A leaked internal memo outlined the American news agency’s policy on the subject, stating that unless the words ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ could be attributed to a member of a couple, people in same-sex marriages should be referred to as each other’s ‘partners’.
This has prompted the second barrage of negative press the AP has received on LGBTI issues in recent months — back in December I wrote a column about their ban on the word ‘homophobia’.
At least in that case the AP gave a reason for their decision (albeit a crappy one), this time we get nothing. The memo states: “Generally AP uses couples or partners to describe people in civil unions or same-sex marriages.”
The implication seems to be that the word ‘partner’ is somehow more neutral than ‘husband’ or ‘wife’. Assuming the AP aren’t just a pack of douchebags (a possibility), perhaps they fear accusations of liberal bias.
There is an obvious retort: one can hardly claim neutrality if a standard is being applied to one group but not another.
But the current climate of American political media has made for some strange interpretations of ‘neutrality’. Unless a media outlet wants to be accused of bias, they have to present extreme views from both sides of the political spectrum, or avoid certain topics that have become intrinsically associated with a particular political view. If you engage with gay rights in anything other than a dismissive fashion, you’re a liberal.
Unfortunately, as a gay man, I don’t have the luxury of this kind of political neutrality. If you’re a member of a persecuted minority, it’s hard not to sit on the left, when the right — I included much of the current Labor front bench — is too often telling us we aren’t deserving of equality.
Although the AP’s goal of neutrality (misguided as it may be) is a good one, and although I firmly believe press neutrality is something to strive for, objective journalism doesn’t really exist.
Media outlets assert their politics with every story they publish and every story they don’t. In the same way, when the AP decides to use one word over another, they are making a choice about how to describe the world.
Prescribing ‘husband’ over ‘partner’ would be as political a decision as the one the AP have made, but at least I’m being honest about that.