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A number of you have told me that you don’t look forward to reading the column on your computer screen. That’s not necessary if you have a printer. Print out the column and take it with you to the breakfast table or wherever else you choose to read printed material. (You can also call up past columns in case you missed them.)
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First, a reminder:
Attractive, hardbound copies of “Life With Marian”—a book which a good many readers have said they would be interested in owning—are still available for purchase (for $22.50) at The Bookworm in Countryside Village. If more convenient, you can now also send a check payable to Harold W. Andersen for $26.66 (includes tax and postage) and mail to me at P.O. Box 27347, Omaha, NE, 68127. A copy will be sent by return mail.
April 9, 2009
Thanks to seven of their powerful fellow citizens who are social reformers, some three million Iowans face the prospect of figuratively playing hosts (the vast majority of them reluctant hosts, according to the best available evidence) to an influx of “gay” same-sex couples. Couples who insist on making abnormality co-equal with normal husband/wife relationships which have for centuries been the foundation of the institution of marriage.
My reference to seven powerful Iowans is, of course, to the seven justices of the Iowa Supreme Court. They voted unanimously that a 1998 Iowa law forbidding same-sex marriages is unconstitutional.
And my presumption that the decision of the seven lawyers is contrary to the will of the great majority of Iowans is based on the following fact (which you would have discovered if you had read down to the 14th paragraph on an inside page on the second day of news coverage):
In 1998 a law defining marriage as being between one man and one woman was enacted by the Iowa Legislature with 87.7% approval of the legislators voting on the issue. The vote for the bill in the Iowa House was 89-9. The bill passed the Senate by 40-9.
In none of the extensive news coverage which came to my attention, either print or broadcast, was there any evidence or any suggestion that there had been any significant change in the feelings of Iowans generally on the subject of same-sex marriage between 1998 and the present.
The failure to produce any significant evidence that the people of Iowa generally now favor “gay” or “lesbian” marriages seems to me to make a little silly—would “farfetched” be a kinder word?—any contention that the decision by the seven judges on the Iowa Supreme Court may signal or lead to a slowing or even a reversal of the national tide of public opinion which is opposed to recognizing same-sex unions as marriages.
Under the headline “Iowa Decency,” The New York Times called the Iowa Supreme Court ruling “a refreshing message of fairness and common sense from the nation’s heartland” which “brought the nation a step closer to realizing its promise of equality and justice.”
A professor of constitutional Law at Drake University in Des Moines commented: “As a heartland state, Iowa will be perceived as being pretty mainstream but still in support of gay marriage.”
A probably inevitable but still unfortunate reaction to the Iowa decision is reflected in quite accurate headlines on the third day of coverage of the story. The main headline referred to a “gay mecca” across the river from Omaha and a subhead said: “With couples rushing to the altar, Iowa may ring up big tourism dollars.”
I would say that in everything from the Iowa Supreme Court decision and its immediate aftermath to the latest figures on U.S. unemployment to the reports on President Obama’s European performance, the last 10 days or so have not shown journalism—print or broadcast—at its best. Consider:
Journalists couldn’t seem to make up their minds as to how to refer to the couples whom the seven Iowa judges found to be deprived of their constitutional rights.
Some accounts spoke of “gays,” referring to homosexual males, and “lesbians,” referring to women in their relationship with other women.
Sometimes a reference was simply to “gays” when the subject was both homosexuals and lesbians.
Rarely was the objective, precisely accurate description “same-sex couples” used.
(I consider it non-objective journalism to use “gay” to refer to homosexual men or to homosexuals and lesbians as same-sex partners of either sex. “Gay” is a word that simply sounds more attractive than homosexual, and the news media have sheepishly gone along with the debasing of “gay,” which once was a word that could be used in a variety of ways.)
In the early news accounts, there were occasional references to the Iowa Supreme Court overturning the 1998 law because the court found it unconstitutional. These early references offered no explanation of whether the law was held to violate the Iowa State Constitution or the Federal Constitution or what provision it violated. A third-day story included a sentence saying that the seven justices had ruled that the law violated the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.
Both television and print media quoted Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning as saying that the Iowa decision did not mean that same-sex marriages in Iowa must be legally recognized in Nebraska. To its credit, at least one Omaha television station carried a film clip of Bruning explaining why this is so.
The Federal Constitution includes this language: “Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records and judicial proceedings of every other state.”
Bruning explained that Congress had passed a defense-of-marriage act designed to nullify the “full faith and credit” language in cases where the issue is a same-sex marriage in another state.
