< An Evolution Of Messaging Against Gay Marriage


Friday, June 28, 2013

BROOKE GLADSTONE: I'm Brooke Gladstone. Another recent Pew Research Center report adds fuel to the charge that the media are biased in their coverage of gay marriage. Pew studied two months of coverage, starting in the middle of March, and found that stories from major news outlets featured five positive mentions about gay marriage for every one negative mention. Let's bring back Amy Mitchell from the Pew Research Center. She says the findings don't prove bias. The positive statements arose directly from the news.

AMY MITCHELL:  Well, for example, Brooke, during the time of - that we studied, over these two months, you had 51 percent saying that they favored legalizing marriage for gays and lesbians. You had a number of Congress members coming out to say that they supported the measure from Hillary Clinton, Rob Portman, Bill Nelson of Florida, Mark Warner, Claire McCaskill. The list is quite long. State legislation that was being passed around the country:  Colorado passed a civil unions bill during this time period. There was legislation in Rhode Island and Delaware.  

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  She says determining media bias would require a different kind of study.

AMY MITCHELL:  One thing we would have needed to have done would have been to identify and measure to what extent there were events happening or public

statements being made in opposition to same-sex marriage that the news media was omitting, was not  including in their coverage.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  The National Organization for Marriage opposes same-sex marriage. It's one of the groups that helped fund that “Princess” ad we heard earlier. 

Thomas Peters is the group's communications director and agrees with David Dodge that the "Princess" ad was a winner.

THOMAS PETERS:  I think the reason the “Princess” ad was  effective, and I think this is borne out in our focus groups, was that it made people realize that changing a law about marriage doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And that’s one of the most continual arguments from our opponents. They say that changing gay marriage won't change anything. Well, of course, it changes things. We just had a, a student, about a week ago, I believe,  who won his lawsuit at the Court of Appeals when his teacher started berating him for not endorsing the teacher’s gay lifestyle. Gay marriage cannot simultaneously be one of the most important things America needs to pass and also have no effects on the rest of society.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Is that a theme that in this next phase of the battle will be put in ads? In November, when we had four state races, we focused much more on the

consequences of gay marriage. We talked a lot about the threats to individual liberty, people who have had their livelihoods threatened over supporting traditional

marriage, to reinforce the point that if you redefine marriage, you redefine marriage for everyone.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  An advocate of gay marriage said that his research suggests that the focus is shifting from harm to children to harm to anybody. He also said, somewhat ironically victimhood had earlier been a big theme for his side.

THOMAS PETERS:  Well, we’re not trying to create a, a culture of victimhood. We’re trying to prevent future victims. Even in the four states I mentioned, we normally had at least two ads running. One talked about the consequences of redefining marriage, and one talked about the positive nature. And, you know, the positive messaging, I think, is something that we have to reinforce, and it will be more of a mainstay going forward.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  I just wonder if there's an ad that we could run a piece of that might give a sense of where you're heading?

THOMAS PETERS:  Sure. I believe this was an ad that we helped  Minnesota for Marriage air, about 30 seconds of women of various ethnicities looking at the camera and

saying, “Yes, I think we should protect marriage."


WOMAN:  In my life I've learned to be open and kind to all people.

WOMAN:  Everybody knows somebody who's gay.

WOMAN:  Gay or straight we're all entitled to love and respect.

WOMAN:  But we can support gays and lesbians without changing marriage.

WOMAN:  Marriage is still about children having a mom and a dad.

WOMAN:  I'm voting on yes on the Marriage Amendment.

WOMAN:  Yes, to protect marriage.


BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Do you think the mainstream media are biased in favor of gay marriage?

THOMAS PETERS:  The media is biased on this, not just in how they report but in what they report. We won this year, for instance, in Hawaii, in Illinois, in Wyoming, but most people haven’t heard about those victories. What they’ve only heard about are our defeats. And that’s affected our messaging deeply in states. In states like Washington, where so much of the local news media is against us, frankly, we have to do double, triple, quadruple duty because people going to the Nightly News are watching one of our ads, compared with four news segments about all the discrimination that’s happening in the state now; this is the only way to fix it. Being outspent and still coming within such close margins shows to us really how deeply seated Americans’ views on marriage are and protecting it.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  In 2012, a Maine court released the 2009 strategy documents from the National Organization for Marriage that revealed strategies to raise issues, such as pornography, to find African-American spokespeople, develop a media campaign around their objections to gay marriage as a civil right, provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing those spokesmen and women as bigots

THOMAS PETERS:  You know, we’ve apologized for the language used in that document. It was just a strategy planning document, I think our public actions speak very well for us, how we strive for civility in all of our communications. We respect all  sides in this debate. We believe that everyone should be treated fairly and equally. And now, we especially honor and appreciate our deep ties to the African-American community, particularly African-American pastors.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  The majority of Americans, including those who oppose gay marriage, believe that the legalization of gay marriage is inevitable.

THOMAS PETERS:  Well, I would say, actually, that what we’re seeing in the first 24 hours after the Supreme Court’s handed down its rulings is that it’s actually a very encouraging thing to our side, and a lot of our people were expecting the Supreme Court would strike down laws protecting marriage in 38 states. The Court chose not to do that, and so going forward, I think that will be part of our messaging, is that the Supreme Court has said it’s up to us win or lose this fight.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Thomas Peters, thank you very much.

THOMAS PETERS:  Thank you so much.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  Thomas Peters is communications director at the National Organization for Marriage.





Thomas Peters

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Brooke Gladstone