A few months ago Gallup released a survey that revealed that Americans' trust in the news media is at historic lows. Only 40 percent said they "'have a great deal' or 'a fair amount' of trust and confidence in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly." A recent Associated Press (AP) story about an important legislative issue isn't helping change Kentuckians' perceptions.
Last week's AP headline "Bill allowing companies to deny services to gays advances" was inaccurate and misleading. The story reported "Kentucky businesses could refuse services to gay, lesbian or transgender clients in the name of protecting religious beliefs under a bill advancing in the state Senate." The bill did no such thing. Even though opponents of the measure may have claimed the contrary, the reporter's job is to report the facts—not tantalize left-leaning readers with headlines promising pounds of political red meat.
SB 180 is a measure to protect the religious freedom of business owners who are being coerced by the state to service events they find morally objectionable. A person is not an event. A wedding is. And that's primarily what SB 180 addresses—protecting the conscience rights of those who believe participating in a same-sex marriage is sacrilegious.
An objective story would have reported that for conservative Christians, marriage isn't just people; it is a religious ceremony… between two people of the opposite sex. For Catholics, its a sacrament. If SB 180 were enacted at the federal level, it would have saved a Catholic couple in New York $13,000 in fines for refusing to rent their facility for a same-sex wedding. It would have saved Oregon bakers Tim and Melissa Klein from a $135,000 fine for refusing to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex ceremony. It would have saved Lexington's Hands on Originals owner Blaine Adamson two years of legal proceedings for refusing to print T-shirts for an LGBT parade.
In order to better understand why the law is necessary, objective reporting would have included interviews of those who've been on the receiving end of coercive policies. Instead, the AP quoted a lengthy rebuttal by the bill's major opponent while failing to get a quote from the group that helped write the bill. This kind of bias has much to do with the reason Gallup reports a 15 point drop in public confidence in major news agencies since 1998.
The media prides itself in objectivity and factual reporting. When this is carried out, it serves the public. But when editorializing is integrated into reporting something is lost: namely truth and believability. Good reporting carefully interviews and considers all sides involved, gets to the heart of the issue and shares the truth of the matter. Advocacy journalism dressed in news comes at the expense of the truth and is much like the Boy Who Cried Wolf. Alarm the public and grab their attention (like the recent AP headline), but tell that falsehood often enough and eventually the townspeople won't listen. And when nobody listens the public is vulnerable.
So when a February 28 Lexington Herald-Leader (LHL) story blared "Trump’s father was arrested in Klan riot in 1927" the average Trump supporter asks, what's the LHL's agenda? Trump is the one running, not his father. This is another case of trial by news headline and conviction by slanted coverage. Trump may very well be a racist, but why bring his father into it? Did the LHL run stories about Barack Obama's father's well-documented serial marriages and charges of child abuse?
The media deserves much credit for Trump's political ascendency. Ignoring conservative viewpoints as irrelevant has arguably pushed voter sentiment in favor of the guy who is confronting media bias head-on. Trump, in all his inglorious bluster and crudeness, might be the least civil and most unqualified of any of the candidates, but many in the electorate are not hearing that. They're remembering how the media refused to fairly report the news when given the chance in the first place.
This column appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader on March 2, 2016.