PBS Anchor Celebrates Growing Acceptance of Same-sex Marriage


Support for same-sex marriage is on the rise in America, and PBS couldn’t be happier about it. On Tuesday’s NewsHour, the taxpayer-subsidized network ran a story that betrayed more than a hint of elation at the growing acceptance of gay marriage among both politicians and the public. Leading the cheers was co-anchor Gwen Ifill, who narrated the story and moderated the discussion that followed.

At the top of the segment, Ifill promised her viewers that there “ appears to be an evolving sea change on attitudes toward gay marriage.” She then began her package by insisting that, “Steadily and remarkably, public and political support for same-sex marriage is on the rise.


Is it really so remarkable considering that the mainstream media have been beating the gay-rights drum for years, and more so since President Obama's famous "evolution" on the matter last spring? To call this shift “remarkable” does not exactly convey the image of objectivity that PBS purports to strive for.



Ifill said the change in attitudes has happened “among leading politicians of both parties.” Well, much more so in one party. The lone Republican Ifill cited was, of course, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), whose shift was prompted when his son told him he is gay. Portman remains in the minority among Republican politicians.

Ifill then went for the jugular by attempting to pigeonhole gay marriage opponents. She asked Greg Lewis of Georgia State University, “We talk a lot about demographics but I wonder also whether there's a geographic part of this and also an educational part of this – educational attainment –  which would drive people's opinions. Have you been able to see that?”


 

It’s clear that Ifill is playing into the stereotype of the uneducated Southern conservative here. And it’s insulting to suggest that people support same-sex marriage because they are highly educated. The same-sex marriage issue is more about personal beliefs about morality than it is about intelligence. Not all of us with college degrees support gay marriage.



But liberals believe that educated people want societal progress, and they think expanding marriage to homosexuals is progress. Supporters of gay marriage are therefore “ahead” of opponents. That is why Ifill asked Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center, “Are the people ahead of the politicians or the politicians ahead of the people on this?”
 

Ifill ended her interview by looking ahead to the next stage of the gay rights crusade: “Next stop, gay adoption. We’ll see whether things begin to change there.” Way to maintain objectivity, Ms. Ifill!

It is worth noting that Gwen Ifill has attended past fundraisers for the Whitman-Walker Clinic, a clinic for gays and an advocate for gay causes. Ifill even served as emcee for one of their fundraisers in 2012. Yet this clear conflict of interest failed to raise any red flags for PBS editorial executives, who allowed Ifill to go on air to stack the deck in favor of the liberal side of the same-sex marriage argument.

This is horrible journalistic practice for any news outlet, but it's even more so when we the taxpayers are paying for it.

Below is a partial transcript of this segment:

PBS NewsHour
03/19/13
7:34 PM

GWEN IFILL: Now we turn to what appears to be an evolving sea change on attitudes toward gay marriage, even as the Supreme Court prepares to tackle the issue. (Voiceover) Steadily and remarkably, public and political support for same-sex marriage is on the rise. The shift has been under way in the courts, in Congress and, most recently, among leading politicians of both parties. President Obama’s flip from opposition to support dominated headlines last year.

BARACK OBAMA: At a certain point, I just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.

IFILL: Last week, Ohio's Rob Portman became the first Senate Republican to announce his support. Two years ago, he said, his son told him he is gay.



ROB PORTMAN: And that launched an interesting process for me which was rethinking my position, talking to my pastor and other religious leaders, and going through a process of, at the end, changing my position on the issue.

IFILL: Republican response was muted. House Speaker John Boehner said his position remains the same.

JOHN BOEHNER: I appreciate that he's decided to change his views on this, but I believe that marriage is a union of a man and a woman.

IFILL: Yesterday, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced she, too, has expanded on her previous support for civil unions.

HILLARY CLINTON: That’s why I support marriage for lesbian and gay couples. I support it personally and as a matter of policy and law. Embedded in a broader effort to advance equality and opportunity for LGBT Americans and all Americans.

***

IFILL: Michael Dimock, this argument used to be about civil unions versus marriage, and marriage used to be the sacrosanct, untouchable, not a very long ago. And now no one talks about civil unions anymore.

MICHAEL DIMOCK: You know, you don't hear as much about it. There's still a divide. About two-thirds of people would say they'd favor fully equal rights for same-sex couples as heterosexual couples but support for actual gay marriage is lower than that across any different polling. So there is still a gap there. I think the issue has shifted in the way it's been argued on both sides. That this seemed to be maybe a safe middle ground or a stepping stone towards marriage for some people -- I think a lot of advocates now don't see it that way, that it's now defining it as something different than marriage is not what they want to see happen.

***

IFILL: Greg Lewis, we talk a lot about demographics but I wonder also whether there's a geographic part of this and also an educational part of this – educational attainment –  which would drive people's opinions. Have you been able to see that?

GREG LEWIS: Definitely. Currently there are about 12 states where there’s majority support for same-sex marriage and all of them have got some sort of legal recognition for same-sex couples. On the other hand, in the deep South support is still probably mid-30s whereas it’s probably 60% or more in Massachusetts and much of the Northeast. Likewise, people with college degrees or bachelors degrees are markedly more likely to support same-sex marriage than are people who didn't complete high school or have no college.

IFILL: Michael Dimock, are the people ahead of the politicians or the politicians ahead of the people on this?

DIMOCK: You could argue it either way. I mean, Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage after the lines had crossed in the public level, after a majority of Americans had already tipped in that direction. But I think when you look at the Republican Party and what this segment talked about, the changes in the Republican Party and people like Rob Portman, those are the minority views within that party. Republican views on this issue nationwide have been fairly stable. Only about a quarter of Republicans tell us that they support gay marriage, so in some ways some of these Republican politicians are arguably ahead of where the rest of their party is in that direction of that change.

***

IFILL: Next stop, gay adoption. We’ll see whether things begin to change there. Michael Dimock of the Pew Center and Greg Lewis of Georgia State University, thank you both so much.

Paul Bremmer
Paul Bremmer is a Media Research Center News Analysis Division intern.