I am always fascinated by how my mainstream journalism colleagues and I can cover the exact same story and even select the same quotes and yet wind up reporting the story with significant shades of difference.
Here's an example: On June 23, Oscar-winning producer Bruce Cohen married art consultant Gabriel Catone in a brief ceremony officiated by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in City Hall.
The MSM reported the event, underscoring the drama of an unexpected wedding crasher and the political context for Villaraigosa. But for me, the most moving and significant highlight of the occasion was Cohen's reaction to the wedding crasher's opposition to his marriage: it was downright patriotic.
The Cohen-Catone wedding was the first same sex ceremony inside L.A. City Hall; L.A. City Council president Eric Garcetti, acting Mayor while Villaraigosa was in Israel, performed a wedding on the steps of City Hall on June 17, the first full day of marriage equality. Other mayors, including San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom - who started the wedding march on Valentine's Day 2004 - and Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums also officiated at weddings on June 16 and 17th.
The L.A. Times and the Daily News reported that Villaraigosa was playing "catch-up" with other mayors and they focused on a wedding crasher who called Villaraigosa an "adulterer" - presumably referring to the mayor's extramarital affair with a Spanish language television reporter last year.
The Times, in particular, wondered if there would be a political cost to Villaraigosa for his strong public support for marriage equality:
One political consultant argued that gay weddings would pose a greater risk to Villaraigosa if he runs for governor in 2010, when he would need to woo the state's more conservative voters. But even that risk is diminished by the fact that a potential opponent, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, has already established himself as a trailblazer for gay marriage through his advocacy on the issue.
"I think what you don't want to do, if you're Antonio Villaraigosa or even Gavin Newsom and you're going to run statewide, is give everyone in the state the idea that this is what you're all about," said Rob Stutzman, who managed the successful campaign in 2000 for Proposition 22, which defined marriage as being between a man and a woman but was overturned by the state Supreme Court.
It's implied - but yes, Stutzman is a conservative Republican. The newspaper later quoted Democratic consultant Bill Carrick as saying that by the time the governor's race rolls around, marriage equality will be "the universally accepted position of any Democratic candidate."
The Times also suggested that candidates would weigh the political cost:
Although marrying off same-sex couples may have political repercussions in central California, such activities can also provide a political [and financial] boost to a candidate in large urban centers.
Ya think? Who was one of the biggest gays out of the gate for Barack Obama? David Geffen. (Keep an eye on my friend Ted Johnson's political Variety blog - Wilshire & Washington).
But here's the thing: marriage equality is already in the California Democratic Party Platform. A marriage equality bill has twice passed the state legislature; it's the new standard by which any candidate who wants gay bucks and voter support is measured - including candidates for governor. Villaraigosa, Speaker of the Assembly in 1999-2000, not only co-chaired on the No on Prop. 22 campaign, he personally contributed $10,000 of his own money. And Newsom, considered Villaraigosa's chief rival, will forever be linked to the historic Valentine's Day 2004 issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of the state Constitution.
But other likely gubernatorial candidates - former State Controller Steve Westly (a co-founder of EBAY) and current Lt. Gov. John Garamendi (a former state legislator from Sacramento County)- also support marriage equality. In fact, Garamendi has repeatedly said he wants to preside over the wedding of his Special Assistant Eric Bauman, the leading candidate to be the next chair of the California Democratic Party, and his longtime partner Michael Andraychak.
Only Attorney General Jerry Brown is fuzzy on marriage equality. Though he has his gay supporters, Brown has become increasingly conservative over the years and some gays have not forgiven him for signing a bill when he was governor that changed the definition on the state's marriage certificates from neutral to "man and woman."
So granted - marriage equality might not be on the political radar of The Times and the Daily News as it is on mine - but there's been too much reporting on the Democratic big-wig's political positions to suggest that it will be a major issue in 2010.
But the biggest difference between MSM coverage and mine is how we reported Cohen's reaction to the wedding crasher's opposition to same sex marriage - which the crasher espoused just moments after the ceremony concluded.
The Daily News reported:
"It added spice to the festivities," joked Cohen, who wore a pink-checked suit and a pink shirt. Catone wore a cream-color suit and slate tie.
