Gay Marriage Supporters Give More, Better Media
By Andrew Belonsky
The media loves gay marriage! That's the easy, immediate takeaway from Pew's new analysis of major outlets's portrayal of marriage equality. But it's not necessarily that clear cut, and that's not the most fascinating factoid here.
After studying hundreds of stories from dozens of news outlets, including the major cable news channels, network news, 11 newspapers and various popular websites, Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that media coverage over all, including statements made by guests and activists, leaned toward support:
Almost half (47%) of the nearly 500 stories studied from March 18 (a week prior to the Supreme Court hearings), through May 12, primarily focused on support for the measure, while 9% largely focused on opposition and 44% had a roughly equal mix of both viewpoints was neutral. In order for a story to be classified as supporting or opposing same sex marriage, statements expressing that position had to outnumber the opposite view by at least 2-to-1. Stories that did not meet that threshold were defined as neutral or mixed.
The most telling and potentially predictive element of this survey though isn't how much the media and its guests like or don't like same-sex marriage, but how coherent and united supporters are in comparison to a clearly fractured opposition:
Within the media debate on the subject, this report found that those arguing for same-sex marriage had a more consistent message than those arguing against.
Among supporters of same-sex marriage, the main argument was framed around civil rights. Nearly half (49%) of the stories studied in the news media included the argument that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry because it is an issue of equality… The arguments against tended to vary more. The most common opposing argument was the idea that same-sex marriage would hurt society and harm traditional marriage, though less than a fifth of stories (18%) included this claim. Other arguments against the measure included the idea that homosexuality is immoral and that the government should not impose a new definition of marriage that strays from the traditional notion of one man and one woman.
So maybe it's not that media coverage leans toward marriage equality; maybe it's just that the opposition keeps giving "mixed" messages that aren't registering on Pew's scale, though even that does more good than harm: no one wants to follow an incoherent bigot, which helps explain Pew's headlining conclusion, "News Coverage Conveys Strong Momentum for Same-Sex Marriage."
But despite a clear message from gay marriage supporters, including those in the media, there's still no consensus on same-sex terminology:
Journalists and citizens following the subject on the Internet used different terms when discussing the subject. An analysis using Google Trends, a service that tracks the phrases used during Google searches, revealed that citizens searched more often for "gay marriage" than "same-sex marriage." Journalists, on the other hand, used "same-sex marriage" more frequently - according to searches of the LexisNexis database. The term "marriage equality" was not used by either as much, but did see an increase over time.
You can read the entire study and its findings at the Project for Excellence in Journalism.