Alex Blaze

AP repeats extreme-right zombie-meme as fact

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 09, 2009 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: Associated Press, George Will, journalism, Ken Starr, narratives, peter brown, Prop. 8, supreme court

Without even trying, I keep on coming upon the anti-historical assertion that Prop 8 was a response to the California court's decision in favor of same-sex marriage last year. Here's the AP having a little trouble with fact-checking:

California's Proposition 8, similar to laws in 29 other states that ban gay marriage, was the most expensive ballot measure in the nation, with $83 million poured into campaigns on either side.

The measure was introduced largely as a reaction to the California Supreme Court's decision in May to legalize same-sex unions. That ruling was extensively cited by Iowa justices in their decision released Friday.

Um, no. That's a lie. It wasn't "introduced largely as a reaction to the California Supreme Court's decision in May to legalize same-sex unions." The right started gathering signatures in 2007 and finished in April 2008. The court decided in May 2008. If anything, the ballot initiative was a response to the California legislature passing a law to recognize same-sex marriages twice and only being stopped by the governor. The organizers saw the writing on the wall there and went for a constitutional amendment.

I don't spend any time searching for this, but I keep on coming across it. I've blogged about Ken Starr, pollster Peter Brown, and George Will saying this lie (because that's what it is), and I'm sure that someone actually looking for more examples could easily find them.

And, yes, this is important. It's a subtle way of changing the subject and making it seem like the Religious Right are the poor, oppressed people. If they were simply reacting to undemocratic "judicial activism," then it's understandable why they're mad at those elitist judges.

It's pretty much the same myth they created around Roe v. Wade: they keep on saying that the Supreme Court created divisiveness on the issue because it wasn't democratic, but that couldn't be further from the truth. Protestant fundamentalists didn't care much about abortion up until well after Roe, when they realized racial segregation was losing its cache as a wedge issue. Quite a few leaders of the Religious Right even hailed the decision at the time.

But blaming Roe valorizes the anti-choice movement in a way that their simple opposition to a woman's autonomy does not. Americans love the idea of real, salt-of-the-earth folks taking on institutions of power. So instead of the story being about fundamentalists who don't like freedom, it's about Real Americans who got fed up with the snooty judges on the Supreme Court.

And that's the lie they're trying to develop in California. Instead of homophobes who were worried that same-sex marriage might be legalized by the legislature so they went on the offensive, the story they're selling now is that they're Real Americans standing up the snooty judges on the supreme court of California.

10 years from now, people aren't even going to be able to mention the possibility that Prop 8 wasn't a reaction to "judicial activism" without having to pull out historical documents to prove their point. And that's the goal, which is why I had hoped that a real journalistic outlet like the AP wouldn't validate it.

But, here we are. Thanks for not even doing the most basic research into this story, AP.


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daftpunkydavid | April 9, 2009 5:15 PM

i really love the act that someone finally picked up on this. i don't know how to make a difference, but perhaps the people at glaad or something should check up on that and correct these "anti-historical" inaccuracies

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | April 9, 2009 5:53 PM

Alex, I haven't looked at this in any depth, but I'm not so sure that there isn't at least some truth to the assertion of a connection between Proposition 8 and allegations of "judicial activism". It's true, I think, that petitions were being circulated well before the California Supreme Court issued its decision, but the litigation had commenced before that, and I think it could be said that there was at least some element of anticipating a decision when Prop 8 was filed. So I guess technically "in response to", assuming it connotes that you can't respond to something that hasn't yet happened, is obvious. My guess is that the motivation was both preventative with respect to legislative and judicial activity.

[That's not to say that I've jumped off of most of your "George Will is a liar" bandwagon, so don't you dare pull my membership card.....particularly since I told you about the De Moines Register website when the Iowa Supreme Court's decision was down] (:

I emailed with a gay activist in California about this and he said that they pretty much knew that there would be an amendment on the ballot in 2008 in 2005 and was largely in effect to tie the hands of the legislature. I really think that was what they were thinking about more than a potential supreme court decision. I'm sure that when the state legislature actually passes same-sex marriage, and a governor begrudgingly vetoes it, they could see the writing on the wall.

Especially since the AP doesn't say that it was a reaction to the case or the potential decision, they say it was "introduced" as a "reaction" to the "decision" itself:

The measure was introduced largely as a reaction to the California Supreme Court's decision in May to legalize same-sex unions.

That's pretty clearly implying that they got the idea as a result of the judges, started collecting signatures, got it on the ballot, and then had a campaign to get it passed all between May and November. If they didn't mean that, then they should have written that sentence more clearly.

As for George Will, I've decided to lay off. But don't take away my membership card either!

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | April 9, 2009 6:45 PM

Obviously your California source is more familiar than I am with the details.

Your membership is good so long as the ice floe Will is building a winter home on doesn't break off due to global warming and crash into Rush Limbaugh's villa on the Florida Atlantic coast.

Unless Rush is home at the time, that is.

I have so much on that character, but I'm thinking I just have to leave it alone. My problem isn't so much him, it's my unhealthy relationship to the knowledge that there are people out there who like him. :)