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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By David G. Savage, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The two-decade drive to legalize same-sex marriage passed a major milestone Monday and neared final victory as the Supreme Court cleared the way for gays and lesbians to marry in 11 additional states.

Social conservatives had seen the high court as their last hope to halt gay marriage, but in a surprise move justices flatly turned down appeals from five states, some with right-leaning state attorneys who were seeking to reinstate bans against same-sex marriage.

Instead, the high court let stand appellate rulings that had struck down the bans, therefore putting off once again the thorny question of whether gays and lesbians nationwide have a constitutional right to marry.

But even though the action, issued with no comment, does not carry the weight of a formal ruling, it is likely to send a strong message to lower court judges that same-sex marriage could soon be legal across the country.

Monday’s action means that gay marriage will be legal in 30 states, including for the first time in the South. The court order makes gay marriage immediately legal in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Not far behind will be six other states in the same federal circuit districts where gay marriage bans are now in effect illegal: Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Added to the 19 states that had legalized same-sex-marriage, the court’s move brings gay marriage to most of the nation for the first time.

The ACLU’s James Esseks called it “a watershed movement for the entire country.”

“We are one big step closer to the day when all same-sex couples will have the freedom to marry,” he said.

In the end, conservatives on the court may have decided that the battle over gay marriage is not worth fighting at this time. Public opinion polls show growing support for same-sex marriage. Since the high court’s last ruling on the issue in 2013, same-sex-marriage advocates have won an unprecedented string of legal victories.

The odd outcome may also reflect a close split and uncertainty within the high court.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has often shown a willingness to put off decisions on divisive social issues, particularly when the court is closely split. Last year, for example, the justices refused to hear several cases testing new state regulations on abortion.

The four most conservative justices are believed to oppose the lower court rulings in favor of gay marriage. But at least some of them, including perhaps Roberts, appear to have been reluctant to accept a case at this time, perhaps out of concern that swing-vote Justice Anthony M. Kennedy might join with the four liberals to rule for a nationwide right to gay marriage.

At the same time, the four liberal justices see no compelling reason to hear the gay marriage appeals at a time when courts are overwhelming ruling in favor of gay marriage. A few weeks ago, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said there was no urgency to decide a same-sex marriage case.

But that may change soon. Judges from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals based in Cincinnati heard an appeal recently and hinted they may well uphold traditional marriage laws in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The U.S. appeals courts in New Orleans, Atlanta and St. Louis have yet to rule on the constitutionality of gay marriage. If one of them upholds the state bans, gay rights lawyers will appeal, and the Supreme Court is then nearly certain to hand down a constitutional ruling. The justices will not allow the Constitution’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” to mean one thing in one region and something different in another.

Monday’s court action was greeted as an important win by gay rights advocates, but not the nationwide ruling they had hoped for.

“This is historic. The Supreme Court has chosen not stand in the way of love,” said Jon Davidson, legal director for the Lambda Legal advocacy group. “Now, we need a national solution so that, no matter where you live, same-sex couples can have access to the dignity and respect that only marriage can provide.”

The conservative Alliance Defending Freedom emphasized that the high court had not ruled squarely on the issue. The “decision not to take up the issue now means that the marriage battle will continue,” said the group’s senior counsel, Byron Babione. “The people should decide this issue, not the courts.”

Because Monday’s court action is not a formal ruling, lower court judges are free to decide the matter differently and uphold a state law. In the past, Kennedy has cast key votes in favor of gay rights claims. If he were to join with the four conservatives, they could still rule that states are free to maintain the traditional laws limiting marriage to a man and a woman.

But that option seems increasingly unlikely, given the national shift in public opinion on gay rights and Monday’s action.

Photo: Matt H. Wade via Wikimedia Commons

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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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