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Did the news media show bias in its coverage of SCOTUS same-sex marriage?
There was plenty of news coverage about public celebrations as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court deeming same-sex marriage constitutional in all states. But did media outlets show bias by supporting the cause? - photo by Chandra Johnson
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that same-sex marriage was constitutional in all 50 states, news media outlets spread the news in a variety of ways.

Major outlets like Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post and Mashable all quickly adopted rainbow avatars for their profile logos on Twitter, and CNN tweeted, "Every. Single. State" aside the trending hashtag, #LoveWins.

Purely from a journalistic perspective, there was a problem of bias here, as Politico's Dylan Byers reported, with many news outlets seemingly declaring a moral allegiance with the decision rather than merely reporting the news.

"While columnists and contributors may write opinions on the matter, the generally accepted view is that news divisions should report on, rather than advocate for, political causes," Byers wrote.

Yet Byers raised an interesting point that bias is becoming more of a norm among new media outlets, making an example of Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith, who told Byers, "We firmly believe that for a number of issues, including civil rights, womens rights, anti-racism, and LGBT equality, there are not two sides."

This sentiment is in keeping with a belief Smith has written about in his pre-Buzzfeed days: That all journalists have biases and should clearly state them to avoid confusion among readers about an outlet's neutrality.

"Everybody has a bias, the argument goes, so just be open about it," Smith wrote in 2010. "This strikes me as more or less the right way to be transparent about your biases, if that's the approach you're taking."

Much of the news media has used language supporting same-sex marriage in the past few years, whether they've subscribed to Smith's philosophy or not. The Pew Research Center found in 2013 that 47 percent of the roughly 500 stories studied over a two-month period primarily focused on support for the measure, while 9 percent focused on opposition. About 44 percent had a more equal mix of supportive and opposed voices or remained neutral.

But Poynter's Al Tompkins argued that philosophies like Smith's fly in the face of journalism's tradition of striving for objectivity, regardless of the issue being reported.

"It is not that journalists should not have feelings about the decision. You find ways to report around your biases every day," Tompkins wrote. "Celebratory trending logos and hashtags are no substitute for long-term thoughtful coverage of controversial issues."

One of the biggest signs of news media bias, Tompkins asserts, is that the story is far from over. While much of the coverage leading up to and following the court's decision revolved around social issues surrounding the decision (such as the impact on Social Security benefits for same-sex spouses), Tompkins says journalists should also be looking at the issue from the perspective of faith groups.

"Journalists have more stories to write about this issue. Stories that involve deeply held religious beliefs," Tompkins wrote. "Whether you believe those beliefs are outdated or nonsensical should not shape your reporting when it comes to covering matters of faith."

But that may be incredibly difficult for many news organizations, as Get Religion's Bobby Ross Jr. wrote, because news media have struggled to acknowledge religion at all, even in past stories that involved faith.

"I'm not so sure getting up to speed on thousands of years of religious history or doctrines will be as simple as a crash course in health care, environmental safety or economic policy," Ross wrote.

To further complicate the issue going forward is the news media's tendency to turn a blind eye to religion despite the fact that seven out of 10 Americans identify as "very" or "moderately" religious. Federalist writer Mollie Hemingway says many outlets shy away from talking about faith, as she and pop culture columnist Brandon McGinley argued in the case of a Buzzfeed article.

The article, published in 2014, chronicled a family's discovery of a letter their deceased 12-year-old daughter wrote to her future self. In it, she called on herself to attend church, read the Bible and "serve the Lord." But Buzzfeed didn't address that part of the letter, opting instead to focus on the girl's love of "Doctor Who."

"For those of us who are religious, we notice the weird way the media handles religion news and religious topics," Hemingway wrote in 2014. "We may not be invisible to them, but our religious views certainly are."
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