Journalists share their views on Obama’s support for gay marriage

Did you say “Yay”? Tweet out a “hurrah”? Did you pass along a funny joke or link to a partisan headline like “Obama declares war on traditional America” or a story that declared the president’s announcement “A victory.”

Journalists everywhere balanced on that tightrope Wednesday as Twitter and Facebook exploded with news of President Obama’s declaration that he believes gay couples should be allowed to marry. Many wanted to post a headline that reflects their beliefs, or shout out an opinion. Some did, like Tina Brown, the editor of Newsweek and The Daily Beast who Tweeted: “Much joy at the Beast about Obama’s gay history moment. A historic day.”

Others posted links to straight news stories or non-partisan analysis. And many of us just lurked, hesitant to join the conversation, knowing that it’s hard to say anything about gay marriage without revealing your opinion.

In the wake of that hesitation, I hear Jay Rosen decrying the “view from nowhere.”

It’s likely that almost every one, journalists included, had a strong reaction to Obama’s interview. Certainly more and more journalists believe that on this issue, a public point of view is acceptable.

After all, 50 percent of Americans support the legal right to marry for gays and lesbians. The president of the United States standing in favor of this seems like it makes it even more palatable.

Yet the way you frame this issue — as religious, political or civil rights — puts you in a camp. Of course gay marriage could be placed in any or all three of those categories, but the one you put first tilts your hand.

Whether you voice your reaction publicly, on Facebook or in any other forum, has more to do with what your boss expects and whom you want to consume your work.

Many newsroom standards gurus are walking around right now reminding folks of long-standing policies that discourage journalists from weighing in on politically divisive issues they may have to cover.

So rather than arguing for a view from nowhere, I’d like to re-frame the opposite of the view from somewhere. Let’s call it the conduit for all viewpoints. For many newsrooms, that’s the goal. This is not to suggest that false parity is the alternative. It’s not necessary for individual stories to represent all viewpoints, however a newsroom that wants to serve a diverse audience on this topic must be committed to representing a diversity of perspectives over time. If everyone on staff has a view from somewhere, the only audience you’ll reach are those people standing in that same location.

Many newsrooms are perfectly happy doing just that. I suspect that the audience for the Daily Beast shares Brown’s enthusiasm. Her Newsweek audience may respond differently.

This need for diversity is particularly difficult to grasp if you live in a place where gay marriage is generally supported or opposed; or, if you only associate with people who share one view or the other. It’s also very difficult to commit to diverse views if you believe that gay marriage is only a civil rights issue. Of course it is a civil rights issue. But it’s also a political issue in a presidential election year. And at least half of the citizens of the United States don’t believe it’s a civil rights issue at all.

For more and more journalists, this isn’t even a conversation. Their newsrooms and their audiences are decidedly partisan, and this issue of gay marriage isn’t even debatable. Someday, we may look more like Europe, where most news is delivered through a philosophical point of view.

Right now we are not there. Instead, we are in a period of dramatic transition.

If you work for a newsroom that wants to reach an audience with diverse beliefs on gay marriage, instead of resigning yourself to the view from nowhere, try embracing the notion of being a conduit for everyone.

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • Alfred Ingram

    Civil Rights are political issues, otherwise there would have been no voting rights act, because there would have been no need. No public accommodations act, no laws barring employment discrimination. These issues are political. People believe that. They are economic. People believe that. They are about dignity, survival, and yes, religion. Unfortunately, despite the establishment clause of the first amendment, people believe that their beliefs on every issue are established in the constitution and there are politicians willfully confusing that issue. Most journalistic outlets are afraid to challenge them or even explain the plain text of the first amendment. When they come for editors and reporters, it will be years too late.

  • F. Douglas

     Speak truth to power? Whose truth? That’s the problem.

    As we’ve seen for the past four or five years, most national journalists have had little interest in speaking “truth” to the power that is Obama. That is, we’ve seen few journalists hold Obama’s feet to the fire. Jake Tapper is one of the rare ones willing to ask the administration tough questions, but there aren’t a lot more like him. Instead, most in the MSM take on the role of just passing on whatever the administration passes out, and then defending the administration when conservatives start getting too nasty in their criticism.

    Likewise, too many journalists are defenders, rather than skeptics, of governmental institutions. (I know from personal experience)

    Let’s face it, most journalists lean to the left and that influences their outlook as they report. The extent of that influence varies from reporter to reporter. There are also a some reporters who bring a conservative point of view to their work.

    But I think this whole thing about speaking “truth to power” is hokum, and part of the reason readers increasingly don’t like the media. It is just an excuse for liberals to inflict their point of view on readers.

  • Anonymous

    I have met many socially conservative journalists, especially on this issue. They sustain Christian Worldview journalism organizations such as World Journalism Institute. Even though most of my work on this issue back in 2003-4 was as a blogger and essayist, I avoided expressing an opinion because: 1. Who cares what I think, outside of my immediate family? and 2. I thought the most helpful thing I could do was to report on the differences in underlying assumptions that the various sides (there are more than two) are bringing to the debate. and 
    3. There are still  so many aspects of this debate that are still not addressed by either side. The most interesting and under-covered question for me is, if the state defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, does it not become incumbent upon the state to come up with a universal legal definition of “man” and “woman.” From what I’ve seen, laws and judicial history are inconsistent on this point, especially as it pertains to  people who are defined as transsexual or intersexed. This seems like a tangent from the gay marriage debate, but it really isn’t because how can you have equal protection under the law if the law can’t be applied to everyone equally? I don’t think that’s a conservative or liberal question.

  • edisciple

     You know you’re argument applies both ways!

  • edisciple

    Don’t kid yourself. There were no tightrope balancing of journos!

  • http://twitter.com/robweir Rob Weir

    I think it has a lot to do with one of the traditional missions of journalism, which is to speak truth to power. Journalists by nature tend to be suspicious of large and powerful institutions, whether governmental or corporate, and often see ourselves as rooting for the underdog. Whether that’s a cause or an effect, it does generally mean that journalists identify as more liberal than conservative. 

    If your question is “why is a public point of view acceptable,” that’s a different answer. Basically, the goal of transparency is to, well, be transparent. If I say publicly that I tend to lean left, or drink at Starbucks, or own Apple stock, or drive monster trucks, or whatever, then you have a better basis to judge my journalism and its accuracy. Everything we do is coming from a point of view, which is why a wide media diet and media literacy are important. 

  • http://twitter.com/Gr8Anchor Dave Courvoisier

    >>> ”
    Certainly more and more journalists believe that on this issue, a public point of view is acceptable.”

    On what basis would you presume to make this statement?  If, indeed, it IS true, it only serves to underscore the already-glaring evidence and public suspicioon that the gross majority of journalists are liberal-minded.  

    My question has always been not why so many journalists are liberal, but why so few conservatives are drawn to this profession?Dave Courvoisier

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Kelly. I struggle with this daily, and social media hasn’t made it any easier. I’ve covered related topics before, and I really hope I’ve given both sides a chance to be heard. I certainly tried to hear it for myself, and I continue to do so.

    But I don’t agree that our job is just to reflect the “diversity” of viewpoints in our audience. If something is wrong, it’s wrong. More and more, I feel like we need to say that. If it really is a civil rights issue, why should we care that opinions are divided? When have rights ever depended on popular opinion? Desegregation was unpopular. But it was right. Same with every other civil rights issue we’ve ever had.

    If I went on facebook right now and declared that I believe black people should be able to sit wherever they want on the bus, or women should be able to vote or stores should be wheelchair-accessible, no one would accuse me of violating my journalistic ethics. True, no one would disagree with me – but how can that possibly be what makes it right? 

    I’m all for inclusion, and I don’t want to see otherwise good people painted as bigots. But I struggle with the idea that we can’t come out and say something is discrimination until the majority of our audience agrees it’s discrimination. 

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Kelly. I struggle with this daily, and social media hasn’t made it any easier. I’ve covered related topics before, and I really hope I’ve given both sides a chance to be heard. I certainly tried to hear it for myself, and I continue to do so.

    But I don’t agree that our job is just to reflect the “diversity” of viewpoints in our audience. If something is wrong, it’s wrong. More and more, I feel like we need to say that. If it really is a civil rights issue, why should we care that opinions are divided? When have rights ever depended on popular opinion? Desegregation was unpopular. But it was right. Same with every other civil rights issue we’ve ever had.

    If I went on facebook right now and declared that I believe black people should be able to sit wherever they want on the bus, or women should be able to vote or stores should be wheelchair-accessible, no one would accuse me of violating my journalistic ethics. True, no one would disagree with me – but how can that possibly be what makes it right? 

    I’m all for inclusion, and I don’t want to see otherwise good people painted as bigots. But I struggle with the idea that we can’t come out and say something is discrimination until the majority of our audience agrees it’s discrimination.