"It doesn't spoil our day. It doesn't take away our joy. And it certainly doesn't change the fact that we are legally married in the state of California, by the mayor of Los Angeles."
The Times had a shorter version of the same quote, as did the broadcast media.
For me, Cohen's spontaneous reaction was brilliant, underscoring the gay version of how the "personal is political." Here is a gay man, the Oscar-winning producer of "American Beauty," the producer of "Pushing Daisies" and the upcoming film on Harvey Milk, a prodigious fundraiser for Hillary Clinton and a close friend of Villaraigosa - and he still is officially a second-class citizen in the eyes of the federal government - and he knows it.
After the ceremony, I asked him to come back and speak with us. I first asked him if he felt different - now that he was legally married in the state of California.
"Yeah, I think it is different because it's so important politically. It's part of a whole sea change that's happening. I think Los Angeles is part of that change and Mayor Villaraigosa is part of that change. We're such fans of his and he's done so much for this city that to be here in this hall being married by him is just completely overwhelming, in a wonderful way. This is the first LGBT marriage that has happened in this hall and the first one Mayor Villaraigosa has done so that's a huge honor and responsibility to work hard to make sure all of these rights stay in place.
I think there's so much momentum in this state to defeat the [antigay marriage] initiative [on the November ballot] and hold onto these rights - so many people, gay and straight, seem so proud of the state of California for taking this step and want to make sure it stays in place."
Another reporter asked:
"Speaking of opposition - since you just brought it up. We were all witnesses to this random woman who just walked in here, obviously trying to spoil your day. Your reaction to that?
"We were joking with the Mayor that it [the interruption] added spice to the festivities. I mean - this is America - that's one of the great things about it - that people are entitled to their opinion. Hopefully, maybe our reaction is even metaphorical - to ignore her. It doesn't spoil our day. It doesn't take away our joy. It certainly doesn't change the fact that we are legally married in the state of California, by the mayor of Los Angeles. And nothing that she or anyone can do can take that away, now that the California Supreme Court has ruled on that."
But, said the reporter, "ultimately marriage is about a love story - and there is a segment of the population that is against your love."
To which Cohen replied:
"I truly believe that that's going to change - that that does change - love story by love story by love story, week by week. And that the more people see these love stories developing starting last Tuesday and over the next couple of months, not all at once but couple by couple, person by person, people are going to begin to feel the same way we feel - which is:
'All right, you can have differences of opinion, we don't have to agree on everything - but wow! These people have as much a right to happiness and marriage and love as any other Americans do. It's part of our birthright as Americans, from the Statue of Liberty and the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence - that's what we love about this country.'
And I think more and more people are going to start agreeing with that."
They were asked to share their love story.
Catone, the more private one, said:
"We met through friends five years ago and it was inevitable from the beginning. The love story was sadly very cliché. We met and both of us knew immediately that it was fated, inevitable and that's exactly the way it happened."
Cohen again put their marriage in a political context:
"He asked me to marry him last September. We didn't know about the Supreme Court decision - we first started hearing in November that a date had been set and that the case would be argued in March so the decision would be due by June - and our wedding was already planned for late June. And we started thinking - could this all work out?
So just for us, the fact that the decision went the way it did, the fact that Mayor Villaraigosa, who's our dear friend, agreed to marry us and then made us the first LGBT couple, has all been part of our love story, our fantasy wedding."
I asked if he plans to translate the experience into film:
"I hope that we translate our beliefs - political and personal - into all of the work we do. No - we don't have a "gay marriage" movie in the works. But you never know how it will crop up and fill more television."
Ironically, given Cohen's soon-to-be released bio pic on LGBT political icon Harvey Milk, the late San Francisco Mayor George Moscone's 1972 work on privacy rights is now being credited by some for paving the way for the May 15 marriage equality ruling by the California Supreme Court. Moscone, a very gay-friendly heterosexual, was assassinated in his city hall office by disgruntled former supervisor Dan White just before White killed Milk.
Thirty years later, same sex couples are getting married in city halls across the state.