Fox Vs. Real Journalism

When Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled today that California’s infamous Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, I was thrilled.  It seems perfectly obvious that the measure has absolutely no constitutional basis and clearly violates the “equal protection” clause of the 14th amendment.  Also- I’m a fan of fairness.  And I’m a fan of not letting one group’s religious beliefs become the basis for the laws of a land that’s supposed to be inclusive of all…

Anyway, I was so excited that I read every article I could about it.  I went to all sorts of news outlets to see who was reporting what tidbits.  I really wanted to know everything I could about this decision.  That thirst for knowledge led me to a place I hate to go.  A dark, evil place that trades more in lies, half-truths and propaganda than news.  A place that revels in hatred, bigotry and mean-spiritedness, and does it all under the banner of Jesus.  As you’ve no doubt guessed, the place I’m talking about is… Taco Bell.

I’m kidding, of course; it was FOXNews.  I gotta say: it really does hurt me every time I venture onto that stupid site.  I keep thinking, “I’m going to give them a fair shake this time.  Maybe it’s my bias that’s the problem.  Maybe they’ll just report the news without putting some obviously hateful spin on it.”  I’m wrong.  Every fucking time.

When I started reading their coverage of the Prop 8 decision, the first thing I noticed was that they misspelled the judge’s name.  I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was just an unintentional typo, but one can’t help believing that Freud would have something to say about what was happening in the sub-conscious of the person who made that mistake (not to mention the editor who, I presume, reviewed it), especially considering the fact that at least one spell-check (Microsoft Word) catches the mistake.

The second thing I noticed was that this was the first article I had seen about the case that mentioned that judge Williams was openly gay.  Now I had not heard that before, and even though I don’t think anyone can honestly argue that it necessarily affects the case in any meaningful way (all judges have real lives, and therefore have personal points of view on various topics…), it still seems like it might be relevant to the case.  Then again, if the judge had been a fundamentalist Christian, I’m sure the right would’ve voiced their extreme disappointment if anyone had tried to make hay of that fact, so maybe it’s not so fair… I’m not a journalist- I don’t know where that line should be drawn. 

The third thing I noticed was that I had read this before!  About halfway through, I suddenly started to recognize the verbiage I was seeing.  I was very confused.  Had FOXNews (love the inter-cap logo!) been plagiarizing?  Why hadn’t I noticed it earlier?  I zipped up to the beginning of the article to see the by-line.  There was none!  “That’s weird,” I thought.  Then I read to the bottom, and saw this quote:

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contributed, eh?  I went back and found the AP article I had read earlier.  It had, indeed, “contributed”. Which is to say that FOX had taken the article, used about 70% of it as it stood, but altered and added to it enough to make sure that patented FOXSpin was firmly in place

I’ll include the articles in their entirety later, but here are the differences.  You can decide for yourself it they constitute just a different, yet still journalistically valid, take on the story, or if they are tweaking it to engender a specific and biased reaction (hint: it’s the second one):

1st paragraph—

Original AP article:

A federal judge overturned California's same-sex marriage ban Wednesday in a landmark case that could eventually land before the U.S. Supreme Court to decide if gays have a constitutional right to marry in America.

FOXNews:

A federal judge on Wednesday overturned a California ban on same-sex marriage, ruling that the Proposition 8 ballot initiative was unconstitutional.

Ok, FOX went for brevity here.  It could be argued that they just wanted a quicker, catchier opening.  That argument, of course, is stupid when you see what was eliminated.  They cut the word “landmark,” and the reference to the

Supreme Court, which diminishes the perceived importance of the ruling.  FOX also made sure their wording did not include the phrase indicating marriage might be a “right” for gays.

2nd paragraph—

AP:

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker made his ruling in a lawsuit filed by two gay couples who claimed the voter-approved ban violated their civil rights.

FOX:

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Vaugh [sic] Walker, one of three openly gay federal judges in the country, gave opponents of the controversial Proposition 8 ballot a major victory.

