Accuracy in Media

Charlie Jarvis of a group called USA Next has ignited a media firestorm by attacking the powerful liberal lobby, AARP, once known as the American Association of Retired Persons. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called USA Next ruthless, vicious and dishonest.  In a reference to White House aide Karl Rove and an ad from USA Next attacking AARP over the gay marriage issue, Dowd said that the group was using the “Rovian tactic of hanging gay marriage like an anvil around the neck of a foe.” But Dowd obscured a key fact: the Ohio branch of AARP did, in fact, oppose Ohio’s Issue 1, a referendum against same sex marriage. AARP was on the losing side of the issue. It passed in Ohio by a margin of 24 percent (62-38).

In Dowd’s strange world, accurately criticizing a group for its stand on an issue is somehow dishonest. The correct journalistic approach is to find out why AARP of Ohio took this position and determine whether there is any truth in it. According to various reports, AARP of Ohio claimed that Issue 1 could somehow be interpreted to take rights away from people living in the same household who were not married, including seniors. A main proponent of the measure, Phil Burress of Citizens for Community Values (CCV), said that was nonsense. He denounced AARP of Ohio for its opposition to Issue 1 and canceled his own AARP membership in protest. 

The measure declared that “only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions. This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.” Clearly, it was designed to prohibit homosexual marriages or so-called civil unions that resemble marriages.

The Ohio Campaign to Protect Marriage, which promoted Issue One, said that charges that the measure would prevent senior citizens from executing contracts such as wills, powers of attorney and mortgages were not only false but “an unconscionable attempt to scare our senior citizens.” It said that, “All these matters are subjects of legal contracts, the enforcement of which is completely independent of the marital relationship of the parties of the contracts. A judge asked to enforce any of these contracts would give no consideration at all to the relationship between them.”

In an apparent reference to AARP and other groups opposing Issue 1, the Campaign to Protect Marriage said they were using “Dan Rather-style claims” and had “turned to distortions and outright lies to scare people?”  That was a reference to Rather’s flawed broadcast before the election that was intended to damage the president.  It looks like Maureen Dowd is a graduate of the Dan Rather school of journalism. She wants to scare people away from the truth about AARP.

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