All too often, Associated Press articles look like those paint-by-the-numbers pictures. Especially articles about same-sex marriage, like one this week.
Pro-gay viewpoint? (paint, paint) Got that colored in.
Conservative labeling? (brush, brush) Got that one.
Touch of ad hominem? (dab, dab) Got that, too.
This time it was Louisiana's turn, with a U.S. district judge upholding the state's ban on same-sex marriage.
AP follows the template in rendering the decision as "a rare loss for gay marriage supporters who had won more than 20 consecutive rulings overturning bans in other states." Not as, say, a rare victory for supporters of the historic understanding of marriage.
The story also brings out a law professor at Loyola New Orleans, who said "she didn't see the ruling as a significant road block." Even if the ruling is upheld on appeal, it will affect "only" three states -- Texas and Mississippi as well as Louisiana.
In one case, AP even appears to contradict its own cited source. Watch this.
It's likely the Texas case will be the first to go to the 5th Circuit, and cases elsewhere likely will reach the Supreme Court before Louisiana's, said Professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia. Nevertheless, he said, Feldman's ruling is significant.
"It is important, because Feldman is a very experienced federal district judge, and no other federal judge has ruled that way at the trial level," Tobias said in a telephone interview. Feldman was appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.
See what they did there? First, they note dutifully that Feldman is regarded as an experienced judge. Then they try to sap his ruling by pointing out who appointed him: Reagan, whose very name in mainstream media is a synonym for conservatism. Bottom line: Ideology taints the judge's judgment.
AP paints more dots in the obligatory activist reaction section. First up is the president of "the conservative Louisiana Family Forum." Then comes the chairwoman of "Forum for Equality Louisiana." As I've said before, conservative groups always get the adjective, liberal groups usually don’t. It's a clear hint on which group supposedly bears closer scrutiny.
Not that this article totally shuns decent info. Here are two facts I hadn't seen in other stories on the topic:
Feldman said the Supreme Court decision "correctly discredited" the Defense of Marriage Act's effect on New York law legalizing same-sex unions. But he also noted language in the decision outlining the states' historic authority to recognize and define marriage.
He also said that neither the Supreme Court nor the 5th Circuit has defined gay people as a protected class in discrimination cases.
"In light of still-binding precedent, this Court declines to fashion a new suspect class. To do so would distort precedent and demean the democratic process," Feldman wrote.
Two relevant datapoints, no? The U.S. Supreme Court has made marriage a state's-right issue. It has also never made gays a "protected class." Both are valuable to remember as same-sex marriage climbs through federal legal layers.
The article also cites the judge, at least twice, for recognizing that Louisiana is just one state among many that are still grappling with such issues. After stating Louisiana's right to define marriage, as other states do, Feldman humbly acknowledges that his is "but one studied decision among many."
Finally, AP hits the clips, noting that same-sex marriage is under appeal in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, and that it's been OKd in Utah, Virginia and Oklahoma (but put on hold pending appeals in other states). All quite helpful and informative.
In sum, the Associated Press still seems to feel the need for a template -- but it does occasionally color outside the lines.