More Agenda Journalism from the Associated Press

Here is how Associated Press reporter Laurie Kellman reported on today’s Senate vote on the marriage amendment, in an article titled “Gay marriage ban fails by wide margin in Senate”:

The Senate rejected a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage by a wide margin Wednesday, delivering a stinging defeat to President Bush and other Republicans who had hoped the issue would rally GOP voters for the November elections.

If you read carefully, of course, you’ll find that more Senators voted for the amendment than against it. Failure to achieve the super-majority needed to overcome a filibuster is not what is normally referred to as a “stinging defeat.”

Compare that characterization to the AP’s coverage of Democratic Congressional candidate Francine Busby’s defeat yesterday in California’s 50th District. Busby, unlike advocates of the marriage amendment, received a minority of the votes cast. That must have been a really stinging defeat for Busby and the Democrats, right?

Wrong! Busby’s defeat was a “stiff Democratic challenge,” and Busby made a “close showing!” Not only that, but the winner, Republican Brian Bilbray, “won’t have much time to savor his victory,” since Busby will run against him in the fall.

One more thing: the AP says, of the vote on the marriage amendment, that the Republicans “had hoped the issue would rally GOP voters for the November elections,” as though that hope were now dashed. But why? The idea, obviously, was to force Senators to take a position so that voters, who overwhelmingly oppose gay marriage, can vote against those who went the other way. The issue may rally social conservatives even more by virtue of the amendment’s failing to overcome the liberals’ filibuster than if it had passed.

In short, this is another example of a common phenomenon: journalists’ reports on the events of the day often tell us more about the journalists’ attitudes than about the real significance of the events.

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