That Indiana 'religious freedom' bill just got even more controversial, and don't forget the scare quotes

CNN did not get the memo.

I voiced concerns Wednesday about the prevalence of the term "controversial" in news coverage of that Indiana religious freedom bill passed this week.

Specifically, I questioned whether that overused modifier — which the Associated Press Stylebook says to avoid — favors the opposition in a debate pitting religious freedom vs. gay rights.

But Wednesday night, a GetReligion reader alerted me that CNN had ignored my advice.

"Note the tweet and lede of this story," the reader wrote. "Incredible."

The tweet:

The lede:

Washington (CNN) Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is set to sign into law a measure that allows businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers in the name of "religious freedom."
The move comes as Pence considers a bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination — and just a year after Pence and socially conservative lawmakers lost their first policy battle against gay Hoosiers. In 2014 they had sought to amend Indiana's constitution to ban same-sex marriages — but were beaten back by a highly-organized coalition of Democrats, traditionally right-leaning business organizations and fiscally focused supporters of Pence's predecessor, former GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels.
This year, though, the Republican-dominated state House and Senate both approved the "religious freedom" bill, and Pence plans to sign it into law in a private ceremony Thursday, his spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday afternoon.
If Pence decides to mount a dark horse presidential bid -- which looks increasingly unlikely as candidates like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker court the same supporters he would need -- the "religious freedom" bill could give him a boost among GOP primary voters, especially in socially conservative states like Iowa.

Did you count the number of times the CNN political reporter used scare quotes on "religious freedom" in those first four paragraphs? (Three times, in case you didn't.)

Of course, the journalistic problem with the lede is the blatant editorialization favoring one side.

The converse would be a lede like this:

Washington (CNN) Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is set to sign into law a measure that prevents the government from trampling on the freedom of religion in the name of "gay rights."

As GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly pointed out Wednesday night, this is an issue on which the media seem to have a whole lot of trouble remaining impartial:

Is it possible to treat believers on both sides of these debates with respect, while quoting their beliefs accurately?
Again and again, we say "yes." The question is who is still trying to do so. Right, Bill Keller?

Earlier Wednesday, a Religion News Service national correspondent tweeted:

That tweet prompted this response from a former GetReligionista:

Is the Indiana measure a "religious freedom bill?" Is it an "anti-gay law?" Or is it a "religious objections bill" — as The Associated Press has deemed it?

All relevant questions, it seems to me.

But most crucial, for those who value a fair, unbiased press, is allowing both sides an equal opportunity to make their case. In the words of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics, journalists must "support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant."

Please, dear media, focus on providing balanced coverage that accurately reflects the true concerns and objections of everyone. For reporters wanting to understand the real fears of some Christians concerning their ability to live out their religious beliefs in America, Baptist Press just published a good backgrounder.

Paging Daniel Burke, Eric Marrapodi and all the other great CNN reporters with experience covering religion: Can you please make sure the right people get the memo this time?

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