Mike Pence had harsh words Tuesday for the nation's newsrooms as the embattled Indiana governor is facing a virtually solid wall of opposition from reporters covering the state's new religious freedom law.
"I have to tell you that the gross mischaracterizations about the bill early on — and some of the reckless reporting by some in the media about what this bill was all about — was deeply disappointing to me and to millions of Hoosiers," Pence said during a press conference, referring to a striking level of media unanimity around the idea that Indiana's law is distinctly bigoted.
But Pence's own apparent repositioning on the issue — he is now calling for the Hoosier State to adopt yet another law to clarify the law he just signed — shows how intense the opposition has been. And journalists covering the Indiana situation, including straight-news reporters, say they feel no responsibility to give weight to the governor's position.
News organizations, including NPR, Gawker, Bloomberg News, the Huffington Post, the Week, CNN, Fusion, the Washington Post, Raw Story, Mashable, MSNBC, TechCrunch and News.mic, all published stories labeling the law — without using quotation marks — anti-gay.
Pro-LGBT activists who oppose the bill, which is nearly identical to a 1993 federal law and laws on religious expression in 20 other states, say that a dramatic shift in public opinion on gay marriage means that the Indiana law is intended to provide a legal means for bigots in the state to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
And it appears that the press shares these fears.
As editors in numerous newsrooms declared in headlines that Indiana's law is "anti-gay," reporters followed suit, with a handful taking to social media to encourage followers to boycott the state over its new religious freedom law.
The Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel, whose many reports on Indiana's law suggest that the bill is very much anti-gay, told the Washington Examiner's media desk that the bill does, in fact, "[allow] for discrimination against gays and lesbians."
The Republican governor signed Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act last Thursday. Media organizations moved almost immediately to declare the bill discriminatory against the LGBT community.
"A reporter's obligation is to report the truth, not to give equal weight to opposite positions if one of them is flatly wrong," Terkel said. "If a politician says that the Earth is flat, or that two plus two is five, that doesn't make it so, and we do a disservice to the public if we pretend that there is confusion when there is none."
Other reporters who have condemned the bill while covering its passage, including TechCrunch's Jordan Crook and Vox's German Lopez, did not respond to the Examiner's request for comment.
The law itself claims to protect the religious liberties of individuals, companies and corporations in the Hoosier State against encroachment by the federal or state government.
The federal version of Indiana's bill, which was signed into law in 1993 by Democratic President Bill Clinton, prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening a person's free exercise of their religion — except in instances where the government can prove it has a "compelling interest" and can impose the burden in the least-restrictive way possible.
Likewise, the Indiana bill, which also allows for compelling-interest exceptions, states, "[A] governmental entity may not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability."
The words "gay," "lesbian" and "sexual orientation" are nowhere to be found in the language of the bill. Further, no religious freedom bill has been used successfully to defend discrimination against members of the LGBT community in the 22 years since Congress and states began adopting such laws.
Pence said Tuesday that he's mindful of the criticism that the law has faced since he signed it into law and pledged to work to clarify its language
"This law does not create a license to discriminate. And this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone," Pence said.
But the Republican governor also made sure Tuesday to note his irritation with how the bill has been covered by media groups.
"I don't want to let the Indiana press off the hook here, but I will anyway. I think the Indiana press has had this right from early on. But some of the national reporting on this has been ridiculous," he said.