NEW YORK — Around the time the U.S. Supreme Court was considering the same-sex marriage issue, news reports had more comments from supporters than opponents, a study released Monday concluded.
The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism looked at nearly 500 stories on the topic over a two-month period that began just before the court started hearings in March on legalizing same-sex marriage. By a 5-to-1 margin, the stories with statements in support of legalization outweighed those dominated by opponents' views.
Pew said the results were in large part because many of the stories were about polls showing societal attitudes swiftly moving toward support for gay marriage, or about politicians announcing their support. A disciplined approach by supporters was also a factor, Pew found.
"Certainly it is evident in these findings the degree to which supporters of same-sex marriage were largely successful in getting their message out in a clear way, a consistent way, across a wide swath of the news media," said Amy Mitchell, acting director of the project.
Supporters primarily defined the issue as one of civil rights. At the same time, Pew said, opponents haven't coalesced behind a single argument but instead posed many: homosexuality is immoral; same-sex marriage hurts families or society; civil unions are good enough; or government should not impose a new definition of marriage.
The findings were consistent across different media. For instance, 43 percent of newspaper stories showed at least a 2-to-1 margin of pro views to con, 8 percent were dominated by opponents and 48 percent were largely neutral, Pew said. The proportions of supporter-opponent content in stories for all three cable news networks were similar.
Twenty-nine percent of the stories by Fox News Channel, which appeals to conservatives, were dominated by supporters, 8 percent by opponents and 63 percent had about the same pro and con views, Pew said.
While the nation's attitudes have been shifting, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that 51 percent of the public favored legalizing same-sex marriage and 42 percent opposed it.
Pew found that Twitter postings were more closely aligned with public opinion than news coverage. Tweets were about the same between positive and negative, with the greater proportion of negative comments coming directly after the Supreme Court began hearing arguments.
Mitchell demurred when asked whether the study provided evidence for conservatives who believe that news media opinions tilt left.
"I don't think the study can necessarily speak to that one way or another," she said.