Shuck and Jive

Monday, August 24, 2009

Media Bias in LGBT Reporting

This last week the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America made headlines. According to the ELCA news service:
The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted today to open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships.
You got that? Living in committed relationships. To further clarify:
The action came by a vote of 559-451 at the highest legislative body of the 4.6 million member denomination. Earlier the assembly also approved a resolution committing the church to find ways for congregations that choose to do so to "recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships," though the resolution did not use the word "marriage."
Here is the text of the assembly action (pdf):
RESOLVED, that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America make provision in its policies to eliminate the prohibition of rostered service by members who are in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships; CA.09.05.27
"Publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."

The assembly action (merely 848 words) uses that phrase, by my count,
twelve times. The phrase is laborious but very clear. This action was NOT about approving carte blanche sexual promiscuity. How many straight clergy can meet the standard of "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, opposite-gender relationships?"

The Johnson City Press chose to publish the news of this action in this way:

The nation’s largest Lutheran denomination took openly gay clergy more fully into its fold Friday, as leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted to lift a ban that prohibited sexually active gay and lesbian people from serving as ministers.
Sexually active? As if they are a bunch of horny teens making out in the back of the church van.

Over half the article reported on conservatives' objections. Four individuals and one organization were quoted in opposition to the action. One person was quoted in favor.

The Press accompanied the article with this photo of a dour-looking bunch.

The caption reports on opponents making a last stand against "sexually active gays and lesbians." Although here they at least used the phrase, "in committed relationships."

Not once in the article did they report the phrase that the resolution used a dozen times:

"publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."

My friend, Drew, was one of the first to notice this bias.

Sex was not affirmed, but a very specific kind of relationship that clearly does not add provision for "sexually active gays" in the way that the AP wire has falsely reported it. That NPR, New York Times and others would choose to publish this wire shows how long we have to go before we understand that this is about the legitimacy of a kind of relationship, and not about sexual practices.
William Lindsey at Bilgrimage also reports on this media bias:
Such indefensible attempts of reporters supposedly pledged to objectivity to skew intra-ecclesial and society-wide conversations about justice for gay persons need to stop. And those of us who are gay, along with our supporters, need to stop putting up with this, and to demand accountability on the part of those who pay reporters’ salaries.
Right on.


  1. Thanks John, for your appropriate comments. I was present throughout the assembly, and I offered my insights in my own blog. Today, I pointed out how the reactionary group, Lutheran Core, actively spun the press.

  2. This is so good, and so very right on. Thank you.

  3. the fact that get religion is now trying to spin it back by slicing the very clear word "friendly" into gay sex friendly or gay relationship friendly is ludicrous. is your church heterosexual sex friendly? sure it is! but in a specific context and relationship. so misleading, so wrong.

    that they see the word friendly as a problem clearly reveals that they really have not many same gender couples that are friends. look my sister had to deal with a non affirming situation in my own family. she and her partner had to either sleep in separate rooms or sleep elsewhere for a time when they would visit. no matte3r ho you slice it, no matter how you think you can cut and dice what a person does from who they are, no matter what parts of a person you arbitrarily select to befriend to comfort your own ideology, the object of your friendship will not feel welcomed in your house. period. if the anti-gay community would get over their sense of impurity and engage gay couples, they would see how clear and present this simple concept of friendship really is. that they have chosen to obscure what friendship means, a form of love, is downright sad and quite pathetic.

  4. Obie--great work over there, thanks!

    Rachel-- : )

    Drew-- I appreciate you taking this on and taking on the folks at getreligion as well. Had you not posted I wouldn't have checked my local paper. Our local PFLAG group is going to be meeting with the paper regarding reporting on LGBT issues. I think they are open to being fair. They just aren't aware. Education and conversation is good for all.

  5. There is a very good entry in the "Notes From Off Center" blog "that discusses how the AP newswire article on this subject was written by a person with ties to the right and how this is shown in the bias of the article. Check it out.

  6. Seeker--Kudos to Drew on that! That was a little more involved than what I wanted to address in this post, but I am glad Drew pointed that out.

  7. John, thank you very much for linking to my Bilgrimage posting, and thanks to Drew for connecting us.

    I may follow up on Bilgrimage today with a posting remembering what went on in churches in the South during the 1960s, which is eerily similar to what is taking place today with the debates about inclusion of gays and lesbians.

    The question in the 1960s was whether white churches could possibly open their doors to African Americans. It is embarrassing and shameful to look back to the sixties and remember that churches would even seriously ask such a question--and that many churches answered the question with a resounding no.

    Just as churches in the same area of the country are often doing when the question is welcoming gay persons . . . . With the same collusion of the media in the same part of the country, in assisting churches to cling to prejudice . . . .

  8. Good thoughts, William! Thanks for visiting and especially for your post and work for equal rights!

  9. Thanks for your blog and for your support of glbtq rights. Drew mentioned slicing up the very clear word "friendly." They think it is unfair to refer to churches that are unfriendly as "unfriendly." Those people are really just right-wing shills. They also try to slice up the word "monogamy," saying that it means different things to gay people. This, of course, is taking talking points from people opposed to same-sex marriage. They have no other arguments really, so they are now saying that gay people don't know how to be monogamous. The problem with that argument is that, since women tend to have less problems with monogamy than men, lesbians are likely to be *more* monogamous than straight couples! In any case, monogamy means what it means, just as "friendly" means what it means.

  10. I did notice this in the reporting John. Thanks for highlighting it.