March 30, 2013

Same-sex marriage supporters and opponents argue their points in front of the Supreme Court. (Saul Loeb/Getty Images)

The coalition to preserve traditional marriage can’t catch a break, says National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown. His list of media-related issues:

1) “Only the British press accurately depicted the strength” of the pro-traditional marriage forces at the Supreme Court’s Tuesday session. U.S. media, said Brown, didn’t note the overwhelming turnout for his side. This story in the Daily Mail, however, included this bit: “Both sides of the debate were out in force, with Christian opponents easily outnumbering advocates for gay marriage.” That account was written by the Daily Mail’s David Martosko, the former Daily Caller editor who oversaw the “story” of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and Dominican prostitutes.

2) What was Thomson Reuters thinking? Thomson Reuters, parent of the journalism powerhouse Reuters news agency, joined a coalition of companies favoring repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Bad idea, says Brown: “When Thomson Reuters is now basically alienating over half of their potential readership, it’s not wise on any level. You wonder why folks are abandoning print media!”

Brown was much less concerned that the Huffington Post had taken an institutional position in favor of gay marriage. “Does anyone take seriously the idea that that the Huffington Post is a fair and balanced venue for reporting? I mean, the Huffington Post? I don’t know that anyone on our side takes the Huffington Post seriously.”

Noah Michelson, editor of Huffington Post’s Gay Voices, says this: “It’s not a surprise where we stand. It’s a no-brainer that all people should have equal rights.”

3) New York Times isn’t doing half-bad! Brown credited this piece by the New York Times, on young conservatives who are “undaunted” by the battle to keep marriage traditional. It included this passage:

Opponents of same-sex marriage say they realize they may lose the current fight, but they optimistically take the long view, pointing to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion. At the time, they say, opponents of abortion were told their cause was lost, but the fight continues 40 years later.

Brown: “The New York Times has tried to balance its coverage; there has at least been an attempt to look at conservatives who believe in traditional marriage.”

4) Media inflates public support for gay marriage. You know all those reports about how quickly, thoroughly and overwhelmingly the country is turning against the opponents of gay marriage? Exaggerated, says Brown.

Washington Post political reporter Aaron Blake took an extended look at the claim. What irks Brown is the legal/illegal language. For example, a much-cited ABC-Washington Post poll released this week asked whether “it should be legal or illegal for gay and lesbian couples to get married.” Fifty-eight percent Americans said legal.

Okay, but that’s the wrong question, says Brown. The whole “illegal” thing summons the wrong sort of impressions in respondents: “It’s as if the police are going to storm a church,” he says. “You’re loading the question. The illegal language brings the specter of enforcement.”

Kellyanne Conway, president of the Polling Company Inc./WomanTrend, puts the dynamic this way: “People don’t like to say anything should be illegal,” she says. “Americans are loath to deem as illegal something that people who are close to them and people they know want.”

Firm resistance comes from Paul J. Lavrakas Jr., the president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR):

The wording of this question is standard wording for asking about this issue, and it parallels the standardly accepted question that asks about whether someone approves or disapproves of legal abortions. As an expert survey methodologist, I see nothing biasing about this wording, but I could be wrong.

Whatever the case, says Lavrakas, the “burden of proof” should be on Brown and NOM to provide independent research showing that such wording makes a “nonnegligible difference in how people answer the question of whether gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to marry.”

When asked about such research, a NOM rep cited a NOM poll, conducted by the Polling Company Inc., showing that 60 percent of respondents “agree” that marriage “is between one man and one woman.” Those results, noted the NOM rep, are consistent with the results collected by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is an “alliance-building legal ministry that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.”

NOM rep: “Other polling agencies are welcome to ask the same question and see what results they get.”

Peyton Craighill, polling manager of The Washington Post, argues that gay marriage is an inherently legal matter. “Hence a Supreme Court case to deal with it. Nowhere is there any indication of criminality in the Post-ABC question,” writes Craighill. And where the polls agree is on the movement toward greater embrace of same-sex marriage.

“All the major public polls show the same trend although they have varying levels ‘acceptance.’ Those that ask about ‘support’ or ‘favorability’ on the issue do show slightly lower levels of acceptance than our question about legal/illegal. But the trends all move in the same direction,” notes Craighill.

5) Hey, cable: The gay marriage issue is more important than celebrity news. Brown: “This is the potential Roe v. Wade of our time, and you turn on cable and it’s all about Tiger Woods saying winning takes care of everything.” More: “I think on the cable networks, the coverage has not been great at all. Even on Fox News, we find it difficult to get broadcast time airing our views.” Though Brown notes that he was on Fox last weekend, his organization and allies are having increasing difficulty getting equal time for their views vis-a-vis opposing ones.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.