How Do You Win the "Narrative" War Against the New Civil Rights Movement?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 29 2013 4:58 PM

How Do You Win the "Narrative" War Against the New Civil Rights Movement?

Social conservatives claim that the media's on the other side. They're right. It's incredibly difficult to find any coverage of gay marriage that doesn't begin with the premise that marriage is a civil right -- that the people opposed to redefining it are oppressive.* "I know you don't agree with me," NOM President Brian Brown told me in an interview before this week's rally. He was right! There's really no attempt to disguise this.

You could see that all week, at a few pop, mainstream new media outlets flooded the zone with pro-SSM coverage. The Huffington Post went all in, announcing a new editorial stance, changing its avatars online to reflect the stance, and launching some advocacy journalism that succeeded in getting Democratic senators to announce their SSM position switches. But I though Buzzfeed, which has built up an LGBT vertical all year, did even more interesting coverage of the oral arguments. Matt Stopera showed up at SCOTUS with a camera and posted two viral rundowns of the people outside -- the pros (3.2k shares) and the cons (86k shares). The plaintiffs got friendly profiles (10k shares). No one who read the coverage got the impression that it was undecided on the issue.

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Which was fine. "This is a huge story, something that I didn't need to explain to our political reporters and staff at large," says BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith. "We don't think this is only a story for LGBT readers, so while our LGBT vertical has done great work on this, and while Chris Geidner — who's really the country's leading reporter on the beat — has owned it, everyone pitched in. I sent around an email the other day noting to people that there aren't a lot of newspapers that look back on the '60s and say, "Wow we sure wasted a lot of ink on the civil rights movement.'"

That's how the rest of the media views it. It's pervasive. You don't have to feel sorry for a Tony Perkins or a Rick Santorum to see what a disadvantage they're at. All week The Onion, the media id, ran stories with the premise that gay marriage opponents were basically monsters. On Thursday it parodied that attitude with the most meta story of the week.

The Onion today says to you, Eric Bana: The time has come to at last end your protracted silence on the issue of gay marriage. Make your voice heard, and do so now. Or are you too big of a coward?

*Oh, my bias is that gay marriage should be legal. Like I said, you know the media.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.