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March 23, 2004

Bias Becomes Boring

Perhaps it's indicative of apathy, perhaps of a belief that it my limited voice would have no effect, or perhaps I was just busy that day, but I never got around to posting about a shamefully biased report by long-time Providence Journal reporter Karen Lee Ziner. The piece was about a rally for a bill that would define marriage as between a man and a woman in Rhode Island, and a letter from Mark Gordon, executive director of Fidelity Forum, puts my feelings well:

What is disturbing about Ziner's journalism is that she deliberately sought out the most egregious sentiment possible and then proceeded to feature it as the lead in her story. In so doing she cast the entire event in the shadow of D'Ovidio's assertion, painting all of the marchers -- and, by extension, anyone who agrees with their position -- as hateful, intolerant bigots.

Ziner has been writing long enough to understand that her piece would achieve precisely the effect she intended. Her story represents the deliberate and malicious injection of a reporter's own biases -- in this case a pro-gay marriage, anti-Catholic agenda -- into the news.

I suggest that if Karen Lee Ziner wants to become an opinion columnist, she should begin her apprenticeship somewhere other than the news pages of The Providence Journal. By the same token, if the editors of The Journal have a point to make they should be plain about it rather than hiding behind the feigned objectivity of reportage.

Regarding the Projo's advocacy, that's been obvious for about as long as the issue of same-sex marriage has been in the news. As for Ziner's piece, my thought was that I should begin "covering" such events, because one simply can't trust a journalist who reports on a rally attended by over 100 people and kicks off the top-most article on the front page of the Rhode Island section thus:

Liliana D'Ovidio believes that God allowed The Station nightclub fire "because there are homosexuals in the state."

"He withdraws his blessing," D'Ovidio explained at a rally against same-sex marriage, held at the State House Rotunda yesterday.

A member of Catholics for Life, D'Ovidio held a sign reminding people that "God set fire from the heavens to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah," two supposedly wicked cities described in the book of Genesis.

One reason I didn't mention the piece was that I couldn't tell, from Ziner's phrasing, whether D'Ovidio was just an attendee or a speaker. Researching her on the Net (although I didn't bookmark the pages), I discovered that she's a seventy-something widow who is very active in pro-life events. At this particular event, she was just an attendee. My guess: her sign attracted Ziner's attention, and either pointed questions or mangled context gave the reporter enough to frame her story as she did.

And that framing did have an effect. The state representative who proposed the bill and organized the rally, Victor G. Moffitt, issued an apology, and D'Ovidio has clarified (apparently to Ziner, and not on any front pages, as far as I can tell); even her sign gets a different description in the follow up article:

Liliana D'Ovidio, the woman who made the remarks to a Providence Journal reporter, carried a sign at the rally with a phone number for Courage, a 12-step program for gay Roman Catholics who try to abstain from same-sex relationships because they believe them to be immoral. D'Ovidio said Courage helps homosexuals be "cured of their tendencies."

Yesterday, D'Ovidio said her quote about the Station fire was taken out of context.

"It is not because of homosexuals that people are punished," D'Ovidio said. "For one thing, there are some persons with homosexual tendencies who live virtuous, celibate lives."

D'Ovidio continued, "God cannot bless a country and its people that is the greatest exporter of pornography, allows over 60,000 pornographic sites on the Internet available to children, and kills 4,500 babies a day through abortions -- with over 100 a week of these in Rhode Island. Unfortunately, bad things happen to good people because of all of our sins."

Frankly, I could see something very similar to that statement resulting in the objectionable paraphrase, which makes me wonder why Ziner wouldn't offer the full original quotation in the follow up piece. Why, for that matter, do journalists so rarely seem inclined to explain themselves? They just roll on, with the very same woman whose reportage is at issue reporting the reactions to it. Clearly, editorializing or not, Ziner is as much an actor in this story as D'Ovidio.

ADDENDUM:
Although it's only incidentally related, a story about some vandalism in Johnston, Rhode Island, to which Jeff Miller directed my attention, seems to fit as an addendum to this post. As the Projo reports in a Digital Bulletin:

The face of the statue, depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd with a lamb over his shoulder, was painted black. Paint was also sprayed over a carved inscription on the statue's stone pedestal that says, "Pray for an end to abortion." The words "Anti-choice Nazis" were painted on top of a masonry garden box surrounding the statue.

As one might expect, the incident sparked that famous Catholic hatred:

"The parishoners are very concerned. They're saddened," said Rev. Douglas Spina, pastor. "It gives us the opportunity to pray for the people who would do this kind of thing."
Posted by Justin Katz at March 23, 2004 6:10 PM
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