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As of May, 57 percent of Americans favored same-sex marriage — but 72 percent said that marriage equality was inevitable, according to polling by the Pew Research Center. The inevitable arrived Friday, as widely expected, when the Supreme Court issued a ruling establishing that same-sex couples have the right to marry throughout the nation.

While support for gay marriage has been on the rise nationwide for the last decadegroups that still oppose it tend to be white, older, Republican, more religious, and, moreover, tend to live in states that hadn’t legalized it already. So although at the national level it appears that opponents of marriage equality are fading into irrelevance, in constituencies where conservatives hold court, the struggle against progress rages on — and that means candidates must be seen resisting and challenging the ruling. And “religious liberty” is proving itself to be a useful weapon in the fight.

Using what Rolling Stone describes as a “simple semantic trick of calling” gay marriage “a religious liberty issue,” conservatives can conveniently avoid the kind of explicit discriminatory language that divides people, while letting voters know where they stand on the issue. Consider Louisiana governor and Republican presidential candidate Bobby Jindal. The tweets he posted in the wake of Friday’s ruling mentioned “religious liberty” twice, and he said in a statement: “This decision will pave the way for an all-out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision. This ruling must not be used as pretext by Washington to erode our right to religious liberty.” (“Religious liberty” is also the name and focus of his first campaign ad.)

“Religious liberty” is used as a catch-all for opting out of legislative acts and judicial rulings that favor progressive policies that conservatives don’t like. It’s a term they can rally behind as way to protect what they characterize as a way of life and a set of values. Those fighting under the “religious liberty” banner want to extend religious protections outside the realm of religious institutions (like churches) and into normally secular contexts. By tying it to economic and business concerns, they can pick up constituents who care about dollars and cents, rather than making it about a culture war they’ve already lost.

Jindal, for one, likens any restrictions of “religious liberty” to regulation and other allegedly “anti-business” practices: “Those who believe in freedom must stick together: If it’s not freedom for all, it’s not freedom at all.”

In former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s statement Friday, he alludes to cases where businesses were fined for not supporting same-sex couples.

That’s what’s to expect in the next round of the marriage-equality battle — same-sex rights vs. the rights of those with religious objections.

Even Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his majority opinion, said that “religious liberty” challenges are acceptable: “It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned,” Kennedy wrote.

Activists are pointing out that even with today’s ruling, the fight isn’t over: There are 28 states that don’t provide protections against discrimination in the workplace, housing, or in public accommodations for LGBT people, despite many beliefs to the contrary.

Many non-conservatives see this “religious liberty” fight as a last-ditch attempt against something that has largely been decided already, “a way for religious conservatives to negotiate surrender,” as Ross Douthat phrased it.

Not all Republican presidential candidates who have come out against today’s ruling mentioned “religious liberty. “States’ rights” — the old standby that New Jersey governor Christ Christie and Florida governor Jeb Bush cited in their objections to the ruling — has a history of being aligned with conservative and sometimes questionable stances. It has often been invoked when referring to the legacy of the Civil War.

The conventional wisdom is that the fire-and-brimstone rhetoric is good for firing up the base and could work to Republicans’ advantage in the primaries. But now that the issue of marriage equality is seemingly settled, will most Americans care enough about “religious liberty” to vote Republicans into office?

Photo: “Religious liberty” is not just about practicing religion freely. For many, it’s about having the right to refuse to provide goods or services that are against their religious beliefs. That’s the line of attack Republicans are expected to use on LGBT issues now that the marriage question has been settled by the Supreme Court. American Life League via Flickr


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Rep. Bennie Thompson

Photo by Customs and Border Protection (Public domain)

Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) Friday afternoon announced the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack has issued subpoenas to 14 Republicans from seven states who submitted the forged and "bogus" Electoral College certificates falsely claiming Donald Trump and not Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election in their states.

The Chairman appeared to suggest the existence of a conspiracy as well, noting the "the planning and coordination of efforts," saying "these so-called alternate electors met," and may know "who was behind that scheme."

