Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.

Kate Fritzsche '10: Real news requires real analysis

The recent gay marriage battle in Maine is just one frustrating example of the disturbing trend of the media's irresponsible coverage of political issues. In recent reports on political events and opinions, most news media sources in the U.S. have developed a dangerous habit of just repeating what speakers have said without researching the validity of their claims.

This tendency is problematic because politicians can exaggerate facts, intentionally mislead voters or even lie to their listeners, and without responsible coverage in the news, people don't know who's telling the truth.

In the same-sex marriage battle in Maine, a vote of yes on Question 1 meant a vote to repeal an earlier law, passed in the Maine State Legislature and signed into law by Democratic Governor John Baldacci on May 6, that permitted marriage between any two consenting adults. The question's wording on the ballot included a statement that the law would not permit the state government to interfere with any religious group's practice and definition of marriage. The law was strictly about the legal rights of marriage.

The chairman of Stand for Marriage Maine, a group supporting the efforts to repeal the same-sex law, doubles as the director of public affairs for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. The chairman, Marc Mutty, sent an e-mail to supporters in September entitled, "Should children be indoctrinated in Maine schools?" In the message, he claimed that if the law stood, Maine's public schools would include "mandatory gay sex education" in their curricula.

Mutty's statement is blatantly false, but his lies were perpetuated in television and radio commercials, as well as in Catholic churches. Apparently, no one took the time to read the bill, which states nothing about education. No one read the state educational statutes, which do not require any form of sex education in public schools, either.

Except for Bill Nemitz, a columnist for the Portland Press Herald. In his Sept. 11 column, "Gay marriage critic's e-mail fails the test," he debunked all of Mutty's claims about same-sex marriage being taught in schools through a simple reading of the law. As straightforward as it was to realize that Mutty's claims would never become reality, the frequent advertisements and a 12-minute video shown in lieu of a homily in all Catholic churches in Maine in Ocobter as mandated by Bishop Richard Malone, seem to have scared a significant number of voters into thinking their children would be taught explicitly about "gay sex" in schools, which was motivation enough to vote yes.

Unfortunately, Nemitz is a rare example of journalistic integrity. We have seen the media passively accept outright lies, especially this past summer. In August, Sarah Palin began a nasty rumor that proposed health care reform bills would create so-called "death panels" that would "decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,' whether [an individual is] worthy of health care." Her words were repeated over and over again across the media and around the country.

Now, it's important to note that news outlets all followed Palin's words with responses from Democratic spokespeople attempting to set the record straight. The problem is that the media presents the two sides as equally legitimate by not following up any of their quotations from speakers with an analysis of the content.

If you read one article claiming, "The health care bill will set up death panels to determine when your family members stop being ‘worth' paying for," and another reading, "The health care bill will not set up death panels and instead will allow insurance coverage of appointments to discuss end-of-life issues between a patient and her doctor," it is not immediately obvious which view is more correct. But with even a basic reading of the proposed legislation, it is clear that no such organization as a "death panel" was ever suggested.

Without proper basic investigation by the press, misleading words can have serious consequences towards political outcomes. It's much harder to retroactively correct the public's understanding of an issue than to report it correctly initially. Rumors spread rapidly on the Internet, and responsible reporting could reduce the number of those rumors that are completely false.

Furthermore, Internet reporting can be inaccurate for many reasons. Many of the news sources online who claim to be credible are actually just opinionated bloggers, and there's no particular reason we should take their thoughts seriously. Quotations from politicians are often taken out of context online, which is unfair to the speakers and can lead to the spread of misinformation. We should be hesitant to accept unqualified quotations or statements online or in other media forms.

The American need for instant online information has damaged journalistic integrity by giving reporters the choice between a fast story and an accurate story. We should never be forced to accept unfounded claims without clarifying information just so that we can get them sooner. The consequences are far too dangerous.


Kate Fritzsche '10 voted no on Question 1 in Maine. She can be reached at katherine_fritzsche (at)


Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Brown Daily Herald, Inc.