Washington Post ‘hates’ cultural conservatives

I’ve long complained about the puff piece profiles that run in the Washington Post‘s Style section. The last few times we’ve discussed these profiles it’s been in relation to one done on a supporter of traditional marriage laws. These profiles tend to be favorable no matter which side of the aisle the subject sits on, but in the case of National Organization for Marriage executive director Brian Brown, that was not acceptable to many of the Post‘s more liberal readers.

The crime? Well, the Post described Brown as reasonable. Sure, they disparaged every other opponent of same-sex marriage while committing this unforgivable crime, but even describing just Brown in this manner was cause for alarm.

The ombudsman even apologized for the piece. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. My favorite part of that column was this line:

Finally, the headline: “Opposing Gay Unions With Sanity & a Smile.” To many readers, The Post was saying Brown’s views are sane. The headline, written by editors, not Hesse, should have been neutral.

Yes, he really wrote that. He really wrote that it was not neutral to say that supporting the traditional view of marriage as a heterosexual institution, a view held throughout history and across all religions and cultures, was sane. I mean, that sentence says so much about ombudsman Andrew Alexander and the Washington Post culture — and very little about good journalism.

Anyway, today the Style section had a profile of Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign. In a way, the story is just like all the other puffy profiles we see in these pages. In another way, it reads even more like a press release than the other stories. I know that these profiles aren’t intended to get into the nitty gritty but this one really goes out of its way to ignore or minimize some of the complaints that gay rights activists have with his leadership of HRC. But, again, people shouldn’t look to these profiles for a ton of balance.

But just check out the following:

But when the directive was issued, Solmonese, currently stuck in London because of volcanic ash, says he couldn’t fully give himself over to joy, because he knew it would be followed by strong critical reaction.

He’s not talking about conservative groups such as Focus on the Family. Solmonese is not talking about the haters. He’s talking about the furious: Gay activists and bloggers who think well-heeled nonprofits like HRC are too appeasing, too accepting of incremental change, too insidery. They have coined a term for their derision: “Gay Inc.”

So if it was beyond the pale to describe Brian Brown as sane — if the editors should have found a more neutral way to describe his views, I’m wondering what the ombudsman thinks of calling opponents of same-sex marriage “haters.”

Haters.

Is that the Washington Post word for cultural conservatives and traditional religious believers? Does that seem neutral to you? It’s one thing that reporter Lonnae O’Neal Parker thought that “haters” was a good way to describe religious and cultural conservatives. But what were the editors thinking when they let that loaded word get into print?

Sure, Parker was going for a cute turn of phrase when she pitted “haters” against “the furious.” But it’s not terribly cute, fair, neutral or cool to disparage political opponents in such a ruthless and hurtful way.

Come on guys, at least try to hide your biases a bit more!

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  • Jerry

    Reading your review, Mollie, it seems that the Washington Post style section is to the left what Fox is to the right.

    Given the ease of finding outlets that reinforce our biases, I found David Brooks’ observations on the Internet and biases interesting. It appears that many who are inclined to like the Washington Post style section will also be exposed to the right wing equivalent:

    “Riders on the Storm”

    This study suggests that Internet users are a bunch of ideological Jack Kerouacs. They’re not burrowing down into comforting nests. They’re cruising far and wide looking for adventure, information, combat and arousal. This does not mean they are not polarized. Looking at a site says nothing about how you process it or the character of attention you bring to it. It could be people spend a lot of time at their home sites and then go off on forays looking for things to hate. But it probably does mean they are not insecure and they are not sheltered.

    If this study is correct, the Internet will not produce a cocooned public square, but a free-wheeling multilayered Mad Max public square. The study also suggests that if there is increased polarization (and there is), it’s probably not the Internet that’s causing it.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/20/opinion/20brooks.html

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Odd that those who are for Gay marriage would object to the word “sane” being used in the media to describe those who disagree with them. Wasn’t it up until fairly recently that most in the fields of psychiatry and psychology actually did have the conviction that homosexual attraction or activity were forms of mental illness???? And wasn’t the dropping of such as a forms of illness caused more by politics in those fields than by any breakthrough scientific or genetic discoveries???

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Deacon:

    Journalism. Comment on the journalism.

  • Alan

    Why would you expect something from the Style section not to be a puff piece?