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Chris Cuomo

News Literacy Week 2022, an annual awareness event started by the News Literacy Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to making everyone “smart, active consumers of news and information and equal and engaged participants in a democracy” has closed out. From January 24 to 28, classes, webinars, and Twitter chats taught students and adults how to root out misinformation when consuming news media.
There’s no downplaying the importance of understanding what is accurate in the media. These days, news literacy is a survival tactic. One study estimated that at least 800 people died because they embraced a COVID falsehood — and that inquiry was conducted in the earliest months of the pandemic. About 67 percent of the unvaccinated believe at least one COVID-19 myth, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
It’s not that accurate information isn’t available; people are rejecting reports of vaccine efficacy and safety because they distrust the news media. A third of Americans polled by Gallup said they have no trust at all in mass media; another 27 percent don’t have much at all.
Getting people to believe information presented to them depends more on trust than it does on the actual data being shared. That is, improving trust isn’t an issue of improving reporting. It’s an issue of improving relationships with one’s audience.
And that’s the real news problem right now; some celebrity anchors at cable news outlets are doing little to strengthen their relationships with their audiences and a lot to strengthen their relationships with government officials.
The most obvious example is how CNN terminated Prime Time anchor Chris Cuomo last month for his failure to disclose the entirety of his role in advising his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on the sexual harassment accusation that unfolded in Albany, a scandal that eventually led to Andrew Cuomo’s resignation.
But there are others. Just this month, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol revealed that another anchor on another cable news network, Laura Ingraham of Fox News’ The Ingraham Angle, texted then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows last January, advising Meadows how Trump should react to reports of possible armed protests at state capitols around the country. This revelation followed the story that Sean Hannity, host of the eponymous news hour at Fox News, also texted Meadows with advice last year.
And while he didn't advise a government official, CNN anchor Don Lemon revealed information not available to the public when he texted embattled Empire actor Jussie Smollett to tip him off about the Chicago Police Department’s wavering faith in his story about an assault. That’s from Smollett’s own sworn testimony.
When English philosopher Edmund Burke joked about the press being the Fourth Estate — in addition to the First, Second and Third (the clergy, nobility and commoners, respectively) — his point was that, despite their influence on each other, these “estates” — bastions of power — are supposed to be separate.
The Fourth Estate will always be an essential counterweight to government. But, since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, we’ve been so focused on stopping an executive branch from pressing the press to support an administration's agenda — either by belittling journalists or threatening to arrest them for doing their jobs — that we’ve ignored the ways that it affects and influences other Estates, and not necessarily through its reporting.
That is, we have news personalities-cum-reporters who are influencing government policy — and not telling us about it until it’s too late.
The United States has fostered an incredible closeness between the Second Estate — which in 2021 and 2022 would be political leaders — and the Fourth Estate. About a year ago, an Axios reporter had to be reassigned because she was dating one of President Biden’s press secretaries. Last year, James Bennet, the former editorial page editor of the New York Times and brother of Colorado Senator and 2020 Presidential candidate Michael Bennet, had to recuse himself publicly from the Gray Lady’s endorsement process. In 2013, the Washington Post reported at least eight marriages between Obama officials and established journalists.
To be clear, there aren’t any accusations that anyone just mentioned engaged in anything other than ethical behavior. But I, for one, don’t believe that James and Michael Bennet didn’t discuss Michael’s campaign. I don’t think the Axios reporter and her West Wing-employed boyfriend — or any journalists and their federally employed spouses, for that matter — didn’t share facts that the public will never know. Such is the nature of family and intimacy.
And as long as those conversations don’t affect the coverage of any news events, there’s nothing specifically, technically wrong with them. But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t damaging.
As these stories show, when we don’t know about these advisor roles, at least not until someone other than the journalist in question exposes them, it causes a further erosion of trust in news media.
What’s foolish about the Cuomo, Ingraham, Hannity, and Lemon improprieties is that they don't necessarily need to be the problem they’ve become. Cuomo’s show contained opinion content like 46 percent of CNN’s programming. An active debate rages on as to whether Fox News is all opinion and whether or not it can rightly even be called opinion journalism since its shows are so studded with inaccuracies and lies.
What that means is that Cuomo, Ingraham, Hannity, and Lemon are allowed to take a stand as opinion journalists; Cuomo and Lemon never really worked under a mandate of objectivity and Ingraham and Hannity likely wouldn’t honor it if they did. Indeed, a certain subjectivity — and explaining how it developed for the journalist — is part of an opinion journalist’s craft. To me, little of these consulting roles would be problematic if any of these anchors had just disclosed them and the ways they advised the people they cover.
But they didn’t. Instead, the advice they dispensed to government employees and celebrities was disclosed by a third party and news of it contributes to the public’s distrust in the media. While personal PR advisory connections between journalists and politicians haven’t been pinpointed as a source of distrust, they may have an effect. Almost two-thirds of respondents in a Pew Research poll said they attributed what they deemed unfair coverage to a political agenda on the part of the news organization. No one has rigorously examined the ways in which individual journalists can swing institutional opinion so it may be part of the reason why consumers are suspicious of news.
Cleaning up ex post facto is both a violation of journalistic ethics and ineffective. Apologies and corrections after the fact don't always improve media trust. In other credibility contests, like courtroom battles, statements against one’s interests enhance a person’s believability. But that’s not necessarily true of news; a 2015 study found that corrections don’t automatically enhance a news outlet’s credibility.
It’s a new adage for the 21st century: It’s not the consulting; it’s the cover-up. Journalists need to disclose their connections to government officials — up front — to help maintain trust in news media. Lives depend on it.

Chandra Bozelko did time in a maximum-security facility in Connecticut. While inside she became the first incarcerated person with a regular byline in a publication outside of the facility. Her “Prison Diaries" column ran in The New Haven Independent, and she later established a blog under the same name that earned several professional awards. Her columns now appear regularly in The National Memo.

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