FOX obviously inserts the bit about judge Walker’s sexuality here, but also eliminates the phrase “civil rights,” and takes away the image of the “two gay couples” who filed the suit.  They instead label the plaintiffs in the case “opponents,” giving them an obviously negative feel.

Now FOXNews adds their own paragraph which is best compared to the 11th and 12th paragraphs of the AP article—

AP:

Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson delivered the closing argument for opponents of the ban. He told Judge Walker that tradition or fears of harm to heterosexual unions were legally insufficient grounds to discriminate against gay couples.

Olson teamed up with David Boies to argue the case, bringing together the two litigators best known for representing George W. Bush and Al Gore in the disputed 2000 election.

FOX:

It was also a victory for former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson and attorney David Boies, who represented opposing sides in 2000 Bush v. Gore presidential election challenge and filed the lawsuit last year in federal court on behalf of two gay men and two gay women who claimed the voter-approved ban violated their civil rights.

I actually prefer FOX’s wording about Olson and Boies going head-to-head in Bush v. Gore.  And LOOK! There’s that phrase about civil rights!  It’s back! But instead of  two couples wanting rights, it’s “two gay men and two gay women.”  These aren’t committed, loving relationships, no! It’s just a random grouping of gay guys and lesbos.

FOX’s paragraphs 4 and 5 are exactly the same as AP’s 3 and 4. Then FOX completely eliminates one of the AP paragraphs—

AP:

"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples," the judge wrote in a 136-page ruling that laid out in precise detail why the ban does not pass constitutional muster.

Well, gee.  I can’t see how eliminating that paragraph changes the tenor of the story at all…  It’s not like this paragraph contains the most pertinent information in the entire article or anything!  I mean, what does the reasoning behind the judge’s ruling have to do with this story? Especially if it’s succinct and difficult to refute… Moving on.

The next two paragraphs match up again.  Then FOX eliminates another of AP’s tidbits—

AP:

The ruling puts Walker at the forefront of the gay marriage debate. The longtime federal judge was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.

It should first be noted that the AP seems to have gotten this wrong.  Reagan nominated him in 1987, but a bunch of liberals led by Nancy Polosi blocked his appointment, ironically because of his seeming insensitivity to gays, among other things.  He was then successfully appointed by George “daddy” Bush in 1989.  I suppose FOX could claim to have stricken this paragraph because it’s false, but if that were the only reason, they could’ve just replaced it with one that was correct.  The truth is that they HATE the fact that their heroes nominated this guy, and don’t want their readers to suffer any cognitive dissonance due to the fact that someone they’re supposed to hate had the approval of their beloved Reagan and Bush.

The rest of the article is pretty much the same.

Wasn’t that a fun exercise?  We should play “Spot the Spin” more often, don’t you think?  I think so!

Here are the two articles in their entirety:

From the AP–

By LISA LEFF (AP) [Isn't it nice to know that an actual person wrote this?]

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge overturned California's same-sex marriage ban Wednesday in a landmark case that could eventually land before the U.S. Supreme Court to decide if gays have a constitutional right to marry in America.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker made his ruling in a lawsuit filed by two gay couples who claimed the voter-approved ban violated their civil rights.

Supporters argued the ban was necessary to safeguard the traditional understanding of marriage and to encourage responsible childbearing.

California voters passed the ban as Proposition 8 in November 2008, five months after the state Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.

"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples," the judge wrote in a 136-page ruling that laid out in precise detail why the ban does not pass constitutional muster.

Both sides previously said an appeal was c

ertain if Walker did not rule in their favor. The case would go first to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, then the Supreme Court if the high court justices agree to review it.

Walker heard 13 days of testimony and arguments since January during the first trial in federal court to examine if states can prohibit gays from getting married.

The ruling puts Walker at the forefront of the gay marriage debate. The longtime federal judge was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.

