Earlier this week, I mentioned the pervasiveness of journalists reporting threats to opponents of same-sex marriage without offering any evidence. Instead of playing into the meme, I called for more actual reporting with specific examples.
To further illustrate how this meme is developing, take a look at this column by George Will who opposes the disclosure of names of people signing referendum petitions. After comparing the situation to Jim Crow America, Will offers this evidence of “thuggish liberalism.”
Larry Stickney, a social conservative and president of the Washington Values Alliance, says disclosure of the identities of petition-signers will enable “ideological background checks” that will have a chilling effect on political participation. He frequently encounters people who flinch from involvement with the referendum when they learn that disclosure of their involvement is possible. He has received abusive e-mails and late-night telephone calls, and has seen a stranger on his front lawn taking pictures of his house.
The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund reports that some Californians who gave financial support to last year’s successful campaign for Proposition 8 — it declared marriage to be only between a man and a woman — subsequently suffered significant harm. For example, the director of the Los Angeles Film Festival, who contributed $1,500, was forced to resign. So was the manager of a fashionable Los Angeles restaurant who contributed just $100.
So no violence against petition signers (or even donors). No threats. That’s all he offers. Yet, he compares it to:
In the 1950s, Alabama tried to compel the NAACP to disclose its membership list. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that disclosure would burden the freedoms of expression and association that the First Amendment protects.
The Will piece has been the jumping off point for other meme followers. Here’s Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News and Beliefnet:
I agree with Will: compelling disclosure of people who give to one side or the other in matters like referendums poses an intolerable burden to freedom of expression and association. If you disagree, put yourself in the position of a white NAACP member in 1950s Alabama, someone who gave money discreetly to the NAACP because you hated segregation, but were too afraid to go public because it would have threatened your livelihood, or even your life. What if there had been a public referendum on Jim Crow, and you had given money as a white person to the “overturn” side? I can tell you, as someone who has a dear white friend whose aunts had a cross burned on their lawn in the 1960s for their voter registration activity in Louisiana, that this was by no means a theoretical threat. There were no such referendums in our history, obviously, but if you grant that under those conditions donor disclosure would overburden freedom of speech and association (as it plainly would), then you must grant that there are, and always will be, cases in America, depending on time and place, where ordinary people could suffer unjustly for the causes they support financially. Keeping donor lists to causes private protects all of us, liberals and conservatives, from zealots. We ought to all support this kind of privacy protection.
Again, these are all reasonable political and ideological beliefs. In addition, Will and Dreher are columnists who need not bother themselves without providing evidence for their hyperbole. But this illustrates where the rhetoric is coming from and reporters–as opposed to columnists–have an obligation to show actual evidence of threats and violence, not just repeat talking points from a meme.