One of the big stories last week was whether the Supreme Court would hear cases regarding marriage law. The court hasn't said it will hear a marriage law case. But the coverage leading up to that was most telling. The person who sent along this Los Angeles Times story remarked that he'd never read a story with so much "yearning" in it:
Supreme Court decides this week whether to rule on gay marriage
Timing will be at issue as the justices confer. In the past, the court has been faulted for waiting too long or moving too quickly on recognizing constitutional rights.
You can begin to get the picture in the headline. Apparently the court's decision has already been made. It's just a question of whether they will wait too long or move too quickly -- or hit it just right in the middle -- when they "recognize" same-sex marriage as a constitutional right. Isn't that remarkable?
I'm always struck by how shallow the coverage of this rather foundational issue is. The issue in newsrooms today isn't about what the definition of marriage is or what it should be. Newsrooms are not about exploring consequences of changing marriage law, unintended or otherwise. Newsrooms are not about shining light on anything that might in any way cast doubt on whether marriage law should be changed to include same-sex couples.
They're about providing cheerleading coverage in favor of changing marriage law and negative coverage of those opposed to changing marriage law.
To be fair, many reporters have flat out admitted that they're not interested in doing journalism regarding marriage law so much as activism. That candor is appreciated. (More here, here, here, here.) But I do wish we had some brave journalists who would rather do journalism than pat themselves on the back about how awesome they are to all agree about changing marriage law. The one-note coverage is, I'm sure, fun and self-affirming within the newsroom, but much less fun to be subjected to as a news consumer. And I'm entirely skeptical about the overall benefit to civil society of journalists treating marriage law in such a manner.
The piece is fine, I guess, if you're down with the yearning and accept the premise that the court has already deliberated and decided the case. The reporter is a long-time Supreme Court beat guy so maybe he knows something we don't.
There was one line that made me think of something:
A federal judge in San Francisco struck down Proposition 8 as discriminatory and irrational.
I'm one of those nerds who likes to read court decisions for fun. That decision is a treasure trove of interesting information and well worth a read. For instance, as noted in the story above, the judge says that marriage as traditionally defined is irrational! If you can't write years' worth of stories about that, I'm surprised. He decreed that traditional marriage is "an artifact of a time when the genders were seen as having distinct roles in society and in marriage. That time has passed." In other places, he says that children don't need mothers. They're unnecessary to the well-being of the child. (Ditto for fathers, natch, all that matters is two adults, of any sex.) He devoted several pages of the to identifying religion as a prime source of anti-gay animus, listing examples from the Vatican and the Southern Baptist Convention, and noting that 84 percent of weekly churchgoers voted in favor of Prop 8.
It's amazing stuff, here. And yet there were precious few stories about many of these angles. Particularly few when it came to reflective pieces more than a day or two after the ruling.
I can't help but think that the same media that has written for approaching a full decade on one U.S. Senator's thoughts on a gay-related court case might have a tad more interest in the particulars of an important court ruling with implications for religious exercise, gender roles and kinship. But maybe that's just me.
There's still time for the court to say it's going to take up one of the cases. Let us know if you see any coverage that deviates from the expected narrative.