Plain or with bias? CNN's reporting on gays and law reveal contradictions

I was just about to hand a bouquet to CNN for a sensitive video about the Indiana pizzeria that closed under a barrage of pro-gay hate. But I feel more like serving them bad anchovies after seeing its shallow, irresponsible coverage in Georgia.

In one video, CNN takes a close look at Memories Pizza in Indiana and interviews the owner, and looks into how this matter of individual rights mushroomed into verbal violence. In the other video (shared with us by a reader who calls herself TheAnchoress), a CNN reporter ambushes five florists in rural Georgia with a "gotcha" question: "If you had gay customers come in here to buy flowers, and they said, 'We want you to come do our commitment ceremony' -- marriages are not allowed in this state yet -- would you do it?"

But OK, the nice one first. CNN's follow-up tells some of the travails of the O'Connor family after they gave their opinion on catering gay weddings.

"Social media unloaded on the pizzeria ... many too vulgar to share," CNN says. The network also reports the tweet by one Jessica Dooley to burn the place down. Adds the network: "Detectives who investigated have recommended charges of harassment, intimidation and threats."

The story also highlights tweets and Facebook posts in support of the pizza parlor. One calls the harassment "cyber bullying" and a "lynch mob." Another says how ironic it is to threaten in the name of tolerance.

CNN then reports on a GoFundMe campaign to compensate the O'Connors for their loss: donations of $842,387 in three days.  The network also does an on-air interview with Lawrence Billy Jones II, a commentator on the Dana Loesch Show, who launched the fund drive.

In the accompanying video, CNN's Brooke Baldwin asks if the O'Connors would, indeed, decline to cater a gay wedding. Jones says they would, but he's allowed to qualify that they would serve gays who sat down in their restaurant.

While it's a big step beyond much of its competition, the CNN report has a few flaws.

First, there's this odd lede: "Standing up for what you believe. What does it cost you? What do you gain?" As if the O'Connors wanted or even planned this conflict in the hope of coming out ahead.

Second as tmatt said on Thursday, the O'Connors didn't volunteer their views. It was WBND-TV, a CNN affiliate, that asked the O'Connors.

Third, CNN overreaches in saying, "But for every tweet and Facebook post taking Memories Pizza to task were words of support and a groundswell of financial support." The network doesn't try to show that the level of support equaled the opposition.

Finally, the network doesn't report that Jess Dooley coached golf, basketball and softball at a high school -- and was suspended after her "burn down" tweet.

Still, I admired CNN for the close look at the damage pro-gay pressure can do to a business. That's something, as I noted on Friday, that the Washington Post missed in its ostensibly business-oriented story.

But my admiration wilted when I saw that second CNN video, a report tainted in its very title: "Claiming Freedom, Shunning Gay People."

The network's Gary Tuchman descends on Jeff Davis County, Ga., ahead of the planned religious-freedom bill being considered in that state. Tuchman asks five florists if they would serve gay weddings. When they say no, he grills them. With one, he asks if it's unloving to decline the job. With another, he asks if she would serve an adulterer. When she says yes, he asks why.

"Their sentiments, of course, are very offensive to many," Tuchman says (without actually saying anything; after all, the beliefs wouldn't be offensive to many others). He then moves to a pro-gay demonstration in Atlanta and interviews one of its activists.

That gives him a golden opportunity to ask more adversarial questions. You know like, "Should gay rights trump the First Amendment?" Or "Should it be the law to be forced to cater to people if you don’t want to?" Or maybe, "What if a gay florist or food service were asked to cater a fundamentalist rally?"

You're probably way ahead of me. Tuchman asks no such thing. He allows the gay leader to have his say, without a whisper of contradiction.

"CNN likes the witchhunt so much, it's going out of its way to find Christians to expose," TheAnchoress fumes. "Good job, CNN. Looking for more Christians to put out of business and into danger."

Myself, I'm not so baleful about CNN. The network, after all, did a respectful follow-up of the pizzeria and the fallout. And as the Columbia Journalism Review says, it was the "liberal-leaning outlets" like Huffpost and Mother Jones that did the distortions, "with little or no additional reporting." (Hat tip to my friend Jeffrey Weiss for finding the article).

I think the two CNN videos form a microcosm of American journalism's schizoid nature. On the one hand, newspeople want to anchor their stories in facts on the ground. On the other, they want to promote tolerance -- at least their notion of it -- and stand on the "right" side of history. And often, the former is swallowed by the latter.

But after seeing what irresponsible reporting did to the O'Connors and their family business, CNN should have been especially careful in producing the next such report. And in my opinion, they were less careful in Georgia. This time, CNN can't say their approach was half-baked.


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