Journalism 101 lesson: What's wrong with this story on challenged Mississippi law?

If you read GetReligion regularly, you know that we advocate a traditional American model of the press.

Under that model, journalists report news in a fair, impartial manner with statements of fact attributed to named sources.

When a news organization frames a story in such a way that clearly favors one side, it obviously fails to meet that standard.

Such is the case with Reuters' slanted coverage this week of a judge's decision concerning a challenged Mississippi law:

Did Mississippi, in fact, pass an "anti-LGBT law?" That is one side's perspective. But the other side argues that the measure is, in fact, a religious liberty law.

GetReligion has, of course, written about the Mississippi debate a time or two. Or three or four. Or, well, you get the idea.

So the Reuters headline immediately frames the issue in a manner that favors the gay-rights side — as opposed to the religious liberty side. That is not fair, impartial journalism.

Here we go again, in other words:

What about the Reuters story itself? Is it any more balanced than the headline?

Let's start at the top:

A federal judge in Mississippi has allowed to stand a new state law that permits people to deny wedding services to same-sex couples based on religious objections.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves argued in his four-page order that since none of the lawsuit's plaintiffs would be harmed by the law in the immediate future, a preliminary injunction would be inappropriate.
"Here, none of the plaintiffs are at imminent risk of injury," Reeves wrote.

That lede actually isn't terrible, in that it specifies that the law relates to denying "wedding services" based on "religious objections." We've highlighted other stories that portray such laws as allowing businesses to "refuse service" to same-sex couples but fail to provide adequate context on the type of service or the reason why (religious beliefs).

Still, that lede is slanted. Why not write it this way?

A federal judge in Mississippi has allowed to stand a new state law that affirms the religious freedom of people to exercise their conscience in deciding whether to participate in a same-sex wedding.

But isn't that revision slanted to favor the other side, too? 

Exactly.

So perhaps a better — a fairer, more impartial — approach might be something like this:

A federal judge in Mississippi has allowed to stand a new state law on same-sex wedding services that has pitted gay rights vs. religious liberty.

Am I being overly nitpicky on the Reuters headline and lede? Maybe.

But who does the wire service quote on the judge's decision? 

First would be the ACLU:

The ACLU is suing on behalf of state residents Nykolas Alford and Stephen Thomas, a gay couple engaged to be married within the next three years, arguing the law violates their 14th Amendment rights. The ACLU is also suing on behalf of at least one of its members, who plans to marry a same-sex partner next year, the order said.
"We are reviewing the options and we will plan our next steps accordingly," ACLU of Mississippi spokeswoman Zakiya Summers said on Monday.

Second would be the Campaign for Southern Equity:

The ACLU is suing on behalf of state residents Nykolas Alford and Stephen Thomas, a gay couple engaged to be married within the next three years, arguing the law violates their 14th Amendment rights. The ACLU is also suing on behalf of at least one of its members, who plans to marry a same-sex partner next year, the order said.
"We are reviewing the options and we will plan our next steps accordingly," ACLU of Mississippi spokeswoman Zakiya Summers said on Monday.

OK, someone wonders, where are the quotes from the religious liberty proponents who pushed for the law?

They are nowhere to be found. Does anybody except me see that as a journalistic problem?

 

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