Tuesday, October 17, 2006

No, there's no media bias

Here is the lead of an Associated Press story running tonight:
Former Rep. Gerry Studds, the first openly gay member of Congress, was married to another man in Massachusetts at the time of his death, but the federal government has refused to pay death benefits to his spouse.
This does the intellectual equivalent of stealing all four bases. The article refers to the other man factually as "his spouse" — a construction and fact that the story simply takes for granted throughout that a man can marry a man as a matter of fact and this man is in fact Studds' spouse. Those are precisely the issues in dispute in the debate over homosexual "marriage." But you wouldn't know this was even an issue from the way this article is written. Here are some of the constructions that betray the way:
after gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts.

Hara, unlike the spouses of other members of Congress who have died

if the marriage were recognized by the federal government
This article by the nation's premier wire service is gonna run in a hundred papers nationwide, probably with minimal editing, under the suggested headline:
Gay Congressman's Spouse Denied Benefits
Here is one TV station that uses the same headline almost word-for-word.
Congressman's Spouse Denied U.S. Death Benefits Because He's Gay

The person in question is not the congressman's "spouse" because the two were not married according to federal law (and the universal understanding of marriage until just the day before yesterday).

At best, one could say that the two men were married in Massachusetts. But then by taking that as normative for the rest of the story, by calling a marriage what is a marriage only in Massachusetts and not in 49 other states, AP is thereby privileging Massachusetts as the norm, and constructing other states' morality as deviant or dubious or "controversial."

Why should anyone trust coverage of an important public issue from a news organization whose very style and choice of descriptors presupposes the rightness of one side of that issue.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is also very instructive for those who have vilified the Religious Right for their efforts at passing a US Constitutional amendment defining marriage. They were told over and over, "Why not let states decide. This is a violation of the principles of federalism that you claim to hold so dear."

Regardless of where you stand on the amendment (I support it but recognize that there are good arguments against it) one can no longer act as though it is absurd to be concerned that state laws instituting same-sex marriage can have ramifications on other states and at the federal level.

Midwest L1