Well, this is maddening: outgoing New York Times public editor (ombudsman) Arthur S. Brisbane wrote Sunday, in his final column for the paper, that he believes that the venerable organization treats marriage equality more like a cause than a news subject:
“Across the paper’s many departments, though, so many share a kind of political and cultural progressivism — for lack of a better term — that this worldview virtually bleeds through the fabric of The Times.
As a result, developments like the Occupy movement and gay marriage [sic] seem almost to erupt in The Times, overloved and undermanaged, more like causes than news subjects.”
I’m not sure how to interpret Brisbane’s remarks. Just what exactly does he mean by “overloved?” The New York Times reports frequently and objectively on the struggle for LGBT civil rights not because it “overloves” that topic, but because it’s a major, compelling, ongoing story playing out in states, communities, families, religious congregations, legislative chambers, courtrooms, and individual people’s lives all across the country. The NYT would be derelict in its journalistic duty not to cover issues related to LGBT rights, including marriage equality, extensively. Sure, the paper’s editorial board has published columns supporting marriage equality, but as the Advocate points out, other major national newspapers like the Los Angeles Times have done so as well. The New York Times, like every other major newspaper, has strict ethical guidelines in place to ensure that its editorial and news departments are kept totally separate. Furthermore, as I said above, this is a civil rights issue. Quite simply, there are not two morally equivalent, equally legitimate “sides” to civil rights issues, including the freedom to marry. And finally, the editorial page of the New York Times has long served as a call to our national conscience where civil rights are concerned. It supported the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, and its post-Brown coverage served as a model for newspapers across the country. The Chicago Defender, a Chicago-based weekly newspaper founded by and for African Americans, said of the NYT:
“No driving force has been more consistent and insistent in beating the tom-tom for the rights of this black minority than the New York Times.“
If this were 1954 and not 2012, would Brisbane be characterizing the New York Times‘ progressive editorial advocacy for and coverage of the struggle for African American civil rights as “overloved and undermanaged?” I shudder to think.
Condemning bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination, as the editorial page of the New York Times does on the issue of marriage equality, is never wrong. Reinforcing a false equivalency between oppressed minority groups working for their constitutionally-guaranteed civil rights and the people seeking to perpetuate oppression by denying them those rights and stripping them away — as many media outlets do — is very wrong. Brisbane would be wise to learn the difference.