Bias in the Headlines

The Walt Disney Company's decision to allow same-sex couples to purchase the high-end Fairy Tale Wedding Package has generated lots of news coverage – with headlines frequently biased in favor of so-called homosexual “marriage.” 

In 50 news stories, from the Associated Press to London's Guardian, headlines used the term “gay weddings” and “gay marriage” 15 times.  Twelve stories incorporated “Fairy Tale Weddings” into their headlines. Other headlines included the words “vows,” “nuptials,” “get hitched,” and “I Do.”  Of the 50 stories surveyed, only six used the correct term, “ceremonies,” to describe the events that will now be allowed at Disney.

Only the headline writer at The Houston Chronicle got it right:  “Disney committed to gay union ceremonies; Policy change offers magic, but without an actual wedding.”

Gay “marriage” is not recognized in Florida or California, where Disney's amusement parks are located.  The ceremonies that will be performed on the company's properties and cruise ships will not be weddings.  They will be commitment ceremonies, which have been performed in Disney parks for some time. 

The difference is that same-sex couples will now be permitted to stage their ceremonies in the parks' public marriage pavilions, and enjoy amenities like a ride in Cinderella's carriage and attendance by costumed Disney characters. Same-sex couples will be able to spend thousands more on premium packages, creating a money-making opportunity for Disney.

But the headlines around the country and internationally painted a pro-same sex “marriage” picture.  Many headlines suggested that the giant corporation has finally come to see the light in “updating/welcoming/relaxing” its implicitly intolerant stance on same-sex “marriage.”  Biased headlines include:

“Disney Theme Weddings Come True for Gay Couples” – The Washington Post

“Disney Opens Weddings to Gay Couples” – Associated Press Online

“Disneyland Welcomes Gay Weddings” – The Monterey Herald

“Disney Relaxes its Run on Gay Weddings” Los Angeles Times

“Disney Updates its Policies to Court Same-Sex Weddings” – Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)

The story also generated some headlines that were just plain … snarky:

“Adam and Steve Finally Can Swap Vows at Disney” – Orlando Sentinel

“Magic Queendom: U-turn by Disney on Gay Weddings” – Daily Star (United Kingdom)

“Walt Dis-Gay” – The Sun (England)

“Mickey and Mickey” – Daily Record (Scotland)

Headlines are written to grab a reader's attention.  Sadly, some consumers of print journalism never make it past the headline, thinking the entire story has been boiled down to that bold print.  Stories like these make it easy to see how headlines can affect public perception and opinion.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.