media annoyances part 1: Adam Nagourney

Two things annoyed me in the last 24 hours. Well, two media things.

First, this morning in an article about same-sex marriage in the NYT, there was utter stupid cluelessness that led me to conclude the article must have been written by a straight person. And indeed, But then I just looked at the byline and it was by Adam Nagourney, which explains this article. Why is Adam Nagourney so bad? Anyway today he wrote in paragraph 1:

Gay marriage is an issue on which the three major presidential candidates — John McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton — are pretty much in agreement. All oppose it, while saying at the same time that same-sex couples should generally be entitled to the legal protections afforded married couples. All think the decision should be left to the states.

Later in the same article Nagourney sums up the positions of the candidates:

Mr. McCain supports marriage “between a man and a woman” and opposes any legal recognition of a same-sex relationship. But he is against an amendment to the Constitution, backed by many conservatives, that would ban same-sex marriage. … Mr. Obama and Senator Clinton are more explicit in their support of civil unions, but both campaigns were quick to restate their views that the candidates believe the act of marriage should be between a man and a woman, a formulation that seems to have succeeded in taking the sting out of the issue.

First of all, “opposing any legal recognition of a same-sex relationship” is not even remotely equivalent to “support of civil unions”, and only a total jack-ass would think it is, or write language that suggests that it is.

McCain’s flip-floppery about whether states can penalize my personal choice of a partner:
– No on DOMA; no special rules against us (yaay).
– No on a US Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
No states shouldn’t legislate same-sex civil unions. (4/2007) In fact, ” I do not believe gay marriage should be legal. But I do believe that people ought to be able to enter into contracts, exchange powers of attorney, other ways that people who have relationships can enter into.” Wow, so John McCain doesn’t think the state should prohibit me from doing a power of attorney with my partner. What a swell guy. He really respects individual rights.

Second, McCain’s position is not “less explicit”; it is contorted and confused. At some times he has come out clearly against civil unions. Other times he has equivocated and said states should be able to do what they want (although, I note, that was more often in the context of states passing anti-same-sex-marriage laws). Call his position(s) vague or call it muddled (one suspects the obfuscation is deliberate because McCain is not apparently a stupid man), but they’re certainly not easy to understand, and thus there is no way to accurately say that McCain’s position is equivalent to Obama and Clinton’s. Thus Nagourney’s writing is not just uninformative; it is actually mis-informative.

Then, Nagourney wrote from the frame of one of his interview subjects. Fourth paragraph, he quotes Brian Brown from an anti-my marriage group, who says, “The court has interjected itself into national politics and made same-sex marriage a major issue in the upcoming national election.” No, actually, the court accepted a case that was litigated to it, for very appropriate reasons, as courts around the country have done, and delivered a decision in a timely fashion as in fact it is required to do. But this is an attempt to color the decision as “activist judges”, notwithstanding the fact — central to any “activist judge” article — that the California legislature did, in fact, pass gay marriage, and it was vetoed by Schwarzenegger, who said it should be left to the courts. An unusual twist in the usual fact situation, and one might think it would be highly relevant when you’re quoting someone who is making the same old tired argument that this is an activist court. But no. Nagourney didn’t bother to mention that (although all he had to do was read wikipedia on the topic), and then he closed the article with this line: “So the California Supreme Court may have created a laboratory to test once and for all just how powerful this issue really is.” Adopting the anti-SSM “activist judge” framing, despite its even-less-than-usual relevance.

Also, way to misuse the “laboratory for democracy” allusion.

None of this kind of shoddy writing is unusual for Adam Nagourney. About every other time I read a non-science article in the NYT that pisses me off with its bias, poor writing, and factual errors, it turns out to be an Adam Nagourney piece. Had I noticed the byline before starting the article my expectations would have been much lower and I probably would not have needed to write this blogpost.

But really, why, why do we have so much crappiness in our journalists? There must be millions of bright young women or people of color clamoring for Adam Nagourney job. All the time we hear affirmative action advocates having to justify and appease right-wingers by saying “but we will only hire / admit women and people of color who meet the basic standards”. What we really should be saying is, hey you white men, do you meet the basic standards? Adam Nagourney has gotten a pretty sweet ride so far; given that, is he as head-and-shoulders above the pack as one might expect? Clearly not. Somebody, fire Adam Nagourney and hire someone good. Or at least competent.

part 2