Biased framing: Here's why 'religious freedom' automatically means 'anti-LGBT' to this newspaper

Dallas Morning News writer Robert Wilonksy is no fan of Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas.

No fan at all.

In fact, Wilonsky wrote a scathing column last week in which he declared that "Robert Jeffress belongs in Dallas' past, not our future":

It’s appalling but never particularly surprising when First Baptist Dallas senior pastor Robert Jeffress says something about how the Catholics and the gays and the Muslims and the Mormons are ruining America and stripping Christians of their religious liberties. It’s who he is. It’s what he does. It’s how he makes his mammon.
Dallas has become a city that considers itself progressive and tolerant, where “gender identity and expression” are part of the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. We’re supposed to be enlightened now, no longer The City of Hate.
But Jeffress is the vestigial tail that forgot to fall off.
And usually, when Jeffress says things like President Barack Obama’s clearing the path for the Antichrist or that he agrees with Donald Trump that women who get abortions should be punishedor that “a competent Christian is better than a competent non-Christian,” his remarks rev up the Internet Comment Machine for a day or two and then fade away until the next time he says something you can’t believe someone would say in a major metropolitan city in 2016.
But not this time.
This time, activists are demanding city officials do something, say something.

Extremely strong words. And certainly appropriate ones for an editorial writer. We at GetReligion highlight slanted reporting and apparent bias in news coverage, not opinion content.

But what if the same writer who bashed Jeffress above also purported to produce impartial news coverage on the same subject matter?

Might anyone at the Dallas Morning News see a problem with that? A journalistic problem?

Mind-blowingly, the answer appears to be no.

See if you recognize the byline on the lead story on today's Metro & State cover:

If you squint, you'll notice that Jeffress is misspelled as "Jeffers" in the fifth paragraph. But that's a minor hiccup in the overall scheme of what's wrong with this news story.

In his editorial, the writer makes clear that he views Jeffress' perspective as "anti-gay." As one might expect, that makes it almost impossible for him to give Jeffress a fair hearing on the pastor's claim that this is actually a "religious freedom" issue.

If you're new to the framing issues that haunt so much major media coverage of this issue, check out these past GetReligion posts:

Back to the Morning News: Here's how Wilonsky summarizes — in the news story — what the writer obviously considers offensive speech:

Those calls came after senior pastor Robert Jeffress said this month that businesses pressuring lawmakers not to enact anti-LGBT laws are a greater “threat to freedom of religion in America” than the Islamic State.

But is Jeffress actually pushing "anti-LGBT" laws? Or is he voicing his support for "religious freedom?" Later in the story, the Morning News provides a fuller (although not totally complete) version of what Jeffress actually said:

In an online broadcast this month hosted by the Family Research Council, Jeffress said “the greatest threat to freedom of religion in America is not ISIS, it’s the chamber of commerce. I mean, it’s the businesses that say to our representatives, ‘Oh, don’t pass laws like that, don’t pass these religious freedom laws, because people will interpret that as anti-gay and we’ll lose business.’ ”

Although the Morning News story does not reflect it, Jeffress was speaking in regard to the controversy over transgender bathrooms in North Carolina, Texas and elsewhere. As I read what he said, he was not describing those laws as "anti-gay" but suggesting that some people — say Robert Wilonsky of the Dallas Morning News — would interpret them as such.

What is Jeffress' response to the controversy? What is his reaction to what the police chief said? The Morning News gives no indication that it attempted to contact him.

Of course, what would Wilonsky the news reporter say if he called? Perhaps something along the lines of: "Hi, this is Robert Wilonsky with the Dallas Morning News. I'm wondering if that bigoted, anti-gay pastor that I despise so much is available for comment. He can count on me to be fair and impartial."

Please don't misunderstand my point: This post is not about Robert Wilonsky. It's about the Dallas Morning News.

And the point is this: As long as editorial writers are allowed to report the news on controversial subjects on which they've taken a position, the Dallas paper's news pages will have no credibility.

No credibility at all.

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