The Big Gay Supreme Court Media Bias Is the Line Between Fact and Opinion

Philip Bump
June 17, 2013
The Big Gay Supreme Court Media Bias Is the Line Between Fact and Opinion

After no truly major rulings were announced on Monday morning, we may have to wait another week or so for the Supreme Court's decisions on two key same-sex marriage cases, but we at least now have a better sense of which media outlets reflect our prejudices on the issue. Supporter of same-sex marriage? You're in luck; nearly every outlet leaned that way. Opponent? Meet Mr. Limbaugh.

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The findings come from a Pew Research survey of hundreds of news and commentary articles in the weeks before and after the Court's late-March sessions on both Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. That week stands out clearly on the chart below.

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The researchers summarize their findings.

Almost half (47 percent) 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 percent largely focused on opposition and 44 percent 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.

Or, in pie form:

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That finding held true even for traditionally divergent networks. For example, here was Pew's breakdown for the three network news channels. MSNBC was far more likely to be supportive — but even on more-conservative Fox, supportive stories outweighed oppositional ones.

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Breaking that down further, Pew suggests that every single media format was more likely to run positive stories than negative ones. With one exception: conservative talk radio. The study singled out Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity in particular. (It's not clear if Hannity's show on Fox News was more temperate.)

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Perhaps one of the most interesting findings, though, was how little the reported stories differed from the commentary. Commentary pieces were only slightly more likely to take a position for or against the issue — and showed almost the same balance in support for or against the issue.

Pew also notes that the trend in polling has gone the same way: people are more supportive than ever of the practice. And, as we've noted before, none of this matters. The decision comes down to nine people in black robes — who don't exactly reflect your average Americans.

Photo: A gay New Jersey couple file for a civil union. (AP)