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    tmatt–I thought I was and thought it was obvious. My comment was on the use of the word “sane” in the Post (which is obviously pro-gay marriage) and I gave a factual reason (in question form) why it is absurd for those who are pro-gay marriage in the media to get a debate going on any sanity issues.

  • Lymis

    How familiar are you with NOM, their tactics, and their positions?

    Even the slightest possibility of acknowledging that this might have had something to do with NOM itself, with Brown himself, or with the way that particular organization does things?

    Or must all anti-gay organizations, no matter what they do or how they behave automatically be on the side of the angels? That any criticism of any anti-marriage group is automatically based purely on knee-jerk animus?

    Got any examples of NOM playing things fairly, accurately, and truthfully? Because if you follow things in the gay press, this particular organization is pretty loose on truth and facts.

  • Joel

    I think you make a very good point that the writer was “going for a cute turn of phrase.” I think a lot of the nonsense that gets printed and broadcast comes down to that: style over substance, fairness, accuracy. That and deadlines.

    Deacon: Odd that someone who is against gay marriage would object to the word “hater” when they post comments on the web saying that being gay is a mental illness. Way to reinforce the stereotype.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Joel:

    He was referring to the stance of a professional organization at an earlier point in time. His statement was factual, in terms of noting what was said at that time.

  • http://goodintentionsbook.com Bob Smietana

    Seems like the haters line is a reference to people like Westboro Baptist. Would have been better if the Parker made it clear.

    She did, however, make it clear that “haters” did not apply to cultural conservatives like Focus on the Family– because she referred to them as “conservative groups.”

    Thanks for linking to the Solmonese story–he’s from my hometown.

    .

  • str

    Lymis,

    your comments makes it seem like GR was critiquing some negative judgement on Brown and his group.

    But the facts are that the WaPo first said something positive (even if was a single word) and then apologised for it.

    So it is not that all groups opposing “homosexual marriage” must be angelic but that even a WaPo writer had something positive to say – I think we should at least believe that.

    And BTW, calling someone “sane” is really a minimum in civlised debate. That it is controversial makes it clear that that is not what the WaPo and its readers are about. These are indeed “haters”.

    PS. Does anyone else thinkg “Solmonese, currently stuck in London because of volcanic ash” to be a strange way of putting it. Sounds like London’s famour volcano has errupted and the man is buried in Volcanic ash up to his waist.

  • Victoria

    Gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to enter legally recognized marriages, raise children, visit their partners in hospitals, or serve in the military. [Because God says so.]

    And because I’ve stamped a divine sanction on my opinion (or, if you prefer, because God sanctions my opinion), it’s now entitled to the utmost respect and deference. Indeed, to call my opinion “bigotry,” or to suggest that it’s at all premised upon malice, is itself an act of bigotry toward people of faith. A beautifully-executed postmodern little pivot there, Mollie!

    How far is dear Mollie prepared to take this? If I argue that Jewish marriages shouldn’t be recognized by the state, or that Muslims should be booted out of the armed forces, do I get to demand respectful treatment by the media just because I justify the same in religious vocabulary? (And remember, Christian antagonism toward Jews and Muslims is a view centuries old!) What’s the difference between saying “Gays are evil” and saying “Yahweh says gays are evil”? Is it so ludicrous for reporters to see those statements as essentially identical? Isn’t it preferable for a reporter to evaluate a position on its objectively apparent merits, rather than immunize that position from critical evaluation simply because of the language/vocabulary/jargon that the position is delivered in?

  • James

    I agree with the Post. Describing anyone who opposes basic human rights for any group of people – including LGBT people – as “reasonable” is a violation of journalistic ethics, as it is most dishonest. No system of reason can justify continued legal discrimination against LGBT people. (Nor, for that matter, can any truly Christian system of ethics.) The hatred displayed by many heretical so-called “Christians” for LGBT individuals is completely indefensible. Anyone who calls him- or herself “Christian” who supports legal (or any other kind of) discrimination against LGBT people should (a) get on their knees and repent of this sin and then (b) work to get LGBT people the full equality they deserve as human beings.

    I’m glad the Post is finally standing up for some honesty. I’m sick of journalists pretending that there are two valid sides to this issue. There is only one valid side – those who stand for equality – and then there are a whole bunch of people with indefensible and unjustifiable positions based in nothing but hate, fear, and bigotry. I pray that God change the hearts of the bigots and bring them around to the side of love.

