Constance McMillen Case Study by Nikky Raney
In March of 2010 an 18-year-old named Constance McMillen from Itawamba County, Mississippi made headlines nationally when her high school refused to allow her to take a same-sex date to prom as well as not allowing her to wear a tuxedo. The school cancelled their prom, but organized a secret prom that McMillen was not made aware of, and sent McMillen to a fake prom. This turned into a court case – the ruling decided that the Itawamba County School District violated McMillen’s First Amendment right by not allowing her to take her girlfriend or wear a tuxedo. The school was ordered to pay $35,000 in damages to McMillen.
The media coverage of this case was incredible – it is amazing that something that happened in a local area could become something so outrageous that all the news organizations wanted to report about it. McMillen appeared on CBS among various other talk shows so that people could talk to her about what she went through. She was even able to attend the GLAAD Awards in Los Angeles in April 2010. Glamour Magazine even named her Accidental Activist: Woman of the Year in their November 2010 issue.
Some of the headlines regarding this story were more sensational than others. The media coverage really made it personal and focused on McMillen; however it was quite difficult to find a lot of openly negative press about her (in my research). I went through many articles to read and see if reporters showed any form of bias, and within the articles the reporters just reported the straight facts. Some specific articles that stood out to me included an article by the Christian Science Monitor. I had expected there to be some bias within the articles entitled Constance McMillen takes fight over same-sex prom date to court and a follow up article entitled Constance McMillen Case: proms as gay-rights battleground but to my surprise there was nothing but objective journalism that just merely stated the facts.
CBS has a very blunt and to the point headline which reads Constance McMillen Wanted to Take Her Girlfriend to the Prom, So the School Board Canceled it. A lengthy headline, but it gets straight to the point. The headline seems like it would be a bit sensational, but again, the way that the reporter covered it was objectively, and when I say objectively I mean the facts of the matter and saying why the school didn’t want her to take a girl to prom or wear a tuxedo and at the same time why it is against her First Amendment Right.
As media representatives we can take a look at the way the media handled this story with McMillen and see that they did a really good job. Spending days trying to find an article which was negative or that said something questionable proved to be impossible, and it is surprising while at the same time very good that the media coverage in the case of McMillen was not attacking of her at all. This is an example of some good reporting and a job well done on the part of the media. If anything could have been done better, it would be to have gotten more interviews with students at the school, because I think that getting the perspective of more students would have been really helpful to the story.