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Pew study: News media inserted bias into gay marriage debate

Published: Saturday, Aug. 1 2015 9:04 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this Thursday, May 10, 2012 file photo, Trenton Garris, right, joins other demonstrators showing their support for President Barack Obama as he visits the Paramount Theater one day after announcing his support for same sex marriage, in Seattle. In both Washington state and Maryland, voters are being asked to approve or reject a same-sex marriage bill passed by the legislature earlier this year. In each case, opponents were able to collect enough signatures to challenge the laws.  (Kevin P. Casey, Associated Press) FILE - In this Thursday, May 10, 2012 file photo, Trenton Garris, right, joins other demonstrators showing their support for President Barack Obama as he visits the Paramount Theater one day after announcing his support for same sex marriage, in Seattle. In both Washington state and Maryland, voters are being asked to approve or reject a same-sex marriage bill passed by the legislature earlier this year. In each case, opponents were able to collect enough signatures to challenge the laws. (Kevin P. Casey, Associated Press)

Recent news coverage conveyed a strong bias in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage at a time when the American public was more evenly divided on the issue, a new study from the Pew Research Center revealed.

“Stories with more statements supporting same-sex marriage outweighed those with more statements opposing it by a margin of roughly 5-to-1,” the Pew study said. “… Twitter postings on the subject were nearly evenly split between support and opposition for the measure, aligning much more closely with public opinion than with the news media.”

The Pew study analyzed nearly 500 news stories from March 18 to May 12. Forty-seven percent of news stories during that period supported same-sex marriage, with 9 percent of news coverage opposing same-sex marriage and 44 percent considered neutral.

Conversely, public opinion at that time was “only” 51-42 in support of same-sex marriage. On Twitter that margin was even thinner: 31 percent of tweets supported gay marriage, 28 percent opposed it and 42 percent of tweets were deemed neutral.

“In order for a story to be classified as supporting or opposing same sex marriage, statements expressing that position had to outnumber the opposite view by at least 2-to-1,” the Pew study said. “Stories that did not meet that threshold were defined as neutral or mixed.”

The Huffington Post was perhaps the most biased mainstream written-news outlet: 62 percent of Huffington Post stories supported same-sex marriage, 7 percent opposed it and 31 percent were neutral. Two publications the Pew study singled out for their restraint were USA Today (67 percent neutral) and Wall Street Journal (70 percent neutral).

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments about legalizing same-sex marriage on March 26 and 27. “Those hearings led to a firestorm of coverage. Of all the stories examined in (the Pew) study, 55 percent came during (March 25-29),” reported the study that Paul Hitlin, Amy Mitchell and Mark Jurkowitz co-authored for the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

In related coverage, a Deseret News article from 2011 reported that religion was important to 61 percent of Americans but only 36 percent of journalists.

EMAIL: jaskar@desnews.com

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