Among the same-sex couples depicted as rejoicing over the Iowa court decision, one couple (I don’t remember the gender) was shown with what was described as a two-year-old son and another couple (again I don’t remember the gender) were described as having three children. In neither case was there an explanation of how same-sex couples could have a child described as their son or another same-sex couple having three children.
Journalists—and certainly the same-sex couples involved—should understand that the issue of children being raised in the unnatural atmosphere of a home maintained by same-sex partners is perhaps the hottest button of all in the whole controversy over same-sex “marriages.”
* * *
I spoke above of news media performance in the reporting of unemployment statistics.
I should concede that this has gone on for a very long time, but it becomes increasingly inexcusable in economic times like these, when changes in the unemployment index get major news play.
A recent story given top play in The New York Times had this headline: “Unemployment Rate, at 8.5 Percent, Tests Government Response to Downturn.”
Unanswered was a fundamental question: 8.5% of what? Is “what” a Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate of the number of people seeking employment, or of the number of people who have had jobs but have lost them?
And isn’t it more likely that 8.5% is an estimate or an approximation rather than a precise percentage of whatever “what” is?
The Times headline said also: “660,000 more jobs lost.” Does the Federal Government know that exactly 660,000 jobs were lost or is it an estimate which should be so identified?
The questions are not to suggest that there hasn’t been a significant increase in unemployment.
The unexplained “unemployment rate” figures are only one example of the careless habit of the news media in reporting government estimates—the poverty rate, population increases, the number of Americans without health insurance—the list goes on and on and the estimates are frequently reported simply as fact and without any explanation as to how the estimates were arrived at.
Another example of continuing journalistic malpractice: Reporting poll results—a sampling of a miniscule percentage of the voting age public or some significant group within that public—as if the entire group had been polled.
CNN, for example, recently told its viewers: “A recent CNN poll showed that 46 to 47% of Americans approve” of Obama’s handling of the problems of the automotive industry.
The truth is, of course, that a small sampling of Americans found that 46 to 47% approved of Obama’s handling of the problems with the automotive industry.
There was no report of how the relative handful of Americans was chosen to be polled, what question or questions was asked and—increasingly important, since a good many people are tired of being polled—how many of those who were called by pollsters refused to be interviewed.
Again too typical of journalistic performance, a story emphasizing that unemployment rate increased to 8.5% in March waited until the fifth paragraph (this is earlier than some similar journalistic performances) to mention “a few hopeful signs that the recession…could be easing.”
Among the hopeful signs was an increase in orders placed with U.S. factories, better-than-expected reports on construction spending and increasing home sales and a report that consumer spending rose in February for the second month in a row.
Typically, this bit of balancing news was on an inside page when the bad news was featured on the front page and in the headline.
* * *
Turning to news media coverage of President Obama’s European initiatives: You wonder whether The New York Times and the Washington Post are writing about the same story when you encounter headlines like this:
In The Times: “Europeans Offer Few New Troops For Afghanistan.” Then this subhead: “Most Duty Temporary.”
This headline appeared over a Washington Post story: “Afghan war plans get wide support from NATO allies.” The story said the NATO allies approved Obama’s very modest request: no combat troops but temporary forces to help protect elections and train Afghanistan’s army.
But, the Washington Post said, these promises “were a sweeping demonstration of support for the Obama administration’s leadership.”
One might suggest that this is like asking for very little and receiving very little, so a friendly newspaper credits you with “sweeping” support.
Americans must, of course, wish their president well in his determination to crush Al-Queda elements in Afghanistan and adjoining areas of Pakistan which provide a refuge for terrorists. Nominally, NATO is committed to this war, but NATO allies are not interested in fighting a ground war in Afghanistan.
Obama, at least, starts with greater support for “his” war than his predecessor, George W. Bush, received during “his” war in Iraq—although even some Bush critics conceded that the American “surge” strategy of sending in more troops—as Obama is doing in Afghanistan—helped steer Iraq toward peace and democratic government.
* * *
One of the experts at the University of Nebraska Medical Center helping steer me towards a heart-healthy regimen of exercise and diet suggested that it would be good for my blood if I consumed more food with vitamin K—green food like asparagus, spinach and broccoli.
On a subsequent visit to test the viscosity of my blood, I was asked whether I had been eating any of those vitamin K-rich vegetables.
“No,” I replied with a bit of embarrassment but total honesty. Then I added: “But I’ve been thinking about eating them.”
My advisor said that this was at least a step in the right direction.
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