The Associated Press' quick-hit, 800-word coverage Tuesday night concerning the Alabama Supreme Court halting same-sex marriage licenses in that state seemed relatively straightforward and factual. It read like an unbiased news report.
"Bias" is, of course, contrary to AP's stated news values and principles.
Alas, AP's second-day, 1,000-word coverage Wednesday had a different look and feel than the breaking news. It read like advocacy masquerading as straight news.
Let's start at the top of the Day 2 report:
Alabama's stand against same-sex marriage regained ground Wednesday after the state's highest court ruled that its ban remains legal, despite federal court pressure to begin issuing licenses to gays and lesbians. But advocates said they're not giving up either — and that the justices in Montgomery will find themselves on history's losing side.
The Alabama Supreme Court ordered county probate judges to uphold the state ban pending a final ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears arguments in April on whether gay couples nationwide have a fundamental right to marry and whether states can ban such unions.
Stuck between the state's highest court and a series of federal rulings, many probate judges were at a loss early Wednesday. Mobile County, one of the state's largest, initially announced that it wouldn't issue licenses to anyone, straight or gay.
By mid-day, gay rights advocates couldn't find a single county still granting licenses to same-sex couples.
Dean Lanton said he and his partner, Randy Wells, had planned to wed in Birmingham on Aug. 12, the anniversary of their first date, but now might have to get married out of state because of the decision.
"It was a punch in the gut. It was out of the blue," said Lanton, 54. "It's just Alabama politics, deja vu from the 1960s."
After (1) Lanton, AP proceeds to quote directly (2) a Democratic county probate judge skeptical about the ruling, (3) the chairman of an Alabama gay-rights group who pledges a continued fight, (4) an attorney for a lesbian couple who challenged the state's ban on gay marriage and (5) the legal director of the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent gay-rights organization.
Anybody picking up a theme here?
Not until three-fourths of the way into the story does AP get around to quoting anyone on the other side: a county probate judge who posted on his Facebook page that he's "saddened for my nation that the word 'marriage' has been hijacked by couples who cannot procreate."
What about the Southern Baptist group that asked for the Alabama Supreme Court ruling (in a state with an estimated 1.2 million Southern Baptists and 2 million total evangelicals out of an overall population of 4.8 million)?
No worries: AP includes an entire sentence on them near the bottom of the story:
The Southern Baptist-affiliated Alabama Citizens Action Program and the Alabama Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, had asked for Tuesday's ruling, "concerned about the family and the danger that same-sex marriage will have," said Joe Godfrey, executive director of ACAP.
That quote was a shortened version of the statement that AP included in its first-day story:
"We are concerned about the family and the danger that same-sex marriage will have. It will be a devastating blow to the family, which is already struggling," Godfrey said.
Apparently, no such tightening of a quote from a lesbian couple's attorney was needed. His full quote appears in both stories — and up much higher than the Baptist quote on the second day:
"The Alabama Supreme Court has now demonstrated a willingness to defy and nullify a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the federal district court for the southern district of Alabama," said David Kennedy, who represented the couple whose case resulted in Granade's ruling.
In all, the Day 2 report contains 186 words of direct quotes supporting the same-sex marriage cause and 35 words of direct quotes from proponents of traditional marriage between one man and one woman.
If AP really abhors "bias" in its news reporting, it needs to a do a whole lot better job of showing it.