Curious Reporting on Scott Walker’s Marriage Views

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

In recent weeks, Scott Walker has been shoring up his conservative bona fides on several hot button issues.  On life and on education, Walker has taken strong stands that play well with the Republican base, and it seems to be paying off in the latest Iowa polls.  The coverage of his recent comments on marriage, however, reveal a strange disparity in how the media is treating Walker’s view of the topic.  Consider these two headlines:

CBS News: Scott Walker backs amendment for same-sex marriage bans

Wisconsin State Journal: Scott Walker backs states’ rights on gay marriage

Both of these, on their face, are factual: Governor Walker does indeed back a constitutional amendment, and he did state his support for states’ historical right to set the terms for marriage.  Looking at CBS’s headline, however, might lead one to wonder if there’s a paradox: Wouldn’t a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in essence subvert state’s rights?  Not so much, because what the CBS headline fails to mention is that the amendment would simply affirm a state’s prerogative to make the rules:

Potential Republican presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says that he would support a constitutional amendment allowing states to enact same-sex marriage bans.

Kudos to CBS for providing context in the body of their article, but one wonders why they didn’t note this in the headline itself: Lots of people who follow multiple news services only have time to skim the titles and a very limited section of article content, and what they see in the headlines often shapes their perception of what the story is about. In this case, CBS’s headline risks promoting a (false) negative perception of Walker’s views among several groups, most notably Tenth Amendment advocates.

The CBS headline is the latest in a troubling series of headlines that misrepresent Walker on the issues (like this NY Daily News headline that falsely stated the Governor called mandatory ultrasounds “cool,” while the article body only quotes him saying it on ultrasounds in general).  Scott Walker isn’t my first choice for the nomination, but I’d hate to see a good candidate knocked out of the competition based on a misunderstanding.  Here’s hoping that CBS and the rest of the 24-hour news cycle are more careful about their headlines in the future.

Nick Arnold is a researcher for American Principles in Action.