Saturday, October 13, 2007

Kentucky media still in denial about Beshear gay marriage gaffe

I have this theory about news. It goes like this: any news story about which there is controversy over whether it is a story is a story.

The Kentucky media is still largely in denial about whether Steve Beshear's listing of a gay couple on a campaign finance report as "married" is a story. The issue has now been batted around on the Internet by just about every major state reporter.

So far, the controversy has garnered only one pitiful little news story in the Courier-Journal. [UPDATE: Mark Hebert at WHAS-11 TV in Louisville also finally ran a story this weekend] The rest of the state's reporters are sitting at their desks with their noses in the air writing long-winded and nonsensical web posts about why the story doesn't warrant the same amount of time they are now spending writing about why they shouldn't write about it.

So far, only two reasons have been offered for not reporting about it. The first is the argument that the Fletcher press release overstated the case. Did the Fletcher campaign exaggerate a little by saying that Beshear "violated the constitution" in listing the two men as married? Maybe or maybe not. It is unclear how the second clause of the marriage amendment is to be interpreted. I say that, and I'm the one who originally wrote the amendment language down on a little piece of yellow paper and brought it in to a legislator to file as a bill. The rest is history.

The courts, for good or ill, will be the ones who decide whether what Beshear's campaign did was constitutional or not, and any reporter who says he knows is blowing smoke.

Whether Beshear violated the Constitution is not the issue anyway. All that matters is whether, on Beshear's campaign finance form, his campaign listed two men as being married. That's all. If it did, then that is about as official a statement of where Beshear stands on the issue of gay marriage as you can have.

The second reason, and this is Al Cross's argument, is that "an entry in a finance report does not an issue position make." I have already addressed that argument, but suffice it to say that that has never stopped reporters before. So why is it stopping them now? There have been plenty of stories on campaign finance reports before, so why not one about this one? In fact, newspapers commonly run stories simply listing the contributors when there is nothing particularly remarkable about them.

There are stories on the finances of candidates when there is no story. So why is there no story on the finances of this candidate when there is a story?

QUESTION: Why should the Fletcher campaign have to file a press release to call attention to this in the first place? Where are the intrepid investigative reporters culling through campaign finance reports looking for a story--and finding one in an official campaign finance report listing two men as married in a state that experienced a political earthquake on that very issue just three years ago?

ANSWER: They are sitting at their desks writing stories about why they shouldn't write those kinds of stories.

Yo. Joe Gerth, Pat Crowley, Mark Hebert: Steve Beshear says on an official, written campaign document that two men are married. It was signed, sealed and delivered to the Registry of Election Finance by an official in the Beshear campaign. The statement puts one candidate in this governor's race officially at odds with how 75 percent of Kentuckians voted on a constitutional amendment on which more Kentuckians voted "yes" than voted "yes" or "no" on any other constitutional amendment in Kentucky history.

That's not a story?

If a reporter thinks that is not a story, then he is making a political, not a journalistic judgment. I have spent some time around the folks who populate the state's media. They are competent, decent, interesting, and genuinely nice people, which is one of the reasons that, in my 15 years doing work that has brought me into frequent contact with reporters, I have never openly accused the Kentucky media, in whole or in part, of being biased. I admit having thought it a few times, but with very few exceptions I think they try to be fair and balanced in what they do.

This is the reason this whole thing really surprises me, and why I say, reluctantly, that this is the most outlandish case of journalistic bias I have seen in the Kentucky media in 15 years.

MEMO TO KENTUCKY REPORTERS: Guys. This is your job. You know it, and so does everyone else. This is a major campaign gaffe by a gubernatorial candidate in a general election. Get on the stick.

If the Kentucky media doesn't cover this story, then it will be right in one sense: all of this won't be about what Beshear did; it will instead be a story instead about what the media did--or, more to the point, what it didn't do.

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