June 4, 2018

Disingenuous Wires: Court’s Same-Sex Wedding Cake Ruling Is ‘Narrow’

Both the Associated Press and Reuters have described today’s 7-2 Supreme Court ruling in Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission as “narrowly” decided and “limited.” The justification for this characterization is thin, and AP has erroneously contended that “the big issue in the case, whether a business can refuse to serve gay and lesbian people,” remains undecided.

The AP’s breaking news tease likely led many who saw it to believe that the ruling in favor of Jack Phillips’ Masterpiece bakery was really 5-4, especially as that is what many Court observers had expected:

APbreakingOnGayCakeRuling060418

Reuters, as seen at CNBC, initially had a more neutral headline:

Reuters1OnGayCakeRuling060418

But as of 11:45 a.m. ET on Monday, it had adopted the “narrowly” decided meme:

Reuters2OnGayCakeRuling060418

The first three-paragraph release at AP got rid of any form of the word “narrow” — perhaps because of TV blowback from its original misleading tease — but still described the ruling as “limited”:

AP3GrafsOnGayCakeRuling060418

AP’s description that the Court was “setting aside” a previous ruling is far softer than what actually happened. The court “reversed” (its word) previous rulings by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and the Colorado Court of Appeals. “Has overturned” or “has rejected” would also have corrected described the Supreme Court’s decision.

The wire service’s description of “whether a business can refuse service to gay and lesbian people” could not be more wrong. Early verbiage in the Court’s ruling directly and completely contradicts that claim:

SupremesGayCakeRuling060418

The AP wants readers to believe, based on its use of “whether,” that it’s likely that future courts will rule that providers of good and services can never refuse to serve gays and lesbians under any circumstances. The Court has clearly stated that “religious and philosophical objections” represent clear and legitimate exceptions to that otherwise true statement, allaying fears that its 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges same-sex marriage ruling might be used to banish any right to exercise those objections, or even express them, out of the public square.

The AP should have written that “the big issue in the case, when (i.e., under what circumstances) a business can refuse to serve gay and lesbian people on religious and philosophical grounds,” remains undecided. It appears that the degree to which those objections can be “limited” is far smaller than state and local so-called “civil-rights” enforcers had assumed.

Initial AP and Reuters headlines and breaking-news items have thus seemed more interested in damage-controlling spin than in relaying facts.

Cross-posted, with possible revisions, at NewsBusters.org.

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