Married to the Conservative Label
Naturally, Bush's call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage dominates Wednesday's Times, and so does the Times label-happy approach to the term "conservative."
In Robin Toner's page A1 news analysis, "Keeping Faith With His Base--President Extends Hand to Social Conservatives," one can play "count the conservatives." The term, or a form of the term, appears as a Toner description 17 times in her 1,100-word piece, and in one stretch is featured in six straight sentences. By contrast, the common conjunction "and" appears just 15 times.
Her piece also suggests a constitutional amendment may alienate centrists: "[Bush's] impassioned endorsement on Tuesday of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, after weeks of intensive lobbying by social conservatives, was the culmination of this rapprochement. But will he pay a price with the centrist voters who so often decide presidential elections, as the Democrats hope? Or is the country at such an ideologically polarized point that the middle simply matters less?"
Yet the Times own poll shows such an amendment has appeal to the broad center: A NYT/CBS poll in mid-December showed 55 percent of respondents favoring an amendment banning gay marriage.
Toner concludes with a bit of labeling disparity, pitting Republican "conservatives" against Democratic "faithful." She writes: "But both parties seem consumed with rousing their core constituents for what is shaping up to be a fiercely polarized election. Just as Mr. Kerry is rousing his party's faithful with a challenge to 'Bring it on,' so is Mr. Bush taking pains to remind his constituents that while he has pledged to be compassionate, he is very definitely conservative."
Similar labeling disparity can be found in another Wednesday story on Bush's announcement. David Kirkpatrick's "But With These Words, Can I Thee Quasi-Wed?" pins ideological labels on only one side of the debate, pitting "conservatives" against "gay scholars" or "gay legal advocates," as if those groups aren't taking a liberal position: "Some conservative scholars who oppose gay unions and some gay scholars who oppose the amendment are arguing that it might effectively block any marital benefits for same-sex couples, no matter what name is used. A handful of conservatives argue that the sentence defining marriage as heterosexual should preclude any provision of marital benefits to same-sex couples, no matter what the name. A few gay legal advocates contend that future courts might interpret the amendment to block enforcement of any laws conferring benefits on same-sex couples."
For the rest of Toner's piece on Bush's gay marriage decision, click here.
For the rest of Kirkpatrick's story, click here.
The editorial thunders: "Except for a throwaway line about proceeding with 'kindness and good will and decency,' the president's speech was a call for taking rights away from gay Americans. President Bush's studied unwillingness to talk about the rights gay people do have is particularly significant given the wording of the Federal Marriage Amendment now pending in Congress. It calls for denying same-sex couples not only marriage, but also its 'legal incidents.' It could well be used to deny gay couples even economic benefits, which are now widely recognized by cities, states and corporations. Such an amendment could radically roll back the rights of millions of Americans."
For the record, this is the text of the proposed amendment circulating in Congress: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."
The meaning of "legal incidents" is indeed up for grabs, with National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru arguing that "legal incidents of marriage" are "whatever state legislatures say they are. They are not some set of historical benefits and duties that have tended to come with marriage."
Meanwhile, UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh thinks the language is more problematic and that "legislative civil union statutes may well become unconstitutional or at least unenforceable."
The arguments, both pro and con, are complicated, but the Times boils them down to Bush "taking rights away from gay Americans." The Times also blatantly ignores that, as Times reporter David Kirkpatrick notes just four pages away, Bush has no intention of "taking rights away from gay Americans."
Kirkpatrick writes: "President Bush made it clear that he wanted an amendment that would block recognition of same-sex marriages but allow individual state legislatures to recognize quasi-marital same-sex civil unions or domestic partnerships."
For the rest of the Times editorial on gay marriage, click here.
McNeil writes: "A senior scientist at the Department of Agriculture says its scientific experts have been pressured by top officials to approve products for Americans to eat before their safety can be confirmed. In particular, the scientist said, approval to resume importing Canadian beef was given last August before a study confirming that it was safe. Canadian beef was banned after mad cow disease was found there in May. The scientist's concerns were echoed by several scientific groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Government Accountability Project, which say the Agriculture Department has pressured scientists to protect industries or countries favored by the Bush administration."
Then McNeil admits the Times was fed the story by the left-wing UCS (though of course he doesn't call them that): "It was the Union of Concerned Scientists that directed a reporter for The New York Times to the senior scientist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of dismissal. The union, an independent organization that has opposed the Bush administration on environmental policies and the Clinton administration on biotechnology, issued a report last Wednesday accusing the administration of distorting science to serve its political goals."
The Union of Concerned Scientists is not independent in the sense of it being moderate, but in the sense that it's well to the left of both the Bush and Clinton administrations. In the past it has lobbied against Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars") and nuclear power (they favor wind and solar energy instead).
For the rest of McNeil's UCS boosting, click here.
Christopher Marquis' Wednesday front page story, "Aristide's Foes Rule Out Plan To Share Power," is full of Democratic pleas for intervention in the troubled country. Marquis passes along helpful advice from liberal Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd, who, by the way, has "long experience in the region." According to Marquis, Dodd thinks "a force of even 1,000 would be enough to help restore order" in Haiti.
There's no talk of potential quagmire, no criticism raised by anyone of a potential rush to war. In fact, it's just the opposite. By quoting almost exclusively pro-intervention Bush-critics, the Times is implicitly accusing the Bush administration of being too slow to intervene. What explains the Times' newly gung-ho attitude toward U.S. military intervention? And where was this concern for suffering people when the subject was the millions suffering in Saddam Hussein's Iraq?
For the rest of Marquis' story on Haiti, click here.
E-mail TimesWatch Director, Clay Waters, with TimesWatch feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org