Does the Omaha World-Herald Really Hate Gay People?

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.

3 Responses

  1. What I find interesting is how you are so quick defending people who disrespect gay people and work against them. It is true that gay people are increasingly frustrated by homophobia, partly because most of us can now envision a world in which we have equal rights. The corollary of that is that homophobes are increasingly on the defensive. The line that “we don’t hate gay people” is reiterated again and again, most recently even by the Phelps clan, who assured a reporter that while “God hates fags” they don’t. I am sure that the Omaha World Herald thinks that it is not homophobic. I don’t why I should think so. Or why you should.

  2. I understand that “we aren’t homophobic” is a defensive meme these days, but so is “they are haters” serving as an offensive meme. The rhetoric of “hate” when turned on MSM is problematic, to me, because while I believe homophobia exists in the media and newsrooms that doesn’t mean newsrooms and the media is full of “hate”

  3. I grant your point. Accusations of “hate” are undoubtedly overused and frequently inappropriate. But as the country moves slowly toward full acceptance of gay people, the recalcitrance of those who treat us unequally cannot be seen as anything but homophobia.

    It may well be that the publishers and editors of “The Omaha World-Herald” do not literally hate gay people. But their policy of refusing to print paid announcements of same-sex engagements and weddings was clearly homophobic. Especially after nearly every other major newspaper in the country have for several years been accepting such announcements. Even now, their limiting of such announcements to “legal” weddings is homophobic, given that heterosexual couples can be legally wed in 50 states plus the District of Columbia, while we can be legally wed in a handful of states plus the District of Columbia. I just do not see why gay journalists should be defending these kinds of policies or the people who put them in place.

    I would also question the level of “vitriol” the editorial in question claims that the newspaper received from gay people. Too often homophobes make claims about how they have been intimidated or are fearful because they have received “threats” from gay people, but they are usually unable to substantiate these claims. In any case, what they may see as “vitriol,” others may see as appropriate protests against a homophobic policy.

    I too would like to have a more civil discussion of gay issues, but I doubt that it is possible in our polarized society. Moreover, the question of what constitutes civility is itself vexed because those who endorse inequality are doing so from a superior position. The height of chutzpah to me is when people who discriminate against gay people actually want us to be polite to them as they justify their unequal treatment of us.

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