As you may have heard, the Omaha World-Herald has come under fire for not taking advertising for same-sex weddings and ceremonies. The paper announced this morning that it was changing its policies to take paid ads for legal weddings, but not for any other kind of announcement from either same-sex or opposite-sex couples.
The pressure on the paper largely came from a Facebook-group effort and the dad who wanted his daughter’s announcement in the paper.
While I think this is a good move–I mean, it’s a paid advertisement for heaven’s sake–and I’m not persuaded by the odd line-drawing at “legal” marriage (although Omaha is just over the border from a state with legal same-sex marriage) I was struck by the end of the column where the publisher spoke about the vitriol he perceived from supporters of same-sex marriage.
What has transpired over recent days has included some reasoned discussions with us about our practices, but mostly it has been a stream of vitriol against The World-Herald. Most disturbing has been an inaccurate portrayal of our overall coverage and position on the issue of same-sex marriage.
In recent years, our News Department has given extensive coverage to this matter. That coverage has not been limited to the political debate or legislative and court actions on same-sex marriage. We have featured gay and lesbian couples in our Living sections. We have written editorials that consistently call for civil discourse on this emotionally charged issue. We commissioned a poll and published findings that show a majority of Omahans support either same-sex marriages or civil unions.
This news organization is not guilty of hating gays and lesbians. Should we have seen this issue more clearly? Probably. Have we been too slow in reacting to this matter? Maybe. But hateful? Never.
A few months ago, I wrote that I believed there was a civility crisis in how supporters of the LGBT community responded to problems in the media and I wonder if this is just more evidence of the problem. At that point, I said:
The media doesn’t reform its ways based on mob rule and uncivil, ugly, hateful emails to reporters and media doesn’t further any agenda for better coverage of LGBT issues. We can disagree without becoming uncivil, no matter how angry you may be.
The democratization of the public square means that it is easier to respond to an article or blog post instantly, without thinking about the repercussions or taking responsibility for your tone. For bloggers and opinion makers, we can write a quick blog post or blast off a tweet in anger without thinking about the tone that is being sent by our actions.
The downturn in discourse–especially on LGBT issues from people inside the community–is a real concern moving forward. Comment sections on some of the most popular LGBT blogs are littered with unchecked vitriol and hyperbole, as well as threats and insults. This heightened rhetoric is already being used as a talking-point on the right and was used as a rationale for shutting down the broadcast of the Prop 8 trial earlier this year for fear of violence against Prop 8 supporters.
Could the Omaha paper do a better job of covering the LGBT community and same-sex marriage? Absolutely, as the publisher concedes. But the idea that “hate” is fueling corporate decisions relating to paid ads is nonsensical and unhelpful. Relying on the “hate” argument in a knee-jerk reaction when the media messes up doesn’t create change and doesn’t really advance the argument.