Can the press cover traditionalists with justice and decency?

Thanks to the many readers who sent in kind words regarding my piece last week on the Washington Post ombudsman column that shed light on how bigoted some in the media are when it comes to covering those who oppose changing marriage laws to include same-sex couples.

That column, which quoted directly from a shockingly ignorant and contemptuous Washington Post reporter’s email — and then piled on with some further ignorance about arguments regarding same-sex marriage law — has generated quite a bit of coverage.

I wanted to look at one response to my original piece that ran on The Atlantic‘s web site. But first, a few items. Let’s note how the New York Times pitched a recent piece that adopted the arguments of those seeking to change marriage laws. Here’s how the reader submitted it to us:

From this afternoon’s NY Times e-mail:
Common Sense
Refusing to Arrive Late on Same-Sex Marriage

By JAMES B. STEWART
Corporate America has historically been slow to take up civil rights issues, but companies have rushed to sign the briefs filed with the Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage.

Can you spell “a-d-v-o-c-a-c-y”?

Yes, I can! And that’s exactly how you spell it. Advocacy is fine, of course. It has a place. That place is not, as it turns out, on the pages of a media outlet that claims to be presenting news, but it does have a place.

I also made it through the beginning of this other New York Times advocacy piece that found the actual words of a source not compelling enough for the story’s campaign objective. The premise is that a reporter is interviewing a family friend who is a pastor:

As I sat across from him at the kitchen table, drinking mint tea, I turned on my recorder and took a breath. Has the Christian church adopted a don’t ask, don’t tell policy? I asked.

“I would have to say yes,” he answered, shifting in his seat a little nervously, it seemed to me. He noted that many black churches like his own had made concessions to accommodate the growing acceptance of same-sex lifestyles. “There is a compromise because there is such a prevalent hard-core view on what’s considered right and wrong. People are feeling that in order to even retain a certain amount of membership, you can’t be very dogmatic about any of their sins.”

Said another way: If a minister is too rigidly homophobic, it could scare away members, which would decrease contributions and might ultimately be the end of a family-owned church.

I don’t know who is responsible for the, “Said another way” line, but Oh. My. Goodness. Now, nothing in the quote suggests that the pastor was AFRAID of homosexuals, so why would you ever use the bullying phrase of “homophobic”? But if you need to completely rewrite something in “another” way than your source said it, you are just making stuff up. Don’t do that. I’m not even going to address the imprecision of the broad, sweeping question about “the Christian Church” or the weird line about a “family-owned church.”

What’s particularly sad about this subsuming of journalism in favor of advocacy is that the interviewee said something really interesting about changing doctrines to be popular. What a wonderful idea to build a story around, but one that doesn’t match the paper’s preconceived ideas about what the story should be (hint: we’re later told he’s “torn” between “humanity” and being “welcoming” and his “religious beliefs.”). (Cue: Triple sign.)

Finally, the Washington Post is hosting an online discussion speculating about precisely what role “Christianity” played in the murder of an openly gay politician last week. You may suspect, given that this is considered a perfectly fine thing about which to speculate, that we know that “Christianity” played at least some role. Any role. Even a tiny smidgen of a role. In fact, police have identified a suspect and, well, here’s what a progressive news site called Raw Story says about the suspect Lawrence Reed:

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Guess which WPost reporter refuses to cover you fairly

This weekend, we looked at the Washington Post ombudsman column that revealed that the newspaper has an extremely serious problem with doing basic journalism when it comes to the thorny issue of whether marriage should be redefined to include same-sex couples.

The ombudsman column is something that could be discussed for many reasons, but I want to narrow it to just one point of discussion: anonymity. Should the ombudsman have granted anonymity to the reporter who was revealing his or her bigotry and egregious ignorance against the people he or she is supposed to cover intelligently and fairly?

Again, you can read my piece “WPost: Yes, we fear and loathe religious traditionalists” for the details of this breathtaking admission from the Post, but for our purposes the relevant portion is this:

Here are excerpts from that dialogue, with the reader’s and reporter’s names kept out of it at their requests.

Now, I don’t get as animated about anonymity as many journalists do, although I do agree it poses serious problems. I also know that I would have written very few stories about waste, fraud and mismanagement in the federal government without granting it.

You know how when people are granted anonymity, reporters write why they wanted it? Say, because they’re not supposed to talk publicly about that personnel decision or sensitive bill negotiations or whatever? Well, one media critic recently suggested that instead of talking about why the source wanted anonymity, reporters should simply say why they granted it.

Anyway, the problem with the anonymity granted to the reporter in this case is that it tarnishes 100% of the reporters at the Washington Post. I was at a party of journalists this weekend where various people named who they thought the reporter in question was. There were a few theories and some were stronger than others. But if I were a decent reporter at the Post, one who did not hold uncontrollably bigoted views against religious adherents or people with different moral or political views than my own, I’d be unhappy to have many of my readers wondering if I seethed with contempt for them.

Let’s look at an interesting Twitter conversation between a few other reporters who discussed the ombudsman’s piece, including the Washington Examiner‘s Byron York, Jan Crawford of CBS News, and James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal:

@Byron York: WaPo ombudsman publishes emails revealing paper’s mindset on social issues. No wonder they want to get rid of him.

@JanCBS: It’s the reporter’s obliviousness to bias (lecturing on what conservatives “should” believe) that’s most revealing.

@JamesTaranto: If he were truly oblivious, he wouldn’t have insisted on anonymity.

@JanCBS: He was emailing with a reader. I assumed he wasn’t anonymous.

@JamesTaranto: See the piece. @wapoombudsman granted him anonymity.

@JanCBS: My point is he/she is saying those things publicly as a reporter. Byline is irrelevant.

@JamesTaranto: But he was suddenly inhibited when faced with the prospect of having his views published in his own paper.

@JