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The "Objective" Advocacy Continues
11/23/2003

The other day, I wrote a letter to the Providence Journal because this report about gay marriage is nothing short of advocacy. Here's my letter:

Was Edward Fitzpatrick's phone busted the day he penned "Hope reborn for R.I. gay couples" (November 20)? He doesn't quote a single person making an argument against gay marriage. He mentions the Defense of Marriage Act without noting that some question whether it will stand up to judicial review. He doesn't even go to the extent of quoting religious arguments that others will find easy to dismiss.

Between the one-sided rhetoric, the worst-case sob stories, and the maudlin language with which he opens, Fitzpatrick's piece puts the Providence Journal's news department clearly in the category of advocacy, rather than reportage. Is it the Projo's intention to leverage its monolithic press influence in Rhode Island, removing one side of the discussion entirely from "objective" reports, to forward the political agenda of a small minority of its readership?

Perhaps the public debate won't degrade into dismissive and erroneous accusations of bigotry if reporters remember their training and maybe fix their phones. There are arguments against gay marriage — particularly if it's to be forced through the judiciary — and the Providence Journal ought to consider it a matter of duty to find them. (It isn't that hard.)

I tend to doubt that my letter brought it about, but today the Projo has at least reported on Courage, a Catholic group devoted to helping homosexuals to be chaste. But far from providing balance, it merely serves as a contrast by which to examine the advocacy. Whereas Fitzpatrick's piece was called "Hope reborn for R.I. gay couples"; the title and lead for the one today by Jennifer Levitz are: "Your libido is saying: Oh, come on; Oh, come on. If God allowed it, some members of a local group say they would like to be in monogamous relationships."

Bucking Fitzpatrick's one-sided strategy with his "Hope" piece, Levitz inserts contrasting statements from DignityUSA, another group of homosexual Catholics, but one that seems to think that God must be made to change His rules. (Somewhat ironically, the Dignity representative quotes mainly from the Old Testament to prove that the Church does not take a literal view of scripture, without noting that it took the birth, sacrifice, and resurrection of the Son of God to change the rules between the Testaments.) Most striking of all is the difference in tone. Here's how Fitzpatrick opens:

In many ways, the day was ideal.

With the June sun setting behind them, the Warwick couple stood barefoot on a beach, embraced by a semicircle of friends and relatives. Wearing white linen, they recited poems, exchanged vows and slipped gold bands on their fingers.

But the union lacked a crucial element -- the sanction of the state. As a same-sex couple, Nicole M. Jones and Iris I. Rodriguez could not be legally married.

Here's how Levitz describes a Courage meeting:

Rain fell on a recent night as the monthly meeting of Courage began in the rectory next to St. Charles Borromeo, a grand, church in the shadow of the Cranston Street armory in Providence.

The rectory looks like someone's grandmother's house. There is a picket fence around the garden and a yellow ribbon on the door. Inside, the kitchen was scrubbed clean and the tablecloth preserved with a covering of plastic. The windows were hung with ruffled curtains. The dark wood furniture was decorated with lace doilies. The coffee was on and the powdered doughnuts out. ...

At St. Charles, a loud, angry-sounding prayer could be heard through the closed door of the room where Courage was meeting.

I don't think one needs a degree in English to understand the picture being painted in the "Local News" section of the Providence Journal.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 01:21 PM EST