Handling the truth

Like many of you, I've been recreationally following the Proposition 8 trial. (Unlike many, this has not been a religious endeavor for me.) Testimony concluded yesterday, with the judge saying he needs about two months to review the evidence before issuing a verdict on the constitutionality of California's voter-approved measure banning gay marriage. The Los Angeles Times reports that proponents of gay marriage are encouraged that they'll win at the trial level and that Prop. 8 supporters seem resigned to prevailing down the road. You can read that article here. But what might be more interesting is to compare the ways LAT scribe Maura Dolan covered testimony from the trial. Did she give experts for both sides the same shake?

Before answering this, we need to agree on a standard for measuring coverage. One reader suggested I count paragraphs devoted to direct examination, which is generally favorable, to those regarding cross-examination, which generally is not.

I'll start by disregarding Dolan's article Tuesday about testimony from Kenneth P. Miller, an expert for Prop. 8 supporters, because it focused only on what Miller said under cross-examination. What about the article that followed yesterday?

In this, Dolan rehashes Miller's testimony, though the focus is on David Blankenhorn, founder of the Institute for American Values. The count: Of the piece's 13 paragraphs, not including the two lede graphs, three paragraphs go to Blankenhorn's direct examination and only two to his cross-examination:

After testifying that marriage was designed for two heterosexual parents to bear and raise children, Blankenhorn said he decided during the last two years to support domestic partnerships for gays and lesbians as a "humane compromise."

He said he previously had feared domestic partnerships would undermine marriage and discriminate against gays, but concluded that they were more legalistic arrangements than marriage.

Under cross-examination by David Boies, an attorney for challengers of the ballot measure, Blankenhorn admitted he knew of no study that showed children reared by gay couples fared worse than those raised by heterosexual parents.

Blankenhorn also conceded that same-sex marriage would probably "improve the well-being of gay and lesbian households and their children."

But the article also tacks on five paragraphs, a third of the story, to the previously reported cross-examination of Miller.

How does this compare to Dolan's articles focusing on expert witnesses for supporters of gay marriage? (This gay-marriage friendly article about religion's role in Prop. 8's passage doesn't count because it deals with evidence admitted but not witnesses actually taking the stand.) In "Psychologist testifies on 'remarkable similarities' of gay and straight couples," six paragraphs were about direct examination of an expert for gay marriage supporters and eight concerned cross-examination.

Dolan it appears generally focused more energy on the tough questions asked during cross-examination -- of the witnesses for both sides, not just one. To that we should say: well done.

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