WaPo Ombudsman Defends Paper’s Same-Sex Marriage Coverage

The Washington Post’s Andrew Alexander must be getting really tired of talking about same-sex marriage.  His newest column defends the paper’s coverage of same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia and rejects the argument the paper was cheerleading.  He has written two previous blog posts about the coverage, as well as a previous column about a profile of a same-sex marriage opponent.

Responding to conservative criticism over the paper’s coverage, Alexander says  the paper “is not always sufficiently attuned to conservative perspectives. But with gay marriage coverage, the accusations of journalistic overkill are off base.” Alexander said legalizing same-sex marriage in the District was historic and the region’s large LGBT community (and large number of same-sex couples) justified the attention the paper gave to same-sex marriage becoming legal.

He also put it in the context of the paper’s coverage of the battle over same-sex marriage, which provided plenty of balance and a number of stories solely about same-sex marriage opponents.

The Post’s coverage should be viewed broadly to include the run-up to the D.C. Council’s Dec. 15 final approval of same-sex marriage. That’s when debate was most intense. During that period, The Post ran roughly 20 stories, many airing opponents’ views. In mid-November, the Style section featured a 2,200-word profile of Bishop Harry Jackson of Beltsville’s Hope Christian Church, a national figure and local leader in the movement against same-sex marriage. Earlier, Style ran a lengthy profile of Brian Brown, executive director of the anti-gay-marriage National Organization for Marriage. The Brown and Jackson profiles drew protests from gay readers who felt their side wasn’t given equal exposure.

Alexander said there should have been a stand-alone story on the legal challenge, but otherwise found the coverage was well-balanced. He interview the leading local opponent to same-sex marriage–who was the subject of a glowing profile–and even he found the coverage balanced and fair, with the exception of (neverending) disputes over crowd counts.

It’s true that The Post’s coverage after March 3 focused heavily on the victors in the same-sex battle. And why not? It was only natural that stories and photos would feature couples joyfully applying for marriage licenses or getting married. And it makes sense that many quotes would come from those benefiting from the new law. But far from a “celebration,” coverage also informed same-sex couples that they would not be entitled to numerous federal benefits, that they still must file separate federal tax forms and that most states won’t recognize their marriages. Another story reported on Williams Institute estimates that legalizing gay marriage would create 700 jobs and add more than $52 million to the local economy over three years. Yet another story dealt with Catholic Charities grappling with the same-sex issue.

I think Alexander’s assessment makes sense. Whether you agree with legalizing same-sex marriage or not, the day that the law changes is a historic event and will result in positive coverage for that change. People getting married for the first time in history is going to result in a certain kind of coverage, at least for that day.

The WaPo has not been free from criticism by LGBT readers–and this blog–when it comes to same-sex marriage and clearly conservative critics are not always happy either. While I’m not a big believer that having critics on all sides is evidence you are doing something right, it does speak for the paper’s approach to the issue.

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