Comment on NPR’s gay marriage coverage from 5/6 to 5/13 from NPR Deputy Managing Editor StuSeidel:
The issue for journalists is not one of whether there is a bias in favor or against same-sex
marriage or gay rights. It's very hard to find anybody in society who does not hold a
personal opinion regarding those issues--or many other issues that come up daily in political and
social coverage. The challenge regarding coverage of gay rights, as with so many other matters,
is whether a journalist is successful in setting aside bias to hear and fairly report divergent views
and perspectives. We do that.
I don't know that there is a measure of "how far" a news organization should go in reporting one
or another "side" on any issue. Our objective is to report on what is happening in society and to
give our audience a fair sampling of views without favor or prejudice. Beyond the president’s
statement about gay marriage, this was a politically and socially important moment and it was
important to capture the way it was experienced by those it affected most.
It's fashionable in journalism to try to objectify objectivity, to try to determine that fairness is
achieved by precisely divvying up the time allotted to one or another view on a subject or the
number of words devoted to one view or another, or the number of individuals interviewed. But
measuring the time devoted to one view or another--indeed, viewing an issue as having "two"
sides--is to miss a core responsibility of journalism. In this sort of story, there is a core
responsibility to seek a multiple of perspectives and to present them fairly, with the nuance and
complexity that all these stories deserve. We strive to do that in every story we tell and have done
that in our recent and past coverage of gay rights, and we will continue to do that in our future
coverage. (It may be relevant to add that earlier this week on Morning Edition we noted that a
Gallop survey from last year showed that for the first time a majority of Americans do favor legal
Gay Marriage. It was 53 to 45 percent. 16 years ago 68 percent opposed gay marriage being
recognized by law. So the country has shifted dramatically and, while it is important not to present
false equivalence, there is a change that should be reflected in our coverage. Still 45 percent
against gay marriage is a big number and must be reflected in our coverage accordingly.)
It is not for us to determine whether the Family Research Center is a "hate" group any more than
it is for us to determine whether the Southern Poverty Law Center is the proper arbiter of which
groups might be called "hate" groups or which groups might be called "love" groups.
Further, the positions expressed by the Family Research Center are viewed as repugnant by
many people. Many other people embrace those positions. The same could be said about the
Southern Poverty Law Center. NPR avoids gratuitously using patently objectionable language for
broadcast or publication. Of course, everybody has a different view of what is objectionable. We
follow what might be called "broadly accepted social standards," but we also have an obligation to
report on views held by many people--and supported by many organizations--that are viewed as
objectionable by a large portion of the population. To pretend those views do not exist by not
reporting them would deprive people in our audience an opportunity to responsibly draw their own
conclusions about the world around them.