Every so often, an article runs in a major publication that is so off base, so out of balance, that one wonders if the copy-desk team was on strike that day.
Such is a Los Angeles Times piece about a black activist who opposes gay marriage. The headline: “Christian activist decries ‘evil’ gay marriage with a honey-smooth voice.” Am I the only one out there to whom the “honey-smooth” adjective brings to mind something deceptive, fawning or false? Check this online thesaurus to see what I mean.
The article starts thus:
In a state where 86% of voters cast ballots for a ban on gay weddings in 2004, and where opposition is fierce to last week's Supreme Court ruling declaring same-sex marriage a constitutional right, Meeke Addison stands out from the fire-and-brimstone preachers and politicians usually associated with the fight against gay marriage.
Her view of marriage came from divorce. It was her mother's divorce, and according to family lore, it came after Addison's father handed his wife a pearl-handled pistol, told her to use it on anyone who tried to break into their apartment, and walked out.
Despite being left with five children to raise, Addison said, her mother trumpeted the value of marriage and instilled in her a passion for the institution that has turned Addison into one of Mississippi's most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage.
Addison is a 36-year-old black woman. She is not a preacher or a politician. Her views are as hard-line as theirs, and her words can be as harsh, but her voice is honey smooth, whether she is speaking on her weekday radio show, "Airing the Addisons," on a Christian-based network, or speaking on behalf of the American Family Assn., a national Christian group based in Tupelo.
Actually, maybe the copy desk was on vacation.
The lead (or lede as we say in newsroom-speak) included a style error (using the % sign instead of spelling it out per Associated Press rules) that even first-year journalism students know not to do. Back to the “honey-smooth” thing; would the writer have used that term with a black man or white woman? The phrase connotes Aunt Jemima-like Mammy figures in the South, who in slavery days used the phrases “honey” and “baby” to refer to white children under their care. But maybe that’s just me.
What follows is some stacking of the deck. By this, I mean certain phrases used that imply an unfavorable tilt to the person or thing being covered. In this instance, the reporter says that the folks usually associated with opposition to gay marriage are “fire-and-brimstone preachers and politicians.” Hmmm. Would the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops fit into that category?
Continuing on, we see the adjectives “hard-line” and “harsh” applied to Addison’s views. The reporter could have used words like “strict” or “no-nonsense” or “stern;” words that are a tad more neutral.
Moving on, the article states:
Addison sees no contradiction in the idea of a young black woman being so solidly in sync with right-wing conservatives on one of the country's most divisive social issues.
Whoa. “Right-wing conservatives”? In a news story? Put such a phrase into an editorial if you will, but not in something that’s supposed to be objective. Would the Times term the opposing point of view as held by “left-wing liberals”?
I get it that the reporter is trying to spotlight an unusual person who is articulate and may have something a little different to offer on same-sex marriage. But the way this piece is set up, Addison comes across as a specimen found in a museum or zoo, rather than a very, very typical African-American religious believer.
It turns out that Meeke Addison has made quite a name for herself in that she blogs, has her own radio show and shows up on TV every so often. People in flyover land do have something to say, they represent lots of people and they don't need to be treated like a rare species.
Even the church folks with honey-smooth voices.