I’ve been following the career of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore for some 18 years, ever since I visited him at the Etowah County courthouse in the summer of 1997. He was a circuit court judge at that point and he had posted copies of the Ten Commandments on the walls of his courtroom plus he opened all court sessions with prayer. One might think that anyone standing trial there would want all the inspirational help they could get, but the American Civil Liberties Union sued him for the prayers and for posting the commandments.
Moore fought them off and in 2000 ran an uphill battle to become the state’s chief justice. His victory didn’t get much publicity because of the Bush vs. Gore battle that dominated the news at the end of the year. However, he was removed from office in 2003 but reelected to the position nine years later.
The story of all that has been told elsewhere but one thing Moore has made clear during his entire career is his opposition to anything having to do with gay marriage. Last February, one day before a federal court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in Alabama, he instructed his probate judges to disregard the ruling. This created quite a bit of confusion, as you can imagine, and we took a look at the mainstream news coverage of that here.
Moore was overruled by the feds, yet this week he again issued an order to probate judges not to conduct homosexual marriages on the grounds that a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court from last March is still in effect. I spent part of Wednesday scrutinizing several national newspapers’ coverage of this latest move and have been amazed at how all of them quoted Moore’s opponents without even an attempt to balance the story.
Again, as my colleague Jim Davis has already noted, this is nothing new when it comes to reporting on Moore. Apparently this is a story in which there is only one point of view worthy of accurate, informed coverage.
At the bottom of the barrel was this CBS report that talked about the judge’s 25-year-old son pleading not guilty to drug charges while his dad was ruling against gay marriage.
TROY, Ala. -- Just as news emerged that his son pleaded not guilty to drug charges, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore demanded the state's probate judges don't allow gay people to marry -- yet again.
Moore made headlines last year in his efforts to block same-sex marriage in Alabama after the landmark Supreme Court ruling made it the law of the land. It appears he has not abandoned the cause.
It’s one thing to oppose the man himself, but going after his son? In the same article? Caleb Moore's arrest was 10 months ago. Someone please send the folks at CBS a handbook on journalistic ethics.
The NPR story was better, but did not answer one important question: If the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for same-sex marriage last June, why did Roy Moore wait nearly seven months to issue his ruling?
The Wall Street Journal’s law blog included the obligatory Southern Poverty Law Center quote but at least tried to explain what Moore’s reasoning could be. The Atlantic did an even better job of parsing the legal issues by explaining how a speech by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have influenced Moore.
The Montgomery Advertiser went into a lot of detail about Moore’s reasoning and quoted probate judges, attorneys and various groups on both sides of the question. The Huntsville Times also put together a cogent explanation although they could have included at least one quote from someone supporting Moore. A lot of Alabama residents voted for Moore in 2012. It can't be too hard to find one.
The bottom line: The state media was a lot better than what was available in other national media. The New York Times said in part:
On Wednesday, Chief Justice Moore, who is among the country’s most prominent religious conservatives, argued, in part, that probate judges should not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of a State Supreme Court decision that upheld Alabama’s marriage prohibitions. The conflicting decisions in Washington and Montgomery, the chief justice wrote, led to “confusion and uncertainty” among Alabama’s probate judges about how to apply the federal court’s opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, which established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
You had to read elsewhere to find out that the state supreme court decision was last March.
The Times rounded up five activists, judges or lawyers who disagree with Moore. They did not print any quotes from sources agreeing with Moore, which brings to mind the Times’ propensity what GetReligion has termed “Kellerism.” That’s the unofficial Times practice that avoids balanced reporting on moral, religious and cultural issues -- including homosexuality -- because the opposition isn’t even worth quoting. Terry Mattingly called out the Times a year ago over its Kelleristic treatment of Moore. Plus ça change, plus c'est le même chose.
A Washington Post story on the decision didn’t lean as heavily against Moore, but if you’re going to quote the ACLU, it’d help to at least try to get a quote from legal experts backing Moore. There’s a ton of conservative legal groups out there, including the Montgomery-based Foundation for Moral Law. Phone number is (334) 262-1245. Give them a call.
And none of the media organizations did what I thought would be the obvious: What did the GOP presidential candidates think about all this? Reporters could have tied some of those candidates in knots on this one. Missed opportunity, folks.