Honestly, I have no idea whether or not Arizona’s “religious freedom” bill — uniformly called the “anti-gay” bill in the media — would have actually protected religious freedom or not.
But it is an opportunity to trot out a theory of mine that would have been my dissertation, had I ever pursued that Master’s in Journalism degree.
I call it The OOOOOPSI Model of American Media Outrage Coverage. It’s just an unproven proposal, and may not apply to every situation, but maybe it’s a good enough template to post it now, while we’re in the middle of yet another cycle.
Here are the OOOOOPSI steps:
- Opportunity: First, we need a hot-button event that is a proper catalyst for the cycle. Recent examples were supplied by Chick-fil-A, Hobby Lobby, Susan G. Komen, and now, Arizona’s proposed law.
- Outrage: Next, those on the opposite side of the culture wars make a lot of noise about “fairness” and “bigotry” and “tolerance.” Maybe they have a point, or maybe not, but it’s an important step in the news cycle.
- Opposition: Then, the national media by and large adopts the definitions brought to them by the outraged. For example, in this week’s Arizona story, the media labeled the bill “anti-gay,” without the scare quotes. Such labeling was a tremendous victory for the outraged.
- Oversimplification: As a part of its coverage, the media fails to add any nuance to the debate or closely examine the actual facts of what’s being argued, preferring to cover the horse race of two competing interests beating each other up.
- Overreach: At some point, a mainline media outlet gets too cocky and goes a step too far in its boosterism. Other media momentarily shrink back in embarrassment.
- Pendulum: Prompted by this misstep, a few media commentators rub their chins and publish thoughtful analysis pieces that ask if everyone is being a little too hard on the accused. The accused is still wrong, mind you, but we can be nicer about it.
- Silence: After this, coverage ceases as the nation’s attention runs elsewhere.
- Introspection: Finally, months later, on a Sunday news program, journalists will gather and ruminate about how they unfairly overstated one side of the debate. They pledge to do better next time.
I think the pendulum will swing back soon, especially now that the bill has been vetoed and all momentum has been lost.
I haven’t tested the theory with any rigor, but I’ve seen this kind of media cycle run several times. Let me know if you think I’m making sense — or not. I don’t want to start an OOOOOPSI cycle of my own.
UPDATE: Be sure to check out my follow-up post, “The Post and the Pendulum: When do the media apologize?”
—Photo found on Flickr and courtesy State Library and Archives of Florida