Show, Don’t Tell

People won’t sign petitions against same-sex marriage or civil unions because they fear harassment. Opponents of same-sex marriage and civil unions say they fear for their safety.  The one problem: the New York Times and the LA Times fail to provide any evidence of this threat or even a rationale for this threat.

In two stories this week on the battle over petitioner privacy in Washington state, the papers quote the same people suggesting that the reason privacy is necessary for petition signers is because opponents of same-sex marriage fear intimidation, retaliation, and even violence.  Neither paper, however, provides a single example of intimidation or violence to support these alleged threats.

Here’s what the NYT said:

Opponents of releasing the names, led by Protect Marriage Washington, the group behind the referendum, say gay rights groups are threatening free speech by intimidating petition signers. James Bopp Jr., the lead lawyer for the group, filed affidavits from people who said they felt threatened for taking their position on the issue. Larry Stickney, the campaign manager of Protect Marriage Washington, has also complained of feeling threatened, he said.

“He has his children sleep in the hall of the middle of the house so they won’t be exposed to the street,” Mr. Bopp said.

And here’s a similar passage–also featuring Bopp–in the LAT.

“The process of signing a petition is political speech,” James Bopp, a lawyer for Protect Marriage Washington, said in his appeal to the high court. This speech will be “chilled,” he added, if the signers of a petition are “harassed, intimidated and threatened.”

In an interview, Bopp, an Indiana lawyer and a prominent conservative, portrayed the dispute as “part of a nationwide effort to harass and intimidate supporters of traditional marriage.”

and this:

When Toleos announced plans in June to do the same in Washington, lawyers for Protect Marriage Washington went to federal court to block the release of the names. They pointed to the scorn and verbal abuse experienced by some who gave money last year to support California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage.

If there is evidence of violence and intimidation, let’s hear it. It would be helpful to know how severe this alleged intimidation is, to be shown some examples of the alleged intimidation, and then allow the reader to sort through the evidence.

But Bopp is making an argument–that has been unsuccessful nationwide–about the nexus between privacy and intimidation and reporters need to lay out the specifics. If he’s argued it in court, what do the affidavits say provided to the court. Otherwise, reporters are merely adopting a “rage and fear” meme being advanced by people like Bopp and Maggie Gallagher that needs to be vetted by the press.

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