The verdict was the second in a federal gay marriage case to come down in recent weeks. A federal judge in Massachusetts decided last month the state's legally married gay couples had been wrongly denied the federal financial benefits of marriage because of a law preventing the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex unions.

The plaintiffs in the California case presented 18 witnesses. Academic experts testified about topics ranging from the fitness of gay parents and religious views on homosexuality to the historical meaning of marriage and the political influence of the gay rights movement.

Former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson delivered the closing argument for opponents of the ban. He told Judge Walker that tradition or fears of harm to heterosexual unions were legally insufficient grounds to discriminate against gay couples.

Olson teamed up with David Boies to argue the case, bringing together the two litigators best known for representing George W. Bush and Al Gore in the disputed 2000 election.

Defense lawyers called just two witnesses, claiming they did not need to present expert testimony because U.S. Supreme Court precedent was on their side. The attorneys also said gay marriage was an experiment with unknown social consequences that should be left to voters to accept or reject.

Former U.S. Justice Department lawyer Charles Cooper, who represented the religious and conservative groups that sponsored the ban, said cultures around the world, previous courts and Congress all accepted the "common sense belief that children do best when they are raised by their own mother and father."

In an unusual move, the original defendants, California Attorney General Jerry Brown and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, refused to support Proposition 8 in court.

That left the work of defending the law to Protect Marriage, the group that successfully sponsored the ballot measure that passed with 52 percent of the vote after the most expensive political campaign on a social issue in U.S. history.

Currently, same-sex couples can only legally wed in Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C.

 

From FOXNews—

A federal judge on Wednesday overturned a California ban on same-sex marriage, ruling that the Proposition 8 ballot initiative was unconstitutional.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Vaugh Walker, one of three openly gay federal judges in the country, gave opponents of the controversial Proposition 8 ballot a major victory.

It was also a victory for former U.S. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson and attorney David Boies, who represented opposing sides in 2000 Bush v. Gore presidential election challenge and filed the lawsuit last year in federal court on behalf of two gay men and two gay women who claimed the voter-approved ban violated their civil rights.

Supporters argued the ban was necessary to safeguard the traditional understanding of marriage and to encourage responsible childbearing.

California voters passed the ban as Proposition 8 in November 2008, five months after the state Supreme Court legalized gay marriage.

Both sides previously said an appeal was certain if Walker did not rule in their favor. The case would go first to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, then the Supreme Court if the high court justices agree to review it.

Walker heard 13 days of testimony and arguments since January during the first trial in federal court to examine if states can prohibit gays from getting married.

The verdict was the second in a federal gay marriage case to come down in recent weeks. A federal judge in Massachusetts decided last month the state's legally married gay couples had been wrongly denied the federal financial benefits of marriage because of a law preventing the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex unions.

The plaintiffs in the California case presented 18 witnesses. Academic experts testified about topics ranging from the fitness of gay parents and religious views on homosexuality to the historical meaning of marriage and the political influence of the gay rights movement.

Olson delivered the closing argument for opponents of the ban. He told Judge Walker that tradition or fears of harm to heterosexual unions were legally insufficient grounds to discriminate against gay couples.

Defense lawyers called just two witnesses, claiming they did not need to present expert testimony because U.S. Supreme Court precedent was on their side. The attorneys also said gay marriage was an experiment with unknown social consequences that should be left to voters to accept or reject.

Former U.S. Justice Department lawyer Charles Cooper, who represented the religious and conservative groups that sponsored the ban, said cultures around the world, previous courts and Congress all accepted the "common sense belief that children do best when they are raised by their own mother and father."

In an unusual move, the original defendants, California Attorney General Jerry Brown and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, refused to support Proposition 8 in court.

That left the work of defending the law to Protect Marriage, the group that successfully sponsored the ballot measure that passed with 52 percent of the vote after the most expensive political campaign on a social issue in U.S. history.

Currently, same-sex couples can only legally wed in Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.