Andrew Alexander is the ombudsman for the Washington Post. In this Sunday’s Post, he was compelled to address the brouhaha created by an August 28 article on the front page of the Style section titled “Opposing Gay Unions With Sanity & a Smile.”
The article was a profile of Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, a group leading the fight against the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Here is Alexander’s summary of the article:
The story suggested those fighting for same-sex marriage should fear Brown because he’s civil, “instantly likable” and a “thoughtful talker.” Brown is effective because “he is pleasantly, ruthlessly sane.”
Alexander tells us that the author, Monica Hesse, “had expected to hear from anti-gay-marriage conservatives who might view the story as ‘snide.’” And sure as shootin’ Ms. Hesse was “buried by an avalanche” of messages angrily attacking her article.
But, as it turns out, the temper tantrums didn’t come from the pro-marriage crowd.
Instead, she heard from liberals who support gay marriage, accusing her of writing a puff piece about someone they believe fosters prejudice and intolerance. The story was shallow and one-sided, they complained.
Scores also contacted the ombudsman. It’s “one of the biggest pieces of crap The Post has published in recent memory,” wrote District resident William Grant II. “What’s next, a piece on how a KKK leader is just ‘someone next door’ and ‘really a nice person’?”
Hesse has been blistered in the blogosphere, even cast as a bigoted conservative who endorses a homophobic agenda.
Alexander and Hesse, being ever so anxious to disabuse Post readers of the opinion that Ms. Hesse is a homophobic bigot, offered this little glimpse into Ms. Hesse’s personal life to prove otherwise:
Hesse is a gifted writer, as can be seen in a piece about her marriage in today’s Post Magazine. At 28, she’s one of Style’s rising stars. But she was rocked by the angry reaction to the Brown story and spent most of last week responding to unhappy readers. Especially sensitive to accusations of a “homophobic agenda,” her e-mails offered a glimpse into her personal life.
“My current partner is a man,” she wrote them. “Before him, my partner of two years was a woman, with whom I discussed health insurance, kids, houses and marriage. You can bet that I found the fact that our marriage wouldn’t have been legal to be wrong as hell.
“That doesn’t mean that what NOM is trying to do and how they are trying to do it are not important to hear about,” she wrote.
I guess that should prove Ms. Hesse is not your average everyday homophobe.
But there’s more to the story. Alexander thinks that the misunderstanding might have been avoided if the headline weren’t so biased:
Finally, the headline: “Opposing Gay Unions With Sanity & a Smile.” To many readers, The Post was saying Brown’s views are sane. The headline, written by editors, not Hesse, should have been neutral.
You would think that “being neutral” and/or the notion of “reporter objectivity” over at the Washington Post might mean giving an equal hearing to both sides of the arguments for or against same-sex marriage. But you would be wrong. The Post’s view of unbiased reporting, according to its ombudsman, is “being neutral” about whether or not those who oppose the legalization of same sex marriage are “sane.” The raging debate among the reporters over at the Post, it seems, is between those who believe same-sex marriage opponents are “wrong as hell” and yet sane or “wrong as hell” and insane.
Ms. Hesse seems to have run afoul of the “they’re both wrong as hell and insane” crowd.