John Leo
News stories about the 2000 census have been arriving with heavy spin attached. A front-page article in The Washington Post reported "huge increases" in the number of gay and lesbian households in the District of Columbia and across the country. The story leaves the impression that a major demographic shift has occurred, with heavy political implications. Indeed, one activist told the Post that the numbers are "a political weapon." But the numbers are small, though percentage increases from a tiny base are large. The Post reported a 66 percent rise in gay households in D.C. since the 1990 census and "more than 700 percent in Delaware and Nevada." But most of the hard numbers were missing, so it was hard to figure out what was going on.

Eager to help, I pestered the census people by e-mail, and after spending 20 minutes with a pad and pencil, I am now prepared to announce the real story and offer it to the Post. In the 25 states for which the Census Bureau has now released data, plus D.C., there are 250,679 same-sex households, or just over one-half of 1 percent of all households. So the Post headline, "Census Shows Big Increase in Gay Households," really should have been "Gay Couples Rise to .0054 of U.S. Households."

Why do news stories get mangled this way? Partly because the Census Bureau is releasing its data oddly, dribbling out the number of gay households state by state. But the main reason is the obvious one -- the newsroom culture is sympathetic to the gay cause. Ask yourself: How many groups could make Page One by going from one-tenth of 1 percent in the household sweepstakes, all the way up to one-half of 1 percent in only 10 years?

Britt Hume of Fox News was talking recently about the newsroom culture. "If you work in the media for any length of time," he told The New York Times Magazine, "you notice that reporters, editors, producers, correspondents -- they have a common set of views on a range of issues. Abortion, the environment, gun control. There's a resultant consensus so universal that it's almost imperceptible to those who hold those views."

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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