Tuesday, December 22, 2003
'NEW YORK TIMES' POLL, STORY SHOW NEED FOR BETTER REPORTING ON MARRIAGE
A front-page "New York Times" article published Sunday, Dec. 21, 2003, presents an unbalanced and sensationalistic report on the results of a "New York Times"/CBS News poll about marriage rights and distorts President Bush's stance on the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA). Further, it fails to convey the political nuance of his views and the ramifications for the gay and lesbian community.
In the past six months, three major events have occurred regarding LGBT civil rights: the decision by Canadian courts to grant marriage rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples, the U.S. Supreme Court's historic decision in Lawrence vs. Texas and the recent decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court recognizing the constitutionality of access to marriage rights for same-sex couples. Every poll requires a careful and sophisticated analysis of the results. The reaction of the American public is understandably complex and continues to evolve. To not take such factors in context is irresponsible and beneath the journalistic standards of any reputable news media outlet.
The reporting by Katharine Q. Seelye and Janet Elder (which can be read at http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/21/national/21GAY.html ) was rife with problems as well, including fundamental journalistic missteps rare to the "New York Times":
- The headline "Strong Support Is Found for Ban on Gay Marriage " blatantly mischaracterizes the polling data it purports to report. Fifty-five percent support for the anti-gay marriage amendment in this context is neither "strong" nor indicative of the level of support necessary to pass it - an important fact apparently overlooked in the quest for a sensational headline.
- Mischaracterization of President Bush's recent comments about the proposed anti-gay "Federal Marriage Amendment": In a media interview last week, Bush said that "If necessary, I will support a constitutional amendment which would honor marriage between a man and a woman, codify that." In the article, Seelye and Elder inaccurately contend that Bush, previously "noncommittal" about the FMA, "voiced support" with his recent comments, overlooking the key phrase "if necessary" which brought President Bush an onslaught of criticism by anti-gay groups.
- A complete absence of the perspective of gay or lesbian people/couples and whose fundamental rights are at the center of this debate. While the one quote solicited from the Human Rights Campaign is welcome, it focused on political strategy and process. The "Times" violates the journalistic ethics of fairness and balance in running a story featuring vicious anti-gay rhetoric and views without any regard for those targeted to give readers an opportunity to see the real-life impact of the issue on those affected.
The "New York Times"/CBS poll itself (much of which is not mentioned in the "Times" story) is available at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/12/19/opinion/polls/main589551.sht ml . The poll contains serious flaws:
- Questions that fail to ask respondents to fully assess and consider the complete range of issues at play. For example, Gallup's polling has included questions about whether same-sex couples should receive the same rights as married couples, and whether marriage equality would have a positive, negative or no effect on American society. The oversimplification of the "Times" poll portrayed a lack of knowledge and sophistication by the authors, the editors and the pollsters about the issues at the heart of the marriage discussion.
- The question asking whether "homosexual relations should be legal" ignores the fact that this question has been settled as a matter of constitutional law in Lawrence vs. Texas. In addition, it reduced adult human relations to sexual activity, and thereby influenced respondents answers regarding marriage.
Finally, when this kind of coverage appears on the front page of the "New York Times," it has an influence beyond the "Times'" own readership. For example, in response to the article, the "Traditional Values Coalition's" Lou Sheldon -- cited and quoted by the "Times'" in its story -- appeared the same day on CNN (see http://www.glaad.org for link to video), calling being gay or lesbian a "social disorder" and saying that a marriage is "where the body parts fit." These types of defamatory comments, while typical of the anti-gay industry, degrade the larger discussion about marriage rights. "The New York Times" and other media outlets should seriously examine the role they play in providing platforms for hateful, irrational views and allowing the perpetration of blatant prejudice.
TAKE ACTION NOW!
Please TAKE ACTION by clicking the URL below to write the "New York Times" and its ombudsman, Dan Okrent. Let them know that allowing this kind of unfair, inaccurate, unsophisticated journalism merits a correction followed by a commitment to provide more fair and balanced journalism about one of the most visible social issues of our time.
To Take Action at GLAAD.org, visit
http://www.glaad.org/action/alerts_detail.php?id=3564 and click on "Take Action" in the upper right corner.