The Chicago Tribune stumbles on freedom to marry data

Posted by Novid Parsi on

“'As recent studies show…' How many times has a journalist or talking head camouflaged political assumptions behind the shield of 'recent studies'? In today’s Trib, Rex Huppke has an article based on one recent study: a Tribune/WGN poll asking 800 heads of household in Chicagoland their views on the freedom to marry and civil unions for same-sex couples. Another article on this same poll may have led with this interesting finding from the poll: The exact same percentage (42) of these polled Chicagoland residents support marriage equality as oppose it. Another article on this same poll may have placed that finding within the context of other recent polls showing a similarly even split (like CNN’s from last week) and within a larger historical context showing how overall support for marriages for same-sex couples continues to grow (as a CBS poll from April 2009 points out).

"But the Trib article leads with a suburbanite who thinks marriage equality is wrong yet has a let-the-courts-decide view about its legality. The first statistic the Trib mentions: More suburbanites than city dwellers oppose the freedom to marry. But that 'more' is only six percent (46 against, 40 for), another aspect of the poll that escapes the Trib’s emphasis. And where does the Trib article place the finding on the overall even split of support for marriage equality? In the sixth paragraph of a 14 [paragraph] story. ...

... "The Trib article ends with the same emphasis with which it begins: 'there remains a substantial portion of the population that considers same-sex relationships to be morally wrong.' That 'substantial portion,' according to the Trib, is 37 percent. Oh, by the way: The percentage who don’t hold that view is 50 percent—um, an even more 'substantial portion,' if my first-grade math is correct.

"The article quotes three Chicagoans—all of whom oppose marriage equality. Who are the sources articulating the other viewpoint? The one that half of Chicagoland residents, according to this poll, support? They’re referred to simply as 'gay rights advocates.'

"It’s not just what a study shows that matters. It’s how the journalists reporting on a study show what it shows. I wish a study would show that."

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