It’s hard to know where yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage were met with the most jubilation: West Hollywood, the Castro District, Greenwich Village? Or the newsrooms of ABC, CBS and NBC?
Combined, the three broadcast networks devoted an astounding 25 minutes, 54 seconds of their evening news shows to the Supreme Court’s decisions striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and essentially overturning California’s Proposition 8 referendum on gay marriage. Afraid to spoil the party, they predictably allowed just 3 minutes, 33 seconds to same sex marriage opponents and their viewpoints.
The numbers break out like this:
ABC: 9:10 of coverage, 0:25 of opposition
CBS: 8:24 of coverage, 2:36 of opposition
NBC: 8:20 of coverage, 0:32 of opposition
Coverage leaned heavily on scenes of pro-gay crowds celebrating the decision, same-sex couples hugging and kissing and softball interviews (“How does it feel?”) with gay couples, or the small children of gay couples.
At ABC where, when it comes to celebrating gays, the attitude seems to be Go Big or Go Home, the broadcast was billed as “A Special Edition of World News with Diane Sawyer” and given its own logo (“Landmark Ruling – Same-Sex Marriage in America). Supreme Court correspondent Terry Moran said “when this ruling was handed down it was like a dam burst emotionally here and across the country.”
On NBC, correspondent Pete Williams’ report included footage of the two couples that brought suit against Proposition 8. It showed the male couple at a post-ruling press conference, one of the men tearfully exclaiming, “Today I finally get to look … at the man that I love … and finally say, ‘Will you please marry me?’”
Meanwhile, anchors used their best important voices to impress on viewers just how significant these rulings were. “Once in a while a decision by the Supreme Court is etched into the granite of our history,” CBS’ Scott Pelly pompously intoned. “Americans remain divided over today’s rulings, but history was written.”
At ABC, the court didn’t just rule on laws – it seemed to take on magical powers. Moran said “this court changed not only American law but American life.” Sawyer said that “Americans have a new definition of what it means to be married.” The Court, she said, had “instantly created a different future” for gay couples. She asked Moran “How will the arc of history see this day?”
“The court today broadened and deepened the meaning of equality in our Constitution – the central principle of American life,” Moran enthused. “And that goes way beyond marriage. Justice Kennedy used the word ‘dignity’ nine times in his opinion. And it’s that basic human dignity that he said is shared by gay couples and straight couples that is now enshrined in American law.”
NBC correspondent Mike Taibbi shared Moran’s “Government: is there anything it can’t do?” wonder. He closed his report from West Hollywood with an acknowledgment that Prop 8’s “opponents say they’re not done yet,” before saying, “But for who knows how many Americans – certainly tens of thousands in California – what happened today means one thing: their lives got better.”
Only CBS took time away from the rainbow flags, champagne bottles and grateful weeping to offer substantial interviews with opponents.
By contrast, Diane Sawyer conducted a fawning interview with Edith Windsor, the 84-year-old plaintiff in the DOMA case. The “unlikely gladiator,” who was shown walking arm in arm down the street with Sawyer in the setup, submitted to such penetrating questions as “When you heard the news, what did you do?” (“Cried.”), “How young do you feel tonight?” (“I feel like I’m 84.”)
Whatever the Court’s gay marriage rulings mean from a practical policy standpoint, they clearly have had a deeply meaningful personal impact on an important American community – network “journalists.”