It appears that if you want unfiltered coverage of the all-stars of the anti-same-sex marriage movement, you only need to turn to the Washington Post’s Style section.
Just three months after the infamous profile of Brian Brown that resulted in a scolding by WaPo Ombudsman Andy Alexander, the paper is back with a profile of Bishop Harry Jackson–who leads the efforts opposing same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia–without a single opposing voice.
This is how Bishop Harry Jackson spent his summer vacation: He hustled back and forth across the District rallying his faithful flock who oppose gay marriage. He leaned into microphones over at the Board of Elections and Ethics, quoting biblical verse, decrying those who would trumpet marriage between man and man, woman and woman.
He continued his protests when the leaves began to fall and the early darkness crawled across the sky. He heard amen this and amen that from the pulpit of his Beltsville church. They sent him out to spread their version of the Gospel, and off he went, hopscotching across the country. Sometimes crowds would gather around him like geese, in Denver, in Los Angeles, sometimes 10,000 at a time. He spoke to swelling groups of people who felt the same way he did about same-sex marriage: No, no, no.
It’s a great lede and Jackson is a fascinating guy who deserves the WaPo treatment. But how do you write a profile–again–of an opponent of LGBT rights without bothering to actually talk to one of his critics. Because he has critics, as we are told.
With fame came backlash.
Someone slipped a note under his door at his apartment. “Bishop Jackson, 50% of the people in this building are gay!”
“I was in line someplace recently,” Jackson says, “and a woman who obviously opposes what I’m doing looked at me and said, ‘You better go back to Maryland.’ ”
His wife says: “We have been verbally abused by the best.”
Some of his appearances unleashed vitriol, even threats.
So how about talking to some of his critics? How about talking to someone who disagrees with his preaching? Instead of saying there is vitriol and threats, how about giving it a voice, or at least providing some evidence?
Here’s what Alexander said in his column questioning the Brown piece:
Hesse said she decided to let Brown tell his story, as opposed to extensively quoting what others say about him. Her editors didn’t object to the concept. Having Brown’s story told in his “voice,” Hesse reasoned, would allow readers to best assess his arguments.
Fine in theory. But it deprived readers of hearing from others who have battled Brown and find him uncivil and bigoted. To them, he represents injustice. They should have been heard, at length.
“In a profile piece, for a controversial figure like that . . . there should certainly be the other side of it,” said Fred Karger, head of a group called Californians Against Hate.
In retrospect, Style editor Lynn Medford agrees. “The lesson is to always, in some way, represent the other side,” she said.
This is a personality profile and of course the focus is going to be on Jackson. But did the WaPo learn nothing from the controversy over the Brian Brown profile? Why would they profile the most well-known opponent of same-sex marriage in the city and not talk to someone from the other side?
When same-sex marriage supporters are profiled by WaPo, they are either straight women who married gay men or gauzy stories that lack a political focus. Where are the unfiltered profiles of same-sex marriage activists?
Arguably, there shouldn’t be unfiltered profiles at all. As Alexander said, these kinds of controversial stories about controversial people require balance and opposing voices. So why hasn’t WaPo’s Style section learned?