What is this? Long on excitement, short on attribution, USA Today declares gay marriage 'inevitable'


As faithful readers know, GetReligion advocates the traditional American model of the press.

That model relies on journalists presenting facts — attributed to named sources — in a fair, unbiased manner. That's opposed, of course, to the one-sided, advocacy, European-styled approach to reporting the news.

Which leads us a 1,700-word item today from USA Today with this provocative headline:

Gay marriage, once inconceivable, now appears inevitable

Care to guess which journalistic approach this "news" story by the national newspaper's Supreme Court correspondent takes?

To help answer that question, count (1) the number of named sources in the story's breathless first five paragraphs and (2) the number of unattributed opinions better suited for an editorial than a straight news report:

WASHINGTON — As the Supreme Court prepares to decide the future of same-sex marriage — an institution described as "newer than cellphones or the Internet" by one justice last year — two things are clear.

Despite this year's breathtaking string of lower court victories, the battle for marriage equality hasn't been swift or easy. To the lawyers who devised the legal strategy decades ago, the journey has been arduous, the setbacks plentiful and the battle scars deep.

And even after the high court rules — most likely by striking down state bans on gay marriage at the end of its term in June — the fight won't be over. Another clash looms over the issue of religious freedom.

Same-sex marriage's transformation from impossible dream decades ago to all but inevitable today has been, by most accounts, unprecedented. First legalized in the Netherlands in 2001, gay and lesbian marriages have spread to 19 countries and 19 states.

As they stand at the precipice — with the high court delaying any decision Thursday but likely to accept one or more cases later this month — the movement's founders insist it's a cause whose time has come.

Eventually, though, USA Today gets around to direct quotes from named sources. Of the eight named sources, guess how many speak in favor of gay marriage and how many voice concerns? (Six supporters and two opponents would be the correct answer.) In all, 11 of the 14 paragraphs of direct quotes in the story lean to the pro-gay-marriage side.

As the lede reflects, the story does address religious freedom — an issue of concern to many traditional marriage advocates, even those who, like USA Today, see the overturning of gay marriage bans as inevitable:

Standing in the breach are the same steadfast opponents who have defended the states' prohibitions for two decades. They have not given up hope that the justices will come down on the side of states' rights. But even if they lose, they promise more battles to come between gay rights and religious rites.
"There's a ton that will happen on religious liberty. We're already preemptively moving in this direction," says Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. "The other side wants to push religious liberty into the four walls of a church."

But even here, USA Today gives short shrift to traditional marriage advocates as it fails to explain the meaning — and ramifications — of the "four walls of a church" statement. 

What is this: a news story or an extended op-ed? Once again, that's the pesky question.

Image via Shutterstock.com

Please respect our Commenting Policy