  • Dave

    Did Solomonese actually say, “I’m not talking about the haters”? If so, it might have been clearer to include the quote.

  • Lymis

    str,

    If a newspaper did some coverage that the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan had stepped down and that his replacement was “Opposing Racial Mixing with Sanity and a Smile” because his media presence was clean-cut and charming, don’t you think that it would have gotten a similar response from the readers – and a similar apology from the editorial staff?

  • str

    Lymis,

    that is exactly the point that some people can only see their own opinion and evil bigotry.

    And the two cases are hardly the same, as the one opposes a certain behaviour while the other opposes legislation forcing something down everybody’s throat.

  • GhaleonQ

    I realized why that earlier ombudsman was so unsatisfying. It reads as a retraction instead of an explanation of the “flawed” writing process. This story highlights why that would have been more useful. I do think the “turn of phrase” responses have been on point, but, God, even a college student knows to check himself before blithely commenting on a controversial subject. Nice post.

  • Lymis

    “And the two cases are hardly the same, as the one opposes a certain behaviour while the other opposes legislation forcing something down everybody’s throat.”

    Which is which? You mean that NOM opposes the consensual behavior of a small minority of tax-paying citizens while the Klan opposes federal law forcing racial equality down everyone’s throat?

  • str

    So, James, I hope you’ll jump whenever the current U.S. President, some former U.S. Presidents, various members of congress and half of the Supreme Court are called “sane” or “reasonable”.

  • Chubberstein

    There is much more the Ombudsman offers that is interesting, such as this from Monica Hesse, who wrote the piece on Brian Brown:

    “My current partner is a man,” she wrote them. “Before him, my partner of two years was a woman, with whom I discussed health insurance, kids, houses and marriage. You can bet that I found the fact that our marriage wouldn’t have been legal to be wrong as hell.

    This kind-of confirms the “ex-gay” myth, no?

  • str

    Lymis,

    the Klan oppose mixed-race relations (and would enforce this if they could), whereas the group in question in this context merely opposes several legislative (and quasi-legislative) initiatives affecting a time-honoured institution and thereby millions of people.

  • James

    So, James, I hope you’ll jump whenever the current U.S. President, some former U.S. Presidents, various members of congress and half of the Supreme Court are called “sane” or “reasonable”.

    On this issue, I oppose their being considered “sane” or “reasonable.” Their position is contrary to reason, ethics, our American values, and the values of Christ. I pray that they repent of their sinful and unjust position and begin supporting equality for all.

  • Dale

    James said:

    On this issue, I oppose their being considered “sane” or “reasonable.” Their position is contrary to reason, ethics, our American values, and the values of Christ. I pray that they repent of their sinful and unjust position and begin supporting equality for all.

    “Your position is contrary to reason, ethics, our American values and the values of Christ as expressed through scripture. Therefore, I oppose considering you sane or reasonable. I pray that you repent of your sinful and degenerate position and seek the righteousness of God.”

    See how far your overheated rhetoric gets us? But then again, when MSM gives you license to engage in ad hominem vitriol againt anyone who dares oppose your ethics, perhaps civility is asking too much.

  • Mollie

    Victoria,

    I never said anything about my own views on marriage law. This is not a blog for discussion of same sex marriage or even for discussion of religious arguments in favor or against same-sex marriage. Rather, we discuss how the mainstream media handles treatment of the various groups.

    If you have a JOURNALISTIC comment to make, please do so. Otherwise, your comments are off topic.

  • Mollie

    James, et. al.,

    Even if it were appropriate for journalists to weigh in on the saneness of various folks, I think it would be hard, if not impossible, to argue against sanity for those who hold the view that marriage is a heterosexual institution and should remain so.

    Also, way off topic.

  • str

    Mollie,

    “I think it would be hard, if not impossible, to argue against sanity for those who hold the view that marriage is a heterosexual institution and should remain so.”

    I would agree but then there are writers and readers at the WaPo and some commenters here that would disagree. But Dale’s comment above pretty much sums up this line of thinking.

  • Dave

    This is not a blog for discussion of same sex marriage or even for discussion of religious arguments in favor or against same-sex marriage.

    But every GR post touching on it includes the “two thousand years of continuous tradition” byte somewhere in its text. That’s having half the discussion without permitting the other half.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    DAVE:

    You are saying that it is not factually accurate to say that the ancient Christian churches — the churches of the Seven Councils — have maintained 2000 years of tradition on the definition of marriage?

    That is not a factual statement?

  • http://goodintentionsbook.com Bob Smietana

    Terry

    Not to nitpick, but 2,000 years is probably not accurate. More like 1,950 — since in about 60 ad there’s several references in Paul’s letter to church leaders having to be the husband of one wife, which implies there was polygamy–one man, more than one wife–in the early church. Some of Gnostics, I believe, were polygamists, and didn’t get tossed out right way. 1,800 is probably a better figure, as Justin Martyr was denouncing polygamy around 160 AD, and there’s some definitive teaching on one man, one wife as marriage.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Well, not to nitpick on both TMatt and Bob, but I think the real figure would be much older than 2,000 years ago — polygamy isn’t the issue so much as changing the institution from the norm — an institution built around the raising of children that are the product of heterosexual sex of couples (even if that includes polygamy or various other situations) to something that includes same-sex unions.

    And then it’s worth noting that all religious groups have historically been in agreement on this, whether they predate Christ or the early Christian church or not.

    But I don’t even know what Dave is talking about since I never wrote anything about “two thousand years of continuous tradition” to begin with.

  • Dave

    Terry, of course it’s a factual statement, but one that puts the maximum hisotorical prestige behind one position. Then the discussion is shut down to “focus on the journalism.”

    It’s quite transparent.

  • Dave

    But I don’t even know what Dave is talking about since I never wrote anything about “two thousand years of continuous tradition” to begin with.

    I was paraphrasing. My point still stands.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Dave,

    Come on — the point isn’t the fact that society has traditionally viewed marriage as a heterosexual institution. The point is that the ombudsman said that it wasn’t “neutral” to say that people who hold that view are SANE.

    That’s the journalistic issue. Nobody disagrees that marriage has traditionally been an institution that does not include same sex couples. The debate is over whether people who hold that view can’t be referred to as sane.

  • str

    As we are nitpicking:

    Ever since Christianity began (let’s take 30 AD as a starting point), monogamy has been the norm. Jesus himself spoke against divorce and considered marriage of one man and one woman to be instituted in the beginning. Paul hardly spoke against factual polygamy as the Greeks were monogamous as well (and if he did, this would merely evidence behaviour of some acting against the norm).

    But going further, monogamy had been the rule in the Jewish religion for centuries before Christ, even though Abraham and Jacob had more than one wife (it really boils down to these two names) and the Old Testament does not restrict the number of wives.

    But the whole discussion is dishonest: the attack against marriage today is not from polygamist but from those wishing to change the man-woman element. But marriage has always been hetereosexual: always in Christianity, always in Judaism, always everywhere.

    And these are indeed FACTS. And people who agree and who want to defend this are hardly “insane”.

  • Dave

    Mollie:

    Your remark is aside from what I’m saying. I don’t dispute that there are journalism issues present.

    You introduced the concept of “cheerleading” in a review of style-section coverage of a gay couples’ cruise a year or two ago, and declared that a religious ghost thereby existed. What I’m saying is that when a GRista brings up same sex marriage in any context s/he begins with some “cheerleading” for traditional marriage and then shuts down any further discussion with exhortations to stick to the journalism. You’re starting a conversation and then refusing to let it continue.

    str, iirc David had multiple wives, too.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Dave,

    That gay cruise story was nothing but cheerleading.

    And I explained that story in the context of what ombudsman had been saying about the need to stop writing uncritical stories cheerleading for gay marriage. And in the context of other stories running around the same time — that suggested gay relationships were actually better than straight relationships.

    I didn’t actually focus my coverage of the cruise on ghosts — you brought it up in a comment then — but since many religious people view same-sex sexual relationships as sinful — that cruise and the story were swimming with ghosts. That’s just the way gay stories go. Ghosts go with them because many religious people view sex as something that should happen only within the context of heterosexual marriages.

    As to this post, pointing out the historical fact that marriage has traditionally been viewed as an institution for heterosexual couples doesn’t shut down debate about the changing and modernizing of doctrines.

    All it does is establish that history is real.

  • str

    Okay, granted David and Solomon (and probably some more Kings) had more then one wife but still, polygamy is not as widespread as some would have it in the OT and – I repeat – is not the issue here.

  • dalea

    I am beginning to realize that journalists need a fairly strong grounding in history to practice their craft. There are constant stories where claims of historic practice are made without any investigation of the grounding of the claim. Mollie says:

    Nobody disagrees that marriage has traditionally been an institution that does not include same sex couples.

    I would disagree. There are historical examples of same sex marriage as detailed in Steven O Murray’s Homosexualities. And there are other historians and anthropologists who would join in. Strangely, they get little or no coverage outside the GL press. Which suggests that reporters are not getting the background they need.

  • http://bendingthetwigs.blogspot.com Crimson Wife

    There is no denying that *ARE* bigoted people out there who do truly hate gays. But they are only a subset of those who are opposed to homosexual behavior. Homosexual activists try to tar all their opponents with the same brush of “hate” because it furthers their agenda. The activists also like to equate those who have embraced a homosexual lifestyle (which is a choice even if same-sex attraction may not be) with racial & ethnic minorities. It’s an attempt to redefine civil rights away from being something that a person cannot change (like race or ethnicity) to behaviors within the individual’s control. What’s next- civil rights for vegans?

  • Chubberstein

    I actually support polyamorous marriages (three or more people). You don’t agree with me? Then you’re a hater too.

  • str

    “I would disagree. There are historical examples of same sex marriage …”

    And that claim is nonsensical. There are no such examples.

    For once, reporters are doing right in ignoring this book just as they usually ignore Däniken and the like.

  • str

    Crimson,

    I agree there are some that hate homosexuals, some that simply disagree with the activity (which again can mean a whole lot of things) and those that oppose “same-sex marriage”. One cane be one but none of the other, can oppose ssm without hating or even disagreeing with homosexuality, even hate homosexuals without disgreeing with the activity (think of “prison culture”).

    To the “something one can change” I would add “or hide”. A black man can never hide the fact that he is black and thus never evade racism but others can. I am not saying that one should have hide being homosexuals all the time but the possibility is still there and people should think it beneath them to consider this an option once in a while, just as probably any Christian has been in situation where he considered not speaking out.

    Reminds me of two recent examples from the British press:

    Our dear friend Ruth Gledhill in the Times opined that Christians should not complain about the recent cases of discrimination as this would only encourage their opponents (but she also said this was no discrimination and that judges are always beyond reproach). So, basically saying: “Shut up or worse!”

    A letter to the editor of the Independent (by a self-styled believer) complained that homosexuality was part of one’s personality while religion was merely a hobby like supporting a football team. Imagine the outcry if someone said it the other way round.

  • George

    Its hard to miss the explicit suggestion that cultural conservatives are haters, and for sure in many cases it is certainly true. The problem is the words are offensive but are they deserved. Haters is incriminating but hardly misplaced on a lot of these hardliners. Many are called conservative but obviously the word has lost its original meaning – in fact many are trying preserve conditions that never existed, distorting institutions to some unattainable ideals, trying to restore values that are not traditional but border on radical departure from American tolerance, and to limit change to only their narrow definition.

    Its hard to condemn the Washington Post for using cultural definitions that fit the circumstances, despite the perceptions that the definitions are distorted and bias to begin with.

  • str

    George,

    Problem is you could say the same stuff about many cultural leftists being haters. Many hate those who oppose their views and of course the world as it is.

    You talk about “conditions that never existed, distorting institutions to some unattainable ideals, trying to restore values that are not traditional” but then harp on about “American tolerance”, which also is some unattainable ideal that never existed in the real world.

  • George

    Valid point, str.

    If there is anything that is concrete and ‘attainable’ it is that we live under a compact of law and order built on a framework of tolerance. We here have a wide berth for views and religious practices under the Constitution – up to the point of crossing against the laws, including hate crimes. I would guess that moral, religious folk would not be the ones pushing the envelope to test where the line gets crossed. But I digress – naive to such ideals of noble savages. I think some certainly cloak their hate in the folds of religion and ignorance of the law, but then morality is the least their religions offers them – I would guess. Religions are supposed offer moral guidance in a broad array that unite people, not in the narrow confines of division and hate.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Folks,

    Keep comments focused on journalism — not your views on same-sex marriage or the goodness or badness of religion, etc.

    Thanks.


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