Surprise! Herald's Gay South Florida section isn't into balanced coverage of adoption debate

According to that Gallup LGBT population survey that is getting so much news media attention right now, the population of that long stretch of concrete, sand and palm trees running from West Palm Beach to Miami is 4.2 percent gay. Thus, the greater South Florida area is America's 17th ranking urban zone in terms of percentage of gay population -- 10 slots lower than (who would have thunk it) Salt Lake City.

Is that percentage surprisingly low, in terms of the region's image and clout in gay culture? Quite frankly, speaking as a former resident of West Palm Beach, that No. 17 ranking did surprise me.

The region is also, of course, known as a rather secular region, even with it's large Jewish population. Still an older survey found -- back in 2002 or so -- that just a whisker under 40 percent of people in South Florida were affiliated with a religious congregation, with 61 percent of the affiliated Catholic, 14 percent Jewish and 9 percent Southern Baptist.

So, if you were a newspaper editor in the region's big city, would you be operating a special Gay South Florida news section to serve that slice of the population? Obviously the answer is "yes." But why would you -- in terms of image and clout -- be operating that news operation and not one about, oh, Jewish news? Or, statistically speaking, Latino Pentecostal (Catholic and Protestant) news?

And if you were Miami Herald editor, would you assign basic news coverage of a very hot-button religious-liberty issue linked to gay rights to the staff of Gay South Florida? As opposed to a mythical news section called, oh, Judeo-Christian South Florida?

Believe it or not, the answer appears to be "yes." And if you made this editorial decision, what would one expect the coverage to look like in terms of balance and fairness? Might the lede on a major news story end up looking like this?

One week after Florida’s first openly gay lawmaker announced the state might finally strike its unconstitutional 1977 gay adoption ban, conservatives have quietly crafted a legislative amendment that would allow private agencies to deny adoptions based on “religious or moral convictions.”

“Make no mistake: This proposal is political revenge against the move led by Rep. David Richardson,” Tony Lima, executive director of South Florida LGBT-rights group SAVE, said in an email to the Miami Herald. “It’s a shame that some in Florida’s legislature would vote to sanction prejudice, because discrimination in any form is wrong -- and capable, loving prospective parents should have the opportunity to adopt children regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, race, political views, or marital status.”
On Thursday, the House Health & Human Services Committee approved a plan “to allow private child-placing agencies to object to performing, assisting in, recommending, consenting to, or participating in the placement of a child if a placement violates the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.” Twelve Republicans voted for, six Democrats against.

Now, if the goal is basic journalism, readers would expect to see the Herald and its Gay South Florida staff members to produce -- as they should -- quite a bit of material based on actual interviews with articulate, qualified spokespersons for the LGBT community and its political and legal supporters. That's crucial. That's journalism.

But would you expect these same journalists to do the same with supporters of this amendment? Yes, you would expect to see quotations and arguments drawn from actual interviews with legislators, legal experts and activists on that side of the story?

Yes, you would expect that. But not from the editors of the Herald, it seems. Yes, we're talking about yet another Kellerism outbreak.

This article does include some material representing traditional religious groups -- drawn from printed documents and online sources, only. For example:

Bill supporters cite the example of Catholic Charities of Boston, which chose to leave the adoption business in 2006 rather than abide by Massachusetts’ tough anti-discrimination laws.

“In 2006, Catholic Charities of Boston stopped providing adoption services based on a conflict between church teaching and state law. Like Florida, to participate in adoption placements in Massachusetts, whether or not the agency receives state funding, the child-placing agencies must be licensed. However, Massachusetts law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation,” reads the committee summary. “Catholic Charities Chair of the Board of Trustees explained, “In spite of much effort and analysis, Catholic Charities of Boston finds that it cannot reconcile the teaching of the Church, which guides our work, and the statutes and regulation of the Commonwealth.”

Later on, there is even a quotation representing the views of a conservative supporter of the amendment -- but the quote is actually drawn, second-hand, from an interview with an openly gay politician who is leading the opposition.

Later on, the Herald's Gay South Florida team quotes another amendment supporter, but, once again, note the source:

John Stemberger, president and general counsel of the conservative Florida Family Policy Council in Orlando, on Friday issued an open letter to the Legislature “regarding Florida’s law prohibiting homosexual adoptions.”
Stemberger asserts that despite the South Florida appeals court ruling in 2010 that declared the gay-adoption ban unconstitutional, the statute stands and that another appeals court in Florida could side with the 1977 Legislature. “It’s very possible that another legal appeal in a more conservative court venue could produce a different result upholding Florida’s long standing prohibition on homosexual adoption,” Stemberger writes.

Once again let me stress that the article's long passages drawn from real interviews with gay-rights supporters are not the issue here. That's journalism. Real journalists get out there and talk to real people and then strive to represent their views accurately.

Was that too much to ask with both sides in this case? I mean, do people at the Herald think that it's dangerous or unethical or something to do real interviews with people on the other side of this story? Or perhaps there will be a follow-up story from the staff working with the Judeo-Christian South Florida news team?

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