Under the category of "Why Your Daily Newspaper is Becoming Useless" comes Tuesday's front-pager in the Free Press, under the headline "Divorce, unwed parents taking toll on taxpayers." The story, from the Associated Press, was about a study that purportedly proves "divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing costs U.S. taxpayers more than a $112 billion a year."
Two things caught my eye about the piece — its A1 treatment and its brevity. The play seemed to indicate the research is newsworthy. On the other hand, its length (about 160 words) suggested there is nothing particularly significant about the study beyond the ONE-HUNDRED-AND-TWELVE-BILLION DOLLAR price tag and the desire among its sponsors for more government investment to "bolster marriage."
Turns out neither of those things are exactly what they seem.
The first clue is the story as it was reported and written by AP staff writer David Crary, which was how it appeared in the Freep's online edition. Unlike readers of the paper, you will note that the study was sponsored by four groups, including the Institute for American Values, the Georgia Family Council, an "ally" of the Rev. James Dobson's band of conservative homophobes, Focuson the Family, and the Institute forMarriage and Public Policy, whose president Maggie Gallagher was exposed as a paid hack for the Bush Administration's $300 million marriage initiative.
Astute Vermonters might remember Gallagher and IMPP for their ardentopposition to Vermont's civil-union statute. Gallagher, an affiliatescholar for the study's lead sponsor, the Institute for American Values,has said that the very future of the republic rests on society's willingness to establish "a national definition of marriage" that would prohibit same-sex unions.
My complaint is less about the views of Gallagher and her ilk, which have plenty of detractors, than it is with how the Free Press treated this supposedly "new" research. First of all, it's not new — the IAV and the IMPP are major cogs in the conservative machinery that wants a constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions. Second, why were the opposing viewpoints that Crary included in his story left out of the Freep's print version?
I can see the story getting this kind of treatment in a lot of places — Texas and Oklahoma, for example, which are spending millions of taxpayer dollars on "pro-marriage" programs. But, here in Vermont, where residents — some of whom may actually read the Free Press — have fought to create a supportive environment for same-sex couples and their children, a "new study" by the same old ideologues deserved a more thoughful — and skeptical — approach.