Brian Williams Under Fire and On the Defensive Over Marriage Remarks

Melissa McEwan: When a news anchor states something as fact, as opposed to a common impression, it's not a semantic difference.
This post, written by Melissa McEwan, originally appeared on Shakesville

After noting in his newscast that marriage is "under attack," Brian Williams has issued a statement of clarification on his blog:
I was the recipient today of several emails from well-intentioned people, telling me I was being attacked in parts of the blogosphere for something I wrote and said on the air in last night's broadcast. It was a closing piece about Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip celebrating their 60th anniversary. I noted this accomplishment, especially in this era when, as I put it, marriage seems "under attack" as an institution. My meaning? Our national divorce rate, which is currently somewhere between 40 and 50 percent. Others took it upon themselves to decide that I was somehow attacking gay marriage. The simple fact is that nothing could have been further from my mind, as many others easily understood. In fact, one comment shared with me today came from a respected member of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, who said, "It seemed to me he was talking about the sky-high heterosexual divorce rates. Marriage IS under attack -- by straight people. It had nothing to do with the gay marriage movement."
First of all, Williams did not say that marriage seems under attack. He said it is under attack. When a news anchor states something as fact, as opposed to a common impression, it's not a semantic difference--and it's incredibly disingenuous of Williams to pretend otherwise. I find it highly ironic that even as Williams sniffs derisively at "parts of the blogosphere" who had the temerity to question a Real News Man, he simultaneously shrugs off the responsibility of the unassailable status to which he implicitly lays claim.

But the familiar invocation of haughty, duty-free entitlements of the media is the least of his problems.

It's incredibly careless to say that marriage is under attack, without specifying one's meaning, and presume that everyone will intuitively understand that to mean "divorce," particularly given that it isn't the prevention of divorce about which a constitutional amendment has been repeatedly introduced. It isn't divorcees who have been routinely, publicly accused of undermining the sanctity of marriage. Banning divorce hasn't been put on the ballot in more than a dozen states in the past two elections.

"Marriage is under attack" is such a recognizable dog whistle to opponents of same-sex marriage that it's practically synonymous with "the radical gay agenda." Is Brian Williams, anchor of the NBC Nightly News (and regular Rush Limbaugh listener), seriously trying to tell me that he doesn't know that? If so, he's manifestly unfit for his job, because that's a truly stunning lack of awareness about one of the most important news stories in American politics and culture in the last decade.

That he seems to be equally ignorant about the divorce rate doesn't bode well for him, either: As of 2005, the US divorce rate is at its lowest point since 1970. Americans are getting married at a lower rate, but also getting divorced at a lower rate, suggesting those who do get married are forming better unions. If the institution of marriage is taking a hit in sheer numbers, it's to the benefit of the people who get married.
Melissa McEwan writes and edits the blog Shakespeare's Sister.
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