By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 18, 2004; 8:27 AM
The spate of headlines yesterday had an unmistakably upbeat tone.
Boston Globe: "Free to Marry/ Historic Date Arrives for Same-Sex Couples in Massachusetts."
Boston Herald: "Marry-thon Monday: Dawn of New Era in Massachusetts."
New York Times: "Massachusetts Arrives at Day for Gay Vows."
Washington Post: "Gay Couples Line Up for Mass. Marriages."
Los Angeles Times: "First Marriage License to Gays Issued in Massachusetts."
The words contain little hint that this is an extremely controversial step that the commonwealth is taking.
I'm not saying that these and other news organizations have ignored the other side. You can go through the stories and the sidebars and find plenty of critics quoted.
But the overall vibe of most of the headlines and leads is that this is a step forward. Which, in the view of many liberal-leaning people and journalists, it is, comparable to the Brown v. Board of Ed ruling whose 50th anniversary was celebrated yesterday. But what is overshadowed, and what fuels the perception that the press is out of touch, is that many people consider this a negative step that violates the traditional concept that marriage is between a man and a woman.
After all, John Kerry doesn't support gay marriage, and neither do most Democratic officials (though many back Vermont-style civil unions). George Bush is so opposed to gay marriage that he endorsed a constitutional amendment to ban the practice (though he has barely mentioned it and seems content not to flog the issue). And Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, not wanting his state to become a gay mecca, is trying to bar licenses for couples from states where such marriages would not be recognized.
In short, this remains a very divisive issue.
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby chides the media, saying the state's judges "knew they would have the support of the cultural elites, for whom individual autonomy and the pursuit of happiness often seem to be the highest social values. In the allegedly 'progressive' mindset, which dominates what you read in the paper and see on TV, social traditions exist to be challenged, family structure is highly flexible, and the mainstreaming of homosexuality is something only haters or fanatics could oppose.
"No surprise, then, that the media depiction of the same-sex marriage controversy has been strikingly one-sided. The views of those who favor it are often and prominently featured; their appeals to justice and compassion are repeatedly quoted, echoed, and expanded on. There has been a shower of celebratory coverage centered on the wedding plans of gays and lesbians, and upbeat descriptions of all sorts of related matters, from the marketing of wedding dresses for lesbians to the first Bride's magazine article on same-sex ceremonies.
"But there is rarely an admiring story about those who take a stand against throwing out the ancient definition of marriage. Rarely does the coverage suggest that they might have an argument worth listening to or an insight worth considering."
The Note acknowledges the point as well: "It is almost certainly true that the national political press corps which covers this issue is more accepting of gay marriage than the nation as a whole; it is certainly true that the national political press corps does not fully appreciate the religious, moral, and psychosexual reasons why this is such an emotional matter for opponents of gay marriage."
Not all news organizations are on the bandwagon. The Washington Times expresses skepticism with some well-placed quotation marks: "Homosexuals 'Marry' in Massachusetts."
Dan Kennedy slams Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr for writing the following:
"Gay marriage, another mega-embarrassment for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts . . . This is the liberal credo: If it happens in Abu Ghraib prison, it's a war crime. If it happens at a rest stop on I-495, it's true love.
"Welcome to Massachusetts. The Gay State. Sodom and Begorrah. And everyone has to pretend that this will be the end of it. You will be hounded by the PC Police if you state the obvious, that if the perversion du jour is 'gay marriage,' then tomorrow it will be polygamy, and the day after tomorrow incest, and then the final frontier . . . bestiality."
Says Kennedy: "The reality is that there are already same-sex couples and single parents raising children, and that, in many cases, they are doing a far better job than some traditional families. Children are raised by actual people, not by theories about what constitutes the ideal. We ought to recognize that. And today, at least in one state, we do."
The Boston Globe says critics are biding their time:
"Opponents of gay marriage said yesterday they are counting on a backlash to the legalization of same-sex marriages in Massachusetts to help them marshal public support, as they fight to get the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling overturned.
"Groups that oppose gay marriage held only scattered protests during the first 24 hours that gay couples could obtain marriage licenses, with leaders saying they wished to avoid ugly conflicts and to show respect for the rule of law. But they made clear that they would try to change the law any way they can -- through the courts, the Legislature, and this fall's campaigns."
They also felt it would be bad PR to start denouncing happy couples exchanging their vows.
Both Bush and Kerry seemed to agree on something yesterday, according to the Los Angeles Times:
"In separate speeches, President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry today hailed the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling that outlawed state-sanctioned segregation and called for greater progress toward racial equality, saying the full promise of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision had not been achieved."
But Kerry did take a political shot: "His veiled criticism of Bush's education policy drew a standing ovation from many of the estimated 1,500 people at the event -- and underscored the inherently political nature of the day here. 'It is not a political statement. It is common sense and it is a matter of truth to say to America, you cannot promise no child left behind and then pursue policies that leave millions of children behind every single day,' Kerry said."
Today's Iraq revelation, from the New York Times:
"The American officer who was in charge of interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison has told a senior Army investigator that intelligence officers sometimes instructed the military police to force Iraqi detainees to strip naked and to shackle them before questioning them. But he said those measures were not imposed 'unless there is some good reason.' . . .
"The interrogation techniques Colonel Thomas M. Pappas described were used on detainees who were protected by the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit coercive and unpleasant treatment of prisoners. Military officials said on Monday that the United States had months ago quietly abandoned an early plan to designate as unlawful combatants some of the prisoners captured by American forces in Iraq."
The Wall Street Journal sees trouble for Kerry on the left:
"A coalition of liberal activists is expected this week to begin mobilizing support for removing American troops from Iraq. Though problems in Iraq hurt President Bush most, swelling withdrawal sentiment could also complicate the campaign of Democratic challenger John Kerry
"The Massachusetts senator supports maintaining U.S. troop levels and perhaps even increasing them in the short term, while soliciting help from allies toward reducing U.S. occupation forces later. But on a conference call tomorrow, an alliance of 39 groups organized under the banner of 'Win Without War' is expected to rally behind a call for a more definitive withdrawal. If the campaign gathers steam, it could open a rift on the political left and fuel Ralph Nader's antiwar message at Mr. Kerry's expense."
Slate's Fred Kaplan tackles the question that everyone in D.C. is asking: How high did it go?
"The White House is about to get hit by the biggest tsunami since the Iran-Contra affair, maybe since Watergate. President George W. Bush is trapped inside the compound, immobilized by his own stay-the-course campaign strategy. Can he escape the massive tidal waves? Maybe. But at this point, it's not clear how.
"If yesterday's investigative shockers -- Seymour Hersh's latest article in The New Yorker and a three-part piece in Newsweek -- are true, it's hard to avoid concluding that responsibility for the Abu Ghraib atrocities goes straight to the top, both in the Pentagon and the White House, and that varying degrees of blame can be ascribed to officials up and down the chain of command . . .
"Read together, the magazine articles spell out an elaborate, all-inclusive chain of command in this scandal. Bush knew about it. Rumsfeld ordered it. His undersecretary of defense for intelligence, Steven Cambone, administered it . . .
"The knives are out all over Washington -- lots of knives, unsheathed and sharpened in many different backroom parlors, for many motives and many throats. In short, this story is not going away."
A very safe prediction.
Out in 527 land, a big corporation wants to join the fray, says the AP:
"Tobacco and food giant Altria Group Inc. is asking federal regulators to sign off on its plan to run magazine ads contrasting the policies of President Bush and Democratic candidate John Kerry.
"The parent of Philip Morris, Kraft Foods and other companies plans to run ads in Business Week magazine over the summer and fall featuring responses by the Democratic and Republican parties and their presidential campaigns to questions about positions on various issues."
Rich Lowry attempts to deconstruct Kerry's character:
"Kerry has many virtues. He has physical courage, whether on his swift boat in Vietnam or in one of his outdoor activities. He is prodigiously talented. The excerpts from his Vietnam journals in Douglas Brinkley's book are impressively written. He wanted to write an autobiographical novel about Vietnam -- it might not have been a terrible one. He is fiercely competitive and doesn't lose easily. These qualities will be on display during the campaign this year. So will his foibles.
"Character tends to be enduring. If you were familiar with Bill Clinton's first two years as Arkansas governor, you had a pretty good idea of how his first couple of years as president would play out. So too with Kerry there are themes that have been apparent right from the beginning: the air of phoniness, and the exaggerations and minutely fine-tuned positions that come with it; the blatant-to-the-point-of-rank ambition; the wealthy wives funding his political career; the exploitation of his Vietnam service and his demagogic indignation at any questioning of his activities during or after the war; his belief that nearly any U.S. intervention is mistaken and driven by 'pride.'
"Kerry has Al Gore's aloofness and his talent. Like Gore, it's possible to imagine Kerry a professor somewhere. Unlike Gore, Kerry has always unabashedly wanted to run for office. Gore had to force himself to be a campaigner. Kerry has been doing it more or less -- debating, speechifying, etc. -- since prep school. The awkwardness (some might say weirdness) of Gore seemed to come from the tension between what he truly desired, i.e., being off somewhere writing books on global warming, and the political career he foisted on himself. Kerry has no such tension. But there's the same sense of him trying too hard, of compensating for something missing."
Ryan Lizza says in the New Republic that Kerry may be leaning the wrong way:
"Iraq has been a vexing issue for John Kerry. Every time he takes a position, the domestic political ground seems to shift under his feet. He supported the use-of-force resolution in 2002, only to find that Democratic audiences hated the war and were flocking to Howard Dean. So Kerry adjusted his rhetoric to sound more like the Vermont governor.
"Then, once assured of the nomination, he began tacking back to the center to court moderate, general-election voters. Now, just as much of the country is moving left on the war, Kerry has moved right. He supports more troops if commanders in the field want them and has called for a high commissioner in Iraq who can bypass the U.N. bureaucracy. What's more, after opposing last year's $87 billion Iraq supplemental, he is prepared to support Bush's new $25 billion request.
"This shift comes as public support for the war is plummeting. Asked in a recent Gallup poll if it was worth going to war in Iraq, 54 percent of Americans said it was not, an increase of 18 points since January. Forty-seven percent of Americans now want to withdraw some or all of the troops from Iraq immediately. These views are clearly affecting the public's support for President Bush, whose overall job approval is at an all-time low of 46 percent.
"That Kerry appears to be standing steadfast in the face of growing public opposition to his own recommendations--and growing hand-wringing on the right--may be a function of his brand of liberal realism, which never embraced a Pollyannaish view about what we could accomplish in Iraq."
American Prospect's Michael Tomasky offers a pointed view of conservatives and morality--which is, they ain't got much:
"It's clearer every week that conservative morality is a contradiction in terms, and that the American people are coming around to that view. I think this theory explains -- well, basically everything. For example: How many conversations have you had with a fellow liberal, discussing the latest administration effrontery, that concluded with one of you asking the other some version of, 'How can it possibly be that this isn't considered a scandal?!'
"Indeed, liberals have watched this administration in a state of perpetual disbelief about the number of stories that should have blown up into scandals but never did. From Harken Energy to Thomas White and Enron to the Tom Scully-Richard Foster-Medicare story to the more general rancid politicization of every agency of government, the potential scandals have been non-stop. And liberals -- who care about public integrity and process -- can't comprehend that these things haven't become full-fledged scandals.
"There are particular reasons they haven't -- no smoking gun was found on Harken, for instance. But the big historical reason they haven't is that we live in an age in which conservative morality is dominant. Public morality and adherence to democratic process just aren't as important . . .
"The packaging of George W. Bush in 1999 and 2000 was nothing less than a conservative morality play. He was a 'good man'; he'd gotten himself off the sauce and found Jesus; he didn't, as far as anyone knew, play around on his wife. Meanwhile, as governor of Texas, he'd squelched an investigation into a funeral-home chain run by a friend; he'd stacked the board of the University of Texas Investment Management Company, a huge deal that no major national media ever took a close, sustained look at; he kept starting failing businesses, losing money, and somehow getting richer and richer. But none of these issues, all having directly to do with public morality, mattered. He was a good, strong man, who 'got results' for Texas and would do the same for America."
Finally, can this really be an issue in the presidential campaign--the rather, ah, sheer dress worn by Kerry's daughter at Cannes?
Perhaps, according to Mickey Kaus: "Do Americans want a first daughter who parades around in a dress Paris Hilton would be embarrassed to wear? And shouldn't she have, you know, thought of that? Even if she looks good in it."
Something tells me the online picture is getting plenty of hits.
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