At Get Religion, “The Mormons are coming!“, taking issue with aspects of a Washington Post article of the same name. I would summarize the general problem in simpler terms: some journalists in the mainstream press believe their own propaganda, which they use to frame most stories and to select friendly facts. Let’s look at an example from the Get Religion post, then hit the larger issue of what the post reveals about the evolving use of Mormonism as a symbol.
Is widepsread legal recognition of gay marriage inevitable? The press certainly thinks so, and typically assumes this view as fact when reporting. Here is the critique from the GR post:
While the number of states legalizing same-sex marriage is slowly increasing, so is the number of states banning it. California, Arizona and Florida were the last three — bringing the total to some 30 — states to ban it. They did so just this past November.
And is the disparity narrow and shrinking? What about the Gallup poll that came out earlier this week showing that Americans are not becoming more accepting of same-sex unions? In May 2007, 53 percent opposed same-sex marriage and now 57 percent oppose. Two years ago, 46 percent supported same-sex marriage and now only 40 percent do according to the poll.
The media really like to run with the narrative that same-sex marriage is inevitable. They have repeated it incessantly. But is it true?
Is it true? If you are reporting facts, that question makes sense. If you are just broadcasting opinions, it doesn’t. The “same-sex marriage is inevitable” claim, as a factual assertion, is obviously false, yet the media, as noted in the Get Religion piece, likes to “run with the narrative.” Don’t let facts interfere with the preferred narrative.
The larger issue in the post and the article is the evolving use of Mormonism as a symbol. Prop 8 opponents and same-sex marriage supporters are depicting the LDS Church as a mean, hateful organization that “stole our rights.” Those behind the new PR campaign using the slogan “The Mormons are coming!” seem to think that particular depiction of Mormonism (1) is credible enough to be effective; and (2) is going to resonate with a lot of voters.
That’s a risky strategy. The Washington Post article noted, “The strategy carries risks for a movement grounded in the concept of tolerance.” Another press faux pas: the movement claims to be grounded in tolerance, and reporters accept that claim at face value, but most people aren’t that naive. The fact that half of the newspapers asked to run the ads rejected them ought to be a sign that there’s something wrong with the claim. The ads weren’t rejected because they were too tolerant. As noted in the Get Religion post:
I’m extremely surprised that in the story we don’t hear from anyone pointing out that going after Mormons for their opposition to same-sex marriage might backfire big time, to put it mildly. There’s also no discussion of some of the anti-Mormon protests and vandalism that erupted following California’s Proposition 8 vote.
The bottom line: the next time same-sex marriage is on the ballot, a debate on the meaning of Mormonism might be part of the campaign.