Over the weekend, I did a post titled "Another one-sided AP same-sex marriage story." I complained, not for the first time, that The Associated Press seems to have decided that stories about same-sex marriage need to include only one side: the side excited about same-sex marriage.
My post prompted this comment from a gay-rights advocate who identified himself as Scott L:
Sounds like the AP is behaving like a responsible organization in 2013. Marriage equality is a reality in much of the country. Accept it.
I spiked that comment and a few others that railed against the gay-rights movement because they fell outside our policy for reader feedback:
Engage the contents of the post. This is a journalism weblog. Please strive to comment on journalism issues, not your opinions of the doctrinal or political beliefs of other people.
In a nutshell, as we've explained many times, GetReligion is a website that focuses on journalism and media coverage issues. We advocate for fair and accurate news reporting and identify ghosts in religion news coverage. But Scott L took to Twitter to accuse me of bias:
— Scott Lybrand (@scottlybrand) October 22, 2013
After I encouraged Scott to make his point with a clear journalistic focus, another reader (with whom I have had a few personal and professional ties over the years) chimed in:
— Greg Kendall-Ball (@gregkb) October 22, 2013
— Bobby Ross Jr. (@bobbyross) October 22, 2013
But as I explained, I couldn't have a serious discussion in 140-character bits on Twitter. And also, I was on deadline with my real job yesterday.
So here we are ... so I'll attempt to answer the questions.
First, on the notion that pro-gay comments get moderated or deleted. Yes, that's right. And so do anti-gay comments that have nothing do with journalism. This is not a site to advocate one side or the other. It's a site to discuss journalism. If you want to suggest that journalism needs to tell only one side of the story, do that and explain why in terms that make it clear you're not simply arguing the doctrinal or political issues.
Second, on Greg's question of whether it's disingenuous to require both sides of every story. There's nothing disingenuous at all about my contention that fair, responsible journalism should include voices on both (or all) sides of big, important public debates.
Do we ask the KKK to comment on NAACP stories? Not necessarily. But if you're writing about a KKK rally, yes, try to get a comment from the KKK. Sorry, folks, but that's journalism. Sometimes, we quote people with whom we vehemently disagree.
I've written 450-plus posts for GetReligion since 2010. I'd invite Scott or Greg or anyone else to send me any links to my posts that were advocacy on either side of an important issue and not advocacy for quality journalism.
For Scott and Greg, the debate over same-sex marriage may be over, and they may have strong opinions on which side is correct, which is certainly their right in a free country. But from a journalistic perspective, a responsible reporter can't make that determination.
The latest example that I'll use comes from Tennessee, where AP again seems to have decided to tell only one side of the story:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Four same-sex couples who were legally married in other states filed a lawsuit Monday challenging Tennessee's laws that prohibit recognition of their marriages.
The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Nashville, says Tennessee's laws violate the federal Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and due process, and "the constitutionally protected right to travel between and move to other states."
The U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. However, the court did not address state bans on same-sex marriage. Under the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, gay couples who are legally married in states that allow it can get the same federal benefits as married opposite sex couples.
In Tennessee, however, marriage between partners of the same gender is prohibited by state law and by a constitutional amendment approved in 2006. It says that for a marriage to be legal in the state, it must be between a man and a woman.
"All of our plaintiffs are people who were legally married in their states of residence," said Abby Rubenfeld, an attorney for the couples. "The federal government says it's OK ... then they move to Tennessee for job purposes, for whatever, and all of a sudden their marriage isn't recognized."
After including background on the plaintiffs, AP quotes a same-sex marriage advocate:
Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, a gay rights advocacy group, said he applauds the plaintiffs' effort because he is contacted every week by gay couples seeking legal recognition.
"We believe it's the first step in knocking down a huge barrier of discrimination in the state," he said.
OK, but how did Tennessee's same-sex marriage opponents respond? Why do they believe that the state should deny gay couples legal recognition? AP, once again, doesn't bother to quote anyone on the other side. (Seriously, has there been an internal AP memo to produce biased journalism on this issue?)
How might a quote from the other side look in a story such as this? This kind of quote from a USA Today story on the same lawsuit would be a start:
Officials with the Tennessee Attorney General's Office, which will defend the state against the lawsuit, said it was too early to comment. The lawsuit was filed in federal court here.
"As we have noted before, the Supreme Court's DOMA decision did not invalidate state laws regarding marriage," spokeswoman Sharon Curtis-Flair said.
As would this one:
David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, is one of the architects of the efforts to narrowly define marriage, a definition he says should stand in the state.
"California and New York had the right to define marriage as how their people saw fit, and so should the state of Tennessee," said Fowler, a former state senator. "The whole principal of federalism is that if one state has laws that are different than that of another state, then you are free to vote with your feet."
The USA Today story isn't perfect, but it at least gives the impression of journalism as opposed to, say, advocacy.
Hey AP, you might try it sometime.
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