A search for same-sex marriage on AP pulls up a slew of photos featuring sad homosexual couples denied the “right to marry,” and not much else. Now a study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism recognizes what any perceptive reader could have told them.
Around the time the U.S. Supreme Court was considering the same-sex marriage issue, news reports had more quotes from supporters than opponents, the study concluded. Pew looked at nearly 500 stories on the topic over a two-month period that began just before the court heard oral arguments in March. By a 5-to-1 margin, stories with statements supporting legalization outweighed those dominated by opponents' views.
The findings were consistent across various media: Almost half of newspaper stories showed at least a 2-to-1 margin of pro views to con, 8 percent were dominated by opponents, and 48 percent were largely neutral, Pew said. All three cable news networks had similar proportions of supporter to opponent content in their stories.
But Pew blamed the results largely on the number of stories about polls showing societal attitudes swiftly moving toward support for gay marriage, or about politicians announcing their support.
That excuse seems unreasonable, considering an earlier Pew Research Center Survey found that 51 percent of the public favored legalizing same-sex marriage and 42 percent opposed it. Attitudes may be changing—but not as much as media coverage suggests.
"Certainly it is evident in these findings the degree to which supporters of same-sex marriage were largely successful in getting their message out in a clear way, a consistent way, across a wide swath of the news media," Amy Mitchell, acting director of the project, said.
Pew posed another explanation for the uneven results. Opponents haven't coalesced behind a single argument but instead posed many: Homosexuality is immoral; same-sex marriage hurts families or society; civil unions are good enough; or government should not impose a new definition of marriage.
Even Fox News Channel, which appeals primarily to conservatives, quoted primarily same-sex marriage supporters in 29 percent of their stories, opponents in 8 percent, and 63 percent had about the same amount of pro and con views, Pew said.
Pew found that Twitter postings were more closely aligned with public opinion than news coverage. Tweets were about the same between positive and negative, with the greater proportion of negative comments coming directly after the Supreme Court began hearing arguments.
These reports may not be much of a shock to conservatives, who have claimed liberal media bias for years. But even with the new study, Mitchell is not convinced: "I don't think the study can necessarily speak to that one way or another."