Things To Act
Tuesday, March 30, 2004
Equal Opportunity Bashing--NYT Again
While others do a better job pointing out the silliness of the NYT, occasionally my annoyance boils over [only three weeks until I don't have to read it for work anymore].

One of today's front page headlines is a particularly striking example of bias: Setback Is Dealt to Gay Marriage. Not "MA Legislature Approves Anti-SSM Amendment," and not even "MA Legislature Approves Civil Union Amendment." The assumption is that all Right Thinking People will of course view this news event primarily as a setback for The Cause. It's similar to the Scalia headline a couple of weeks ago, something along the lines of 'Scalia Refusing to Recuse Himself,' instead of 'Scalia Denies Sierra Club Recusal Motion,' or something similarly neutral. The Times' implicit assumptions about the status quo, about how neutral people see these stories, and about objectivity seem to leave much to be desired.

And speaking of bias, an article buried in the national news section (but not labeled 'news analysis,' though it's pretty obvious it's not objective reporting of actual news) is also striking: Fine Art of Debating a Point Without Getting to the Point.

The article starts off with a groundbreaking observation: "The arguments being used as Congress considers the amendment are typical of the way lawmakers often confront intensely emotional and potentially divisive subjects: they try to find more socially and politically acceptable ways to frame the issue." Gosh, why didn't anybody notice that before? Of course, Hulse doesn't seem to grasp the concept completely, since in the previous paragraph he claims that "it sometimes seems the debate is about everything except whether the government should recognize the marriage of two people of the same sex." Framing is a way to look at a concept. It has to bear some resemblance to reality to work (ie "this debate is about maintaining the sacred free coinage of silver at 16:1" probably wouldn't fly), but is a legitimate tactic to give context and long-term implications to a proposal. The Times itself certainly engages in framing all the time--implying that a particular Bush policy is part of a 'retrenchment' on the environment or whatnot. It's both silly and hypocritical to try to take broader implications off the table in re SSM. Framing is important precisely because 'the point' is neither given from on high nor obvious in any political situation.

But the article gets better. After the token quotes from various people, Hulse moves smoothly to 'historical context' [dare I say framing?], and goes off on the rhetoric used by opponents of civil rights legislation. The subtext is fairly clear--'Republicans who dodge the marriage issue today are just like Southerners who dodged the racism issue with states' rights rhetoric.' The linkage is very clever, if slimy--from abortion (an issue in which conservatives don't like the status quo, and constantly try to reframe the issue for voters), to civil rights (with a token Democrat who used lofty rhetoric to conceal racist motives), to 'conservative backers of the amendment' (note the implicit automatic linkage with racism) who are portrayed as betraying their federalist principles (what could explain this inconsistency? "Surely not disguised hatred of homosexuals," the eager Times reader thinks), to "Musgrave and other say they take offense at the very suggestion that they are discriminatory." Well of course, given that discrimination is widely frowned upon today. But it's customary to have some grounds for the accusation before treating the denial as news. "The New York Times' editors say they take offense at the very suggestion that they oppose democracy" is a silly statement to make in a news article without some compelling evidence that we have reason to believe that they do (a separate discussion, to be sure, but my accusing them of it is hardly news in and of itself).

What's supremely ironic, of course, is that opponents of the various amendments are the ones trying to have it both ways with dissembling rhetoric. If one wants examples of hypocritical political calculation, 'While I of course support marriage as an institution between men and women, I feel that this amendment is a particularly bad idea" comes a lot closer to "While I of course oppose racism, I feel that this [civil rights] legislation unfairly tramples states' rights" than anything proponents of the various amendments have said.

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