Not-so subtle bias

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on August 7, 2003

When this Boston Globe article came over the wire last night I was dismayed but not entirely surprised. The article is a rather long one regarding the Episcopal Church rejecting the adoption of a liturgy for same-sex relationships. (Though, today the Episcopal Church OK'd a "compromise" that some don't consider a compromise -- but that's a different issue).

I did my senior project nearly a decade ago on the Los Angeles Times' coverage of abortion. One of the analytical measurements I took was who was quoted first in the article and how far down in the article quotes were. In that study, I found pro-abortion activists were usually quoted first -- and high up in the stories -- and pro-lifers quoted second (or sometimes third or fourth) and usually much lower in the story.

The Globe article is much worse than anything I recall encountering so long ago in my analysis of the Times. In a situation where there are liberal and orthodox wings of the Episcopal Church at odds, the orthodox side doesn't get a voice in the Globe article until the last paragraph. Here are the quotes in the piece in the order they appear:

Bishop Peter J. Lee of Virginia spearheaded the successful effort to drop a provision calling for the development of national rites, saying it would be ''a sign of concern for those who voted against Canon Robinson'' and would demonstrate ''extreme pastoral sensitivity during a time of discord.'' (Third paragraph)

Bishop Mark S. Sisk of New York, who supported Robinson's confirmation, supported Lee, saying that bishops need to recognize that ''our actions do have an impact around the world.'' (Fourth paragraph)

''There are gay men and lesbian women all through this church who are creating families, who care about the church, who want to be contributing members of the church and want to be respected for who they are,'' said Bishop Otis Charles, who came out as a gay man after retiring as bishop of Utah. (Fifth paragraph)

Bishop Alfred C. Marble, the retired bishop of Mississippi, declared: ''In my heart I believe gay and lesbian persons are who they are, just as I am who I am, and if that is not a sin . . . then it cannot be a sin to honor same-gender relationships.'' (Sixth paragraph)

''We're very pleased with the resolution as passed,'' said the Rev. Michael Hopkins, a member of a group called Integrity. (Seventh paragraph)

Bishop M. Thomas Shaw of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts said he regretted that the resolution does not require development of a national liturgy that could be debated at the church's next triennial convention. ''But it does move the discussion along and make it a priority for the life of the church to carry on a discussion about this,'' he said. (10th paragraph)

The president of the American Anglican Council, the Rev. Canon David C. Anderson, acknowledged that the bishops seemed to be trying to mollify conservatives like his members after the collision over Robinson. ''The bishops seemed to show some restraint, rather than going whole hog,'' Anderson said. (12th paragraph)

But a conservative theologian, the Rev. Canon Kendall S. Harmon, said the measure does seem to give official recognition to the fact that some bishops are not waiting for the national church to act on blessing same-sex unions. ''People who are already doing it are going to keep doing it, and we're just going to admit that they're doing it more explicitly,'' he said. (13th paragraph) [This is the first identified conservative, and his is the eighth quote in the story. However, the quote doesn't say why the resolution is opposed by conservatives, instead it is unbiased analytical quote. Anyone, including a liberal, could have said the exact same thing.]

''Publicly, many of the [international] bishops are very distressed, but privately they know we have to speak out of our cultural context, just as they do,'' Shaw said. (19th paragraph)

''The Anglican Communion will hold together,'' Charleston said. ''What you are seeing is the honest reaction of people who are hurt, and their first impulse is in many ways to cry out. . . . But pay careful attention to what has happened in our past.'' (20th paragraph)

''Though many of you are celebrating, many of us are in mourning,'' Harmon said. (24th paragraph -- still haven't said why there is opposition)

The Rev. David H. Roseberry, rector of a prominent Episcopal church in Plano, Texas, resigned as a deputy from the Diocese of Dallas. Roseberry's parish is planning to host a gathering of conservative Anglican leaders in October. ''I believe that this convention has done something that is outside the revealed will of God as found in the Scriptures and the historic teaching of the church,'' Roseberry said. (26th and FINAL paragraph)

This is a poor job of writing and editing, but sadly typical of an ideologically homogenous newsroom.


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August 2003



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