The complainant said a CBC.ca article that Mitt Romney had changed his view on gay marriage was inaccurate. His complaint was upheld and there was a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.
On June 19, 2012, CBC.ca carried an analysis by Neil Macdonald, its Senior Washington Correspondent, on the differences and similarities of presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as they campaign for election later this year.
Macdonald said Romney had changed his position on several issues in his political ascension. Far into his analysis, Macdonald wrote of the Republican candidate: “He was once an advocate of gay rights, including gay marriage. No longer, he says.”
The complainant, Tom Forsythe, wrote June 20 to say Macdonald had misrepresented Romney's position. Forsythe asserted Romney had never supported gay marriage.
“It isn't just that he misrepresented Romney's position, he did it in such a way as to imply Romney had moved to the right on same-sex issues,” he wrote. “The reality is that Romney's position has been clear and consistent: no discrimination or abuse against gays, but no gay marriage.”
Esther Enkin, the executive editor of CBC News, wrote back to say that Romney had promised during his 1994 campaign for the Senate to be a champion of “full equality” for gays and lesbians and a better and stronger advocate for gay rights than his opponent, Democrat Ted Kennedy, a supporter of same-sex marriage.
“At the time, Romney's views were widely understood to include support for gay marriage,” Enkin wrote.
Forsythe wrote back July 5 to ask for a review.
“In 1994 it was perfectly reasonable for a candidate to support equality for homosexuals without supporting gay marriage,” Forsythe wrote. “In fact, it was the norm. To interpret Romney's 1994 comments in a 2012 context is misleading.”
He added: “Finally, if Romney was in favour of gay marriage it would be EASY to simply post a quote where he said so. No such quote has been produced.”
CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices call for accurate presentation of information. “We seek out the truth in all matters of public interest,” it states. “We invest our time and skills to learn, understand and clearly explain the facts to our audience.”
On the issue of correcting the record, the policy declares: “We do not hesitate to correct any mistake when necessary nor to follow-up a story when a situation changes significantly.”
Given that Mitt Romney has over the years courted gay support with several liberal views, particularly on economic policies that were discriminatory, it is understandable one might extrapolate he had been a supporter all along of same-sex marriage.
For example, Romney suggested while campaigning for the Senate in 1994 that he would be a strong advocate for gays and lesbians — better even than his opponent, Ted Kennedy, a supporter of same-sex marriage. He wrote a letter to fellow Republicans in 1994 that “as we seek full equality for gay and lesbian citizens, ” he would provide “more effective leadership” than his opponent. He cited his support of efforts to combat workplace, housing, credit and military discrimination, along with support for legislation to create a panel to combat gay and lesbian youth suicide. All of these gestures constituted a significant level of support. Presumably, the meaning of full equality included marital rights.
But throughout all of this, Romney did not specifically mention same-sex marriage.
An indication of his position emerged in a 1994 interview with the Boston-area newspaper, Bay Windows. In that interview Romney said he supported the approach of then-governor William Weld of Massachusetts. Although Weld supported the extension of “certain benefits and privileges” to gays and lesbians, Romney noted Weld “does not
feel at this time that he wishes to extend legalized marriage on a same-sex basis, and I support his position."
In office in 2003 when the Massachusetts Supreme Court opened the door to same-sex marriage in the state, Romney backed a state constitutional amendment that would have outlawed the practice.
He continued that stand against same-sex marriage through his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and into this campaign and maintained he had never altered his view on the issue. In recent coverage of President Barack Obama's support of same-sex marriage, The Associated Press news agency said Romney had been a “consistent” opponent of it. The Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact organization of the Tampa Bay Times recently assessed Romney's record on the issue and whether he had flip-flopped. It concluded there had been no change in his position as an opponent.
In the absence of a clear Romney statement to support same-sex marriage — and with one statement and reinforced assertions to oppose it — I concluded Romney had not changed his view on same-sex marriage. I also could not find any information to back CBC's view that Romney's support for certain principles was widely understood to extend to support of gay marriage. While the thrust of the analysis was sound, the specific inaccuracy was a violation of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices.