Same-sex marriage and the curse of the dueling sound bite (5×8 – 3/13/13)

How do you fit hours of testimony into minutes of reporting, the bracket game and the search for perfection, the 68-year-old roller derby queen of Grand Forks, the dog with the bucket list, and is stress a real thing?


1) HOW TO FIT HOURS OF TESTIMONY INTO FOUR MINUTES

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Yesterday’s two hearings on bills legalizing same-sex marriage in Minnesota didn’t offer many new perspectives not previously voiced, but it did renew a spate of criticism against the media for not dismissing claims of people with whom a writer disagrees when studies were cited. And when someone is making a point in politics, you can be sure some sort of scholarly study will be cited. Studies, the theory goes, settle arguments because, well, it’s science and all.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Research is often flawed. It occasionally makes assumptions and it’s almost always complex enough that those who disagree can point to a fact and shout, “Aha!”

At yesterday’s hearings, dueling studies focused on the question: Are children of same-sex couples worse off than children raised by a man and a woman?

At the Senate hearing yesterday, a University of Minnesota professor said lawmakers weren’t adequately considering the question, then offered last summer’s research of professor Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas. He found that children of these same-sex households “were found to have lower average income levels as adults, along with more physical and mental health problems and more instability in their romantic relationships. They also showed higher levels of unemployment, smoking, need for public assistance and involvement in crime.” (Catholic News)

“Household instability,” Regnerus said, was “a hallmark” of households whose parents engaged in same-sex relationships, whether those households were “led by a mother or father.”

That study, you may recall, drew fire from opponents — including scientists and academics — because it didn’t have a specific category of gay parents in the project, and only two of the 1.7 percent who reported having a parent in a same-sex relationship, actually lived with parents in that relationship for their entire childhood. There was, in effect, no study of children whose same-sex parents deliberately raised their children in a same-sex relationship.

The study was also funded by a group opposed to same-sex marriage.

His employer investigated allegations of research misconduct, found none, and left it to the academic marketplace to decide its validity.

At yesterday’s hearing, Grace Evans, 11, of Fridley told House committee members “Since every child needs a mom and a dad to be born, I don’t think we can change that children need a mom and a dad,” Evans said. “I believe God made it that way. I know some disagree, but I want to ask you this question: which parent do I not need, my mom or my dad?”

A writer took us to task for not blowing that assertion out of the water.

“Those who share Evans’ viewpoint deserve to have their viewpoint heard,” the writer said. “But I believe MPR erred in neglecting to report on the testimony of pediatrician Dr. Paul Melchert, who shared official positions from the American Academy of Pediatricians, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association, which have concluded overwhelmingly that children of same-sex parents are just as happy and healthy as those raised by opposite-sex parents.”

It was, in fact, 2010 when an American Psychological Association convention presented the findings of a Virginia researcher who found that the children of gays and lesbians were virtually indistinguishable from children of heterosexual parents.

But that study, too, had its detractors because it used the self-reporting of parents evaluating their own parenting than an in-depth study of children.

That doesn’t make it wrong, of course, it just makes it something worth considering in deciding the value of the research.

I don’t speak for MPR News, but I do know from experience that the problem with countering one assertion with a study, is it can often be trumped by another study. In the end, young Ms. Evans has a belief and a feeling on how she was raised that may not be supported by research.

It’s true that Dr. Melchert (by the way, that’s him in the photo above with one cute young man) could have been quoted to rebut Ms. Evans. But then, having provided that voice in support of same-sex marriage, one would have to take out another voice in favor of the dueling sound bites over one point not yet settled Which one?

These are the decisions that keep editors up at night.

2) THE BRACKET GAME

We’re just about at the time of the year where any work at the office gives way to the gambling life of NCAA brackets.

So let’s review. You’re not going to nail it. You’re just not.

3) THE ROLLER DERBY QUEEN

Lynn Lindholm of Grand Forks retired two years ago when she was about 66. Then she did what most retirees don’t usually do: She became a roller derby star.

“I wanted something more vigorous,” Vintage Vixen — that’s her roller derby name — says. “I really liked the idea of physical contact. And that’s what I got.”

She tells Forum Communications you don’t get injured much if you know what you’re doing.

4) THE DOG WITH A BUCKET LIST

Wallace the Pit Bull has a bucket list. Wallace was rescued in 2004 by current owners Andrew “Roo” Yori and his wife, Clara, and retrained to become a canine disc champion, the Rochester Post Bulletin reports. But in 2012, Wallace developed an aggressive cancer.

“We were told he’d have between two weeks to three months to live, so we made a bucket list to enjoy thetime we have left,” Roo Yori tells the PB.


And so, Wallace has been canoeing on the Zumbro River, ridden in a motorcycle sidecar, taken a road trip to California and swam in the Pacific Ocean — he’s even met actress Betty White. That’s just part of the list.

“Betty White was so sweet,” Clara Yori said. “She acted like we were doing her the favor by bringing Wallace.”

5) ONE NATION, UNDER STRESS

Before 1976, The New York Times had never published an article about stress as we understand it today, NPR reported last evening. Our idea of stress — as a personal, internal problem — is a recent invention, it asserts in this interview with Dana Becker, author of One Nation Under Stress: The Trouble With Stress as an Idea.

Bonus: What if they gave an exam and nobody came? (h/t: Brian Shipe)

TODAY’S QUESTION

Minnesota lawmakers are considering a bill that would increase the tax on junk food. Today’s Question: Is there a role for the government to play in promoting a healthy lifestyle?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Networking and young minorities.

Second hour: How does one decide whether or not to persevere with a current job/career path or when to move on?

Third hour: The social and legal aspects of teenage drama

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): A special presentation about former Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun of Minnesota.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – The Political Junkie.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - Collaboration, innovation, and serendipity are all engineered at tech shops in Silicon Valley. At Google, cafeteria lines are designed to encourage conversation, and tables are laid out to make sure colleagues bump into one another. NPR reports on designing workplaces meant to keep employees happy, creative and in the office.

Light rail and other mass transit projects are booming in the metro What’s driving this growth and how could it potentially change life in the Twin Cities? MPR’s Jess Mador considers the question.

  • StraightGrandmother

    RE: Keeping you up at night. Hopefully you ARE going to loose sleep over this. You are gonna wanna read the latest information revealed by Freedom Of Information Act requests on Mark Regnerus.

    (over 6,000 comments on this article)

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/10/supreme-court-gay-marriage_n_2850302.html/

    AND – The Lies Documented

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/129660276/Mark-Regners-and-Witherspoon-Institute-Collaboration-Report

    AND – Sociologists analysis

    http://familyinequality.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/more-managerial-than-intellectual/

    I am really surprised this has not been reported more. I think your audience in Minnesota would like to hear these facts. I am sure Phillip Cohen at Maryland would give you an interview if you called him, I have seen his articles in the Atlantic, and as far as I have seen, he is the only Sociologist to be writing about the SECRET DOCS.

  • Bob Collins

    The Regnerus debate isn’t new. It’s been going on since last June. It wasn’t really the point.

    The gentleman who spoke citing Regnerus did not make it into the MPR story. An 11-year old girl who felt she was better off with a mother and father did. Whether she read the Regnerus paper and based her conclusion on it, I don’t know.

  • Robert Moffitt

    1) I consider this a matter of fairness, freedom and civil rights, not a debate on parenting.

    2) Go, IU! That is all.

    3) If that’s how she rolls, more power to her.

    4) (wipes tear)

    5) Take a chill pill, America.

    TQ: In a word, yes. That said, I’m not sure taxing junk food is an effective government action. It does work for tobacco.

  • Heather

    Who needs a study? I think young Ms. Evans’ point is refuted by just a quick look around, and a passing acquaintance with news. “Better off” depends on quality of parenting, not a parent’s gender or sexual orientation.

  • BJ

    Bonus: What if they gave an exam and nobody came?

    Why the professor not give incomplete marks is stupid. Initial shock of them working together would be pretty fast for me.

  • Sam

    The larger problem here, journalistically speaking, is the tendency of respected media outlets like MPR to treat all sides of every dispute as being exactly equal, regardless of available evidence. I understand why this happens, of course – many disputes tend to fall along political lines, some disputes are clearer than others, the need for reportorial neutrality trumps the desire to take a stand, etc, etc – but that doesn’t make it any less maddening for those who have to read/listen to the false equivalences coming from our newspapers and radios.

    If the issue currently before the legislature was the legalization of interracial marriage, the tone of the coverage would be very different, because that is a settled issue in the minds of all but a tiny minority of Americans. It’s abundantly clear at this point that the same will soon be true of same-sex marriage, but the tone of the media coverage has yet to shift from the usual equivocating: “Well, this one random person says gay marriage will damage our society, while this other random person says the opposite, and I’ll just present both sides as equal and let my readers/listeners make up their own minds.”

    The bottom line is that false equivalencies = shoddy journalism. If I’m already informed on the issue, I know you’re equivocating needlessly to avoid controversy. If I’m not informed on the issue, I learn exactly nothing from your reporting, and might even be led to believe that something which is demonstrably untrue has equal intellectual weight as something which is demonstrably true.

  • Disco

    It was a banner day for wingnuttery in the Minnesota capitol. There was the spectacle of an 11-year-old child “testifying” against gay marriage. Obviously she was given a script and had no idea what she was talking about. Come back in ten years and I bet she’d be in favor of equality. It was simply a pathetic display of political grandstanding.

    And then there was Mike Frey, whose medically obscene remarks made Minnesota journalists predictably blush to the point of receiving scant mention. As far as I can tell, only the City Pages had the guts to repeat what he said. It just makes me wonder how in the world you get on the docket. Neither of these people had any business near the capitol.

  • Bob Collins

    // The larger problem here, journalistically speaking, is the tendency of respected media outlets like MPR to treat all sides of every dispute as being exactly equal, regardless of available evidence.

    You’re talking about false equivalency, which I didn’t bother getting into but which, yes, is a problem most recently seen in climate change debate.

    And I believe that’s an issue in which there is irrefutable and scientific proof. But it’s also a case where too often the charge of false equivalency comes with just the problems I cited above, dueling “science,” some of which is good, some of which is bad, but most of which can be challenged in some fashion or another.

    I’ve seen a lot of the studies on this question and I think the most reasonable assertion that can be made is there’s little scientific evidence that shows that children of same-sex couples are worse off than children of opposite-sex couples. There’s little scientific evidence at all here because there seems to be very small amounts of data.

    First of all, I don’t even know HOW you begin to prove this, what with all the variables out there to screw up (or not) a person over 18 years of rearing.

    But that doesn’t mean an 11 year old girl can’t stand before a legislative committee and say SHE feels she needs both a man and a woman in a house.

    In terms of equal number of voices, at least in the Senate yesterday, the entire hearing was structured to give the same opportunities to both sides.

    There was a lot of humanity in those hearings yesterday and the role of the journalist is to convey that humanity in four minutes.

    I know it sounds easy to do; I get that.

    Part of the problem here is that for many people this is a matter of faith and religion (I believe the 11 year old here is the daughter of a pastor) and its intersection with public policy. We can eliminate all of this by simply declaring that religious underpinnings have no role to play in matters of public policy. Period.Except that they do and have and the next thing you know is you’re off doing THAT story instead of being able to tell the one about two parents with a gay son who just want him to be happy.

    // I know you’re equivocating needlessly to avoid controversy.

    I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that your argument is sincere and heartfelt and honest. And you give me the benefit of the doubt that the reason I’m even bringing the subject up is to convey the searching that I’m doing on these and other matters in and honest and intelligent way.

    one last thing:

    I believe that a “story” doesn’t end when the reporter says his name and signs off. I believe it’s an ongoing thing, including dissecting it on an accompanying blog, and then discussing it in the comments as we are doing here. I do believe that in the aggregate, the allegation of being shoddy is an unfair one.

  • jon

    If the same sex marriage debate is in fact about weather same sex couples are better or worse parents, and how children raised by them turn out then I have a simple solution to the study vs. study discussion.

    THE LEGISLATURE BORROWED MONEY FROM OUR SCHOOLS TO BALANCE THE BUDGET! YOU CUT FUNDING FOR HIGHER EDUCATION CONSTANTLY! YOU ATTACK EDUCATION REGULARLY AND DO NOTHING TO IMPROVE IT!! SHOUTING THINK OF THE CHILDREN DOESN’T WORK ANY MORE YOU’VE ALREADY SHOWN THAT YOU DON’T LIKE CHILDREN AND THAT THE FUTURE IS A MUTE POINT!!!! IF YOU’D LIKE TO THINK OF THE CHILDREN CONSIDER THAT A GOOD EDUCATION IS THE STRONGEST INDICATOR OF FUTURE POTENTIAL IN LIFE, AND THAT YOU CURRENTLY BASE YOUR PRISON FUNDING PROJECTIONS ON 3RD GRADE TEST SCORES!

    Sorry to go all caps lock there, but thinking of the children is a mute point right now because we’ve already shown that the government only pays lip service to them. Possibly because they can’t vote.

    If you want to think of the children, think of the gay and lesbian children who are watching this, who are hearing you calling them less then their straight counter parts… think of the anti-bulling legislation you probably considered, and if you would be in violation of that legislation right now if you were talking to those children instead of your “peers.”

  • Sam

    // I know it sounds easy to do…

    I don’t think it sounds easy at all. I think good journalism is incredibly difficult, especially given the time constraints of radio and TV.

    But that doesn’t change the basic irresponsibility of focusing on “a lot of humanity” on a day when one side of the issue was discussing basic fairness and equality, and the other side was calling on a Baptist minister to spew untrue garbage about “ejaculation inside of a colon.” I understand that the 11-year-old made for more palatable breakfast listening, but by using her testimony (which, if it had come out of an adult’s mouth, would have sounded utterly nonsensical) as the preferred sound bite for that side of the debate, MPR painted a deliberately inaccurate picture of what opposition to gay marriage in 2013 sounds like. And I don’t really care how hard it would have been to do it the right way – the need for journalists who are willing to make the tough calls is the reason that I happily send MPR my money every month.

  • Disco

    Summary line from the Star Tribune’s article: “Bill sparks passionate debate on both sides before House and Senate committees vote.

    If that isn’t false equivalency, then I don’t know what is. Mike Frey went unmentioned. Of course, given that paper’s rightward lurch it isn’t surprising.

    Pioneer Press didn’t say anything about “passion,” though naturally they did mention little Grace Evans.

    I have no idea what went on during our local newscast/infotainment stations like KARE and WCCO. I would be shocked if Frey was covered.

    Sam makes an excellent point about learning nothing from this journalism if he’s uninformed. If you didn’t watch the YouTube video, and you didn’t read City Pages, you didn’t know that there was an anti-science homophobe giving inflammatory, hateful, and factually incorrect testimony at our capitol.

  • Chris Nelson

    A lot of the testimony wasn’t even about gay marriage. Mike Frey testified against sodomy. Many people (on both sides) spoke about their own religious beliefs. Eleven year old Grace Evans’ testimony was about parenting, not marriage.

    Newflash to everyone: regardless of this vote, there are already gay couples and gay parents. There are children with only one parent. There are children with no parents. These relationships exist and will continue to exist.

    After the testimonies were over, Representative Liebling gently suggested that Grace Evans was asking the wrong question. No one is threatening to take away one of Grace’s parents. This debate isn’t about Grace and her family. It’s about other families that are currently less “valid” than Grace’s family.

    In the end, the votes were completely party line.

  • Bob Collins

    // Mike Frey went unmentioned.

    and

    // a deliberately inaccurate picture of what opposition to gay marriage in 2013 sounds like.

    So the belief here is that Mike Frey’s testimony should have been given airtime and — as Disco suggests — print time?

    But how does that square with the issue of false equivalency and giving people the legitimacy of coverage in the first place?

    And if you’re writing this piece, what exactly do you SAY after the sound bite you’ve chosen?

    // giving inflammatory, hateful, and factually incorrect testimony at our capitol.

    Well, that’s an interesting editorial question. Do you give that testimony legitimacy by coverage? Was all of the testimony against same-sex marriage of that ilk? Does giving it coverage convey that it was? Was the suggestion, for example, of civil unions a legitimate discussion?

    No question, Frey’s testimony was , as they say in the web business, “page-view gold.” But I actually thought it was Lynne Ostermann’s testimony that captured the hearing best –at least the part I saw.

    (Also: None of the above questions are rhetorical)

  • Disco

    Mike Frey made news simply by virtue of the words and concepts he conveyed, no matter the equivalency or the side he was on.

    Now, I’m not totally sure he received no coverage because media was deliberately painting in inaccurate picture, as Sam suggests. I think he was ignored largely for the reason I already said — it made the media blush.

    There were too many unmentionable words and ideas in his speech. Things like ejaculation and sperm don’t make the mainstream news. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the media really don’t want to cover it out of fear that it’ll make one side look like the complete troglodytes they are.

    The pro-marriage side gave reasoned, calm, and thoughtful testimony. The other side did some of that too, but they also had Mike Frey. Put it that way and OH DEAR GOD YOU’RE BIASED! YOU’RE THE LIBERAL MEDIA! Scarlet ‘L’

  • Bob Collins

    // Maybe the media really don’t want to cover it out of fear that it’ll make one side look like the complete troglodytes they are.

    //The pro-marriage side gave reasoned, calm, and thoughtful testimony. The other side did some of that too, but they also had Mike Frey.

    But isn’t that saying Mike Frey speaks for one side, which is made of “complete trogolodytes” capable of reasoned, calm, and thoughtful testimony?

    I get what you’re saying. Personally — and I didn’t cover either hearing — I tend to gravitate toward people with whom I disagree who can make me think about intelligent debates and make me evaluate whether I have sufficient intellectual backing for me to hold my own personal beliefs. That, of course, is not really the way we do policy discussions in America, but …

  • Disco

    “And if you’re writing this piece, what exactly do you SAY after the sound bite you’ve chosen?”

    It really isn’t that difficult. You say, “Frey is incorrect about this and this and this.” You report the facts and you refute what he said.

    Sodomy is not illegal. Straight people engage in sodomy. “Sodomy” is not a word that is used in scientific circles; it is a political word. Ejaculation is not required to transmit HIV. Anal sex does not necessarily result in transmission of AIDS. Vaginal sex does not preclude transmission of AIDS. Straight people contract HIV too. Gay people are already having sex, married or not.

    There. Did it for you.

    “Do you give that testimony legitimacy by coverage?”

    It only gives it legitimacy if you report it that way. If you point out the sheer bloody-mindedness of his testimony, then its “legitimacy” is not an issue.

  • Sam

    The reason I think that Frey’s testimony deserved wider coverage, and the reason I believe that omitting him from coverage creates a false impression that both sides in this debate are equally reasonable, isn’t that I believe that everyone who opposes same-sex marriage is like Mike Frey. That’s plainly untrue.

    But a lot of thought goes into who testifies before committees at the state capitol. I know this from personal experience. Who you choose to speak for your side of a debate is of vital importance, and nothing is ever left to chance. This isn’t a Bradlee Dean moment, wherein a hateful bigot was more or less inadvertently invited to address the Legislature. Someone (or more probably, many someones) on the anti-marriage side of the debate felt that Frey’s message was of vital importance, and that he should be included on the list of witnesses as a legitimate voice on this issue. By ignoring his testimony (and I wouldn’t presume to know why reporters might choose to do so,) the anti- side of the debate is granted credibility they do not deserve.

  • Disco

    Sam, I would argue that many people on the anti-equality side ARE like Mike Frey. The only difference is that (and this is possibly admirable, albeit in a very twisted way), he had the cojones to say it on camera.

    There is so much “fairness at the expense of accuracy” going on in the mainstream media, that they aren’t going to touch this with a ten-metre cattle prod.

  • BJ

    //This isn’t a Bradlee Dean moment, wherein a hateful bigot was more or less inadvertently invited to address the Legislature.

    First they knew who Bradlee Dean was, just didn’t think he would be a dumb ass.

    //anti- side of the debate is granted credibility they do not deserve.

    Until the last 2 years the ‘anti-side’ was an over whelming majority of this country. I think that gets you credibility, well deserved.

    PS I’m in the marry who you want camp.

  • Bob Collins

    // the anti- side of the debate is granted credibility they do not deserve.

    Does the anti side deserve credibility in coverage? (Again, this is not meant as a rhetorical question)

  • Sam

    I guess that depends on your definition of credibility. I think they deserve to be heard, with the caveat that they should not be able to state untruths or unproven assertions (gay marriage hurts children, gays are sexual predators, homosexuality is a lifestyle choice and gays “recruit” young people, legalizing marriage for all will lead to churches being forced to perform gay marriages against their will, etc, etc, etc) in the press without the press pointing out that they things they are saying are demonstrably untrue. And that rarely seems to happen on MPR, which is a problem that goes well beyond the marriage debate.