinating about this is that we don't learn anything about this campaign contribution in context of the battle itself. For instance, how much money did the "No" campaign raise? And how big was the entire Yes on One effort to overturn the state law permitting same-sex marriage? And how much money for both groups came from "outsiders"? I mean, I have several neighbors in DC who worked for months on this, some driving up to Maine to work on the effort and others just working on raising money from here. They were pro-same-sex marriage folks, but nowhere do we learn that outsiders were working to keep the law, much less how much of the work to keep the law came from outsiders.
It turns out that the National Organization for Marriage contributed most of the Yes on One campaign's resources. But more newsworthy, perhaps, is that the "No" campaign seems to have out-raised its opponents by 50 percent or so. See this more even-handed report from the Associated Press:
Both sides in Maine drew volunteers and contributions from out of state, but the money edge went to the campaign in defense of gay marriage, Protect Maine Equality. It raised $4 million, compared with $2.5 million for Stand for Marriage Maine.
See, that's helpful information. The Boston Globe, meanwhile, says both groups claim to have raised $4 million (although that's not true). While the Washington Post story does quote someone saying that same-sex marriage defenders had out-raised opponents two to one, no facts are included to substantiate the statement. Which brings me to another point. Check out this paragraph in the Post story about the National Organization for Marriage:
Some groups for gays say the organization is a stalking horse for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormons, which dominated fundraising in the California campaign. Many of the actors in a nationally televised ad produced by NOM, called "Gathering Storm," turned out to be Mormon activists.
Wow. Okay, so the allegation at play here is that the Mormons are deceiving everyone by operating this group without being up front about it. That is a very serious charge. Nowhere is it substantiated. I mean, I know that the National Organization for Marriage has at least one Mormon board member -- Orson Scott Card. But he's hiding in plain sight. I found out that information by surfing the NOM website myself. And what does it mean that "many" of the actors in a television ad "turned out to be" Mormon activists? I don't even know what that means, although it does sound scary. What, exactly, is a "Mormon activist"?
But if you have people making this claim, go ahead and name them and be specific about the charges of deception and, you know, maybe get a response from the church. While Vick did try (on a weekend, before an election) to reach the National Organization for Marriage to discuss the allegation, the church should also have been contacted. The allegation is denied by someone involved in the Maine political battle, for what it's worth. Perhaps with so little to substantiate the charge and apparently no time to contact the targets of the charge, it should have been dropped from the story altogether. It tarnishes both sides when allegations such as that aren't given a chance to be fully reported.
Anyway, the Washington Post pushes the claim that the National Organization for Marriage is a stalking horse for the Mormon Church. Which is quite different than what the New York Times says about it. I noticed it last week in Abby Goodnough's preview of the Maine fight. And here it is again in her "news analysis" TMatt mentioned earlier:
"It interrupts the story line that is being manufactured that suggests the culture has shifted on gay marriage and the fight is over," said Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, the conservative Christian group that is leading the charge against same-sex marriage around the country. "Maine is one of the most secular states in the nation. It's socially liberal. They had a three-year head start to build their organization, and they outspent us two to one. If they can't win there, it really does tell you the majority of Americans are not on board with this gay marriage thing."
Okay, did you catch how Goodnough describes the group? That's right, it's a "conservative Christian group." I have been following the coverage of same-sex marriage battles for a good year and a half now and it occurred to me that I had never once seen the National Organization for Marriage use religiously-based arguments in their campaign material. I know that Gallagher is married to a Hindu and I think she's Christian. I know, from the Washington Post profile of executive director Brian Brown that he's Catholic. But having Christians on staff doesn't necessarily make your organization a "conservative Christian group" or that means that my local grocery store is Christian. There has to be a reason for describing a group this way. And I'm not sure I see that reason. Go ahead and take a look around the group's website, review its public communications. Maybe it is a conservative Christian group -- I just see no evidence of that. I even looked over their IRS forms for evidence to support the claim, but the only mention of religion in any of their documents is their mission to protect all faith communities that sustain marriage. Indeed, religious liberty is a big part of their mission but that doesn't make the group itself religious anymore than it makes the ACLU religious.
But either way, I think the media need to get on the same page here. If the National Organization for Marriage is not what it claims to be (a nonprofit organization with a mission to protect marriage and the faith communities that sustain it) is it a "stalking horse" for the Mormon church or is it a "conservative Christian group"?
It's so interesting to me that so many of these stories about the Yes on 1 victory in Maine portray it as a loss for gay activists. But that similar focus isn't brought to bear on the scrutiny of the groups that are involved in the effort to legalize same-sex marriage. I mean, I'm on a bunch of denominational news list-servs and there were plenty of religious groups fighting this ballot initiative and working to keep same-sex marriage legal in Maine. Why don't they get the same scrutiny as the Mormons, who actually may have had no discernible role in the Maine campaign? It's just odd.