In what can only be described as a “lose/lose” situation, the Washington Post Ombudsman’s analysis of the NOM story I discussed here has been roundly criticized in the blogosphere with everyone staking out their ideological positions and continuing to shoot at the WP.
From the LGBT media and blogosphere, there is still deep dissatisfaction with the story and Alexander’s mea culpa did little to ease the conspiracy theory mentality that the WP has a big conservative agenda.
While Joe Jervis just highlighted the column at JoeMyGod, his commentariat went off the deep end by continuing to be convinced Hesse was (a) homophobic or (b) self-hating and that the WP was, preposterously, (a) homophobic and (b) controlled by conservatives. While bloggers aren’t responsible for what their commenters say, the commenters clearly underscore the kind of vitriol Alexander says he experienced.
Louise, at Pam’s Houseblend, took the spirit of the commentariat one step further and the commentators followed suit. More muted reaction came from Rebecca Amendariz of the Washington Blade and Julie Bolcer at the Advocate.
The best reaction seems to be from Media Matters, the progressive media watchdog. Jamison Foser says the WP’s reaction puts to rest arguments about alleged liberal bias.
And that pretty well makes clear the fatal flaw in the contention that because most journalists (supposedly) lean to the left personally, their reporting reflects liberal bias. Monica Hesse personally opposes Brian Brown’s agenda — and yet her profile of Brown was obviously slanted in his favor, a conclusion shared by her editor and her ombudsman.
On the right, the reaction hasn’t been a lot more rational, with arguments that the WP was just trying to please it’s liberal readers. At the World magazine blog, Les Sillars argues that the WP didn’t learn anything from the experience and that the explanation was more of the same.
The news, from her point of view, seemed to be that gay marriage opponents who aren’t shrill, bigoted, insane, and hateful actually exist. As for Brown’s arguments regarding same-sex marriage, well, those don’t appear anywhere in the piece—wouldn’t want to spread those, I guess.
Particularly amusing was the reaction of the editor of the Post’s Style section, that bastion of journalistic moderation and fairness. “The lesson is to always, in some way, represent the other side,” said Lynn Medford. Right. Translated, this means, “It’s OK to be one-sided if you’re attacking conservatives, but try not to write anything about them that could be misinterpreted, overall, as positive.”
At social conservative media criticism blog GetReligion, Mollie Hemingway continued to play the liberal media bias card while saying Alexander implied that opponents of same-sex marriage shouldn’t be called sane, and therefore he (and I guess the WP) believes they are crazy. Or something like that. Tim Graham at the National Review’s Media Blog made a similar–practically identical–argument. So did the folks at First Things, although arguably they were first out of the box with the argument.
In a frenzy of snark, she also takes aim at the WP’s Style section for being snarky.
The thing is that I really don’t like the tone of the Style section in general. The pieces are always snark-infested and they always seem to trash one side of the political spectrum. The puff profiles are always infinitely puffier than the one in question was and it’s really hard to read when you know that the subject is much more controversial than the puffy approach lets on. Take this one on Kate Michelman, for instance. The ombudsman basically says that the story approach and the writing technique — the same ones, near as I can tell, used in many other Style profiles — were partially to blame.
I’m not sure any of the analysis moves things forward and all of it appears to have missed Alexander’s larger point: mistakes were made. I’m stunned by the vitriol in the LGBT blogosphere, as I think many journalists are. The criticisms don’t really make a lot of sense given what we know about the track record of the WP and, ultimately, Hesse. The WP doesn’t have a secret conservative agenda and it doesn’t hate gay people. To suggest so is an insult to journalism.
But the commentary on the right isn’t any more reasonable. The meme that the WP believes opponents of same-sex marriage are “wrong, or insane, or maybe both” stretches the limits of credibility. A flawed story turns out so good that NOM uses it to raise money, yet the right continues to be insulted. It’s all rather bizarre.
So is it possible to make anyone happy with stories involving same-sex marriage? I’m beginning to wonder.
UPDATED: Alexander has posted some of his feedback, saying there is no middle ground.
Judging from about 200 e-mails, calls and online comments over the past several days, it’s clear that this is one of those issues where there is little middle ground.
Readers who favor same-sex marriage continued to express outrage over the story. Those opposed to same-sex marriage continued to applaud it. And more than a few took issue with Hesse’s decision to include a bit about her sexual history in her e-mailed responses to readers who were upset by the story.