The challenge of being a wire-service reporter is sometimes you are stuck trying to make a news story out of little news. This appears to be the problem AP’s Jennifer Dobner had in covering the nationwide “kiss-ins” that largely failed and tying it to her own beat, the Mormon church and Salt Lake City.
Dobner’s thesis–which is poorly overblown by a headline that was trying too hard to be cute–is that there is a backlash in Mormon circles to the church’s involvement in opposing same-sex marriage and that the arrest of a kissing couple on Mormon-owned property has furthered the backlash.
Where the story goes wrong is that it includes a lot of pro-LGBT people suggesting there is a backlash, but no actual confirmation of it. She pieces together quotes from a church PR person, a speech by the church president, and comments from a Mormon-specialist to bolster the paragraph:
Church insiders say Prop. 8 has bred dissent among members and left families divided. Some members have quit or stopped attending services, while others have appealed to leadership to stay out of the same-sex marriage fight.
Giving Dobner–a long time reporter in Salt Lake City with sources inside the church–the benefit of the doubt that this is true, she isn’t very successful in supporting the argument with evidence.
I know the church is secretive and it’s hard to get people to speak out against the church, but there wasn’t anyone who could substantiate this a little bit more? Quoting ex-Mormons who are now LGBT activists doesn’t really give the whole picture.
The story feels very one-side, although in fairness it is tied to a media event organized by same-sex marriage activists. I’m also curious about whether “marriage equality legislation” is acceptable by the AP style guide.
So why does this matter? Well, “fair and accurate coverage of LGBT issues” is one of the founding principles of NLGJA, and that means acknowledging when “fair and accurate” results in a bias in either direction. It’s also important because stories like this can further the argument that the media has a liberal and pro-LGBT bias.
Already, the piece has garnered a snarkfest post at GetReligion, a media criticism blog with a religious conservative bent. Blogger Mollie Hemingway–who writes for Christianity Today and has contributed to a number of conservative publications–hacks away at the story with a certain amount of glee. After dragging Martin Luther King Jr. into her argument about religious liberty, Hemingway calls the piece “an ugly and unfair journalistic hit piece” and suggests “they should go write for the agenda-driven press where a slanted piece such as this belongs.”
I don’t think that’s fair, although Hemingway has a different agenda than we do here. Amid the snark, condescension, and nastiness, there are some valid criticisms and Hemingway raises some good points about the failings of the story.