Pew report: Gay marriage coverage far more focused on support than opposition

Pew Research Center

About half the news coverage of the Supreme Court's deliberations on two same-sex marriage cases this spring focused on support for gay marriage, while only 9 percent focused on opposition. 44 percent of coverage was neutral. Those are among the findings of a new study by Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, out today.

The Supreme Court may rule on one or both of those cases Monday.

That trend continued across "nearly all media sectors studied," the report says. "All three of the major cable networks, for instance, had more stories with significantly more supportive statements than opposing, including Fox News."

The study evaluated tone of stories by counting viewpoints expressed in them. It looked at stories in 11 newspapers; websites such as Politico, Gawker and BuzzFeed; network news, cable channels and radio.

The Wall Street Journal and USA Today were the newspapers that ran the most stories classed as neutral. MSNBC had the "highest percentage of support (64%) and the fewest neutral stories (30%)."

Fox News, on the other hand, had the lowest percentage of supportive stories (29%) and the highest level of neutral (63%). ... CNN’s mix was closer to Fox than MSNBC, with 39% largely voicing support and 57% neutral or mixed.

(Click image to view a larger version of it.)

Similar patterns held for commentary and reported stories. Pew offers several possible explanations for the tilt toward support:

[M]any of the newsmaking events in this time period indicated momentum towards same-sex marriage. These included endorsements from politicians, legislation at the state level and shifts in public opinion tracked by surveys. Second, during the week of the hearings, when most of the coverage occurred, the media offered many profiles of the plaintiffs or members of the LGBT community with few voices of opposition mixed in. Finally, commentators who favored same-sex marriage, such as Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews, spent more time discussing the issue than commentators who opposed it, such as Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.

The Huffington Post "produced far more content than any other media outlet studied," the report reads. "On March 27 alone, the second day of the Supreme Court hearings, the Huffington Post produced 77 separate pieces on the subject."

A couple of other interesting nuggets from the report, which is part of the Pew Research Center's "LGBT in Changing Times" series.

  • Sentiment on Twitter shifted sharply from support to opposition to same-sex marriage from the week the court took up the cases to two weeks later.
  • Journalists tended to use the term "same-sex marriage," while the public used the term "gay marriage" more in Google searches.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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