Don't let the headline fool you: USA Today's story on Masterpiece Cakeshop case is a tasty read

Don't let the headline fool you: USA Today's story on Masterpiece Cakeshop case is a tasty read

When I started in journalism — back when cavemen and Terry Mattingly roamed the earth — reporters at major newspapers typically didn't write their own headlines.

They'd file their story to an assigning editor, who would give it a first read, ask questions, make revisions and eventually ship it down the line, either to another assigning editor or to the copy desk. It was not unusual for a handful of editors to handle a story — particularly a major one — before it hit the press and landed on readers' driveways before sunup.

The copy desk — often late at night — would check for grammar, spelling and Associated Press style errors. And at some point, a slot editor would place the story on a page with a headline that could be any number of lines and columns, depending on the ads around it.

Before the days of easy fixes online, the copy editors saved reporters from egregious and embarrassing mistakes in smelly black ink. But yes, sometimes, those same editors — under deadline pressure — came up with headlines that were, um, less than representative of what the story actually said.

So a common defense of the writer class to headline fails was: "Reporters don't write their own headlines." In other words, don't blame us!

Is that still true? In the web-first age, do writers still depend on editors to craft their headlines? In some cases, yes. But in general, it varies. So I have no idea who wrote the headline on the USA Today story I want to highlight today.

But I will say this: The newspaper's story on the Masterpiece Cakeshop case (click here if you somehow have no idea what I'm talking about) is interesting and informative.

The headline? Not so much:

Same-sex marriage foes stick together despite long odds


That's not really what the story is about. 

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Religious freedom buffet: Los Angeles Times scattershoots on same-sex marriage decision

Religious freedom buffet: Los Angeles Times scattershoots on same-sex marriage decision


That's my basic reaction to a Los Angeles Times story this week on same-sex marriage and religious freedom.

This is one of those stories that — in roughly 1,200 words — manages to cover a lot of ground while really covering no ground at all. It's the journalistic equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet. You pile your plate full of everything and can't really concentrate on anything. And your stomach aches afterward.

Let's start at the top:

For some, the Supreme Court's decision declaring that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry put the free exercise of religion in danger.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was among them.
"Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage — when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples," Roberts wrote in a dissent joined by three other justices.
He also perceived a threat to tax exemptions for religious schools and colleges that oppose same-sex marriage. "Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today," Roberts said.
On the other hand, the same high court has expanded religious liberties. Just a year ago, the court's majority ruled for the Christian owners of the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores, holding they had a religious-freedom right to refuse to pay for certain contraceptives mandated by the Obama administration under the federal Affordable Care Act.

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Again, it's religious liberty vs. gay rights as Christian disc jockey refuses to work gay man's birthday party

Again, it's religious liberty vs. gay rights as Christian disc jockey refuses to work gay man's birthday party

Here we go again.

Once again, a case of religious liberty clashing with gay rights is making national news.

The Washington Post reports:

First there was the New Mexico wedding photographer. Then there was the Indiana pizza maker. Now there is the Maryland disc jockey.
The national debate about how to balance religious conscience protections and gay equality flared in the large, mostly liberal Washington, D.C., suburb of Montgomery County Friday, when Dani Tsakounis tried to help her brother hire Ultrasound Deejays for a party. An owner of the business told Tsakounis he would not provide the DJ because Tsakounis’s brother, a Silver Spring therapist, is married to another man and the birthday party they are hosting is for their 60-year-old roommate, who is also gay.
“I just said, ‘We won’t be able to do it, we’re a Christian organization and it would go against our faith, I’m sorry,’” Michael Lampiris, co-owner of Ultrasound Deejays, said Friday.

Tom Tsakounis, 46, was so upset when his sister told him that he posted the news on his neighborhood listserv, prompting calls of sympathy from neighbors. He also registered a complaint with the Montgomery County Human Rights Commission, which hears cases of alleged discrimination.

Maryland state law has banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodation — which includes businesses “offering goods, services, entertainment” the law says — since 2001. But the question of whether such laws infringe on the rights of religious conservatives, however, has received increased attention as more gay equality advocates have stepped up to file complaints and religious conservatives have argued that their conscience rights are being violated.

I like that lede, although I can't help but wonder: What about the Washington state florist? Or the Oregon baker? Or if you want your same-sex wedding cake war in a different state ... the Colorado baker? 

But I digress.

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Reuters and religious freedom: When a two-sided news story really only tells one

Reuters and religious freedom: When a two-sided news story really only tells one

At first glance, this week's Reuters story on "a new battleground of religious freedom" appears to be a fair and balanced account.

But upon further review, here's the problem: While the story quotes two sides, it really only reflects the perspective of one.

Consider how the story is framed:

CHICAGO (Reuters) - With the U.S. gay marriage battle looking increasingly like a lost cause for conservative opponents, a last battleground may be their quest to allow people to refuse services to gay men and women on religious grounds.
Some conservative groups have seized on what they consider religious freedom cases, ranging from a Washington state florist to bakers in Colorado and Oregon who are fighting civil rights lawsuits after refusing to provide goods and services to gay couples.
"You'll have more instances where religious liberty will potentially come into conflict with this new redefined way of understanding marriage," said Jim Campbell of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal group established to defend religious freedom.
Campbell represented New Mexico's Elane Photography, a small company that was sued after the owner declined to provide services for a same-sex commitment ceremony.
Such cases, experts said, will likely become more common after action by the Supreme Court and federal appeals courts this week extended gay marriage to more than half the states.

Did you catch that? Conservative religious types want to "refuse services" to gays. That's the narrative throughout the story, and certainly, that's how same-sex marriage activists portray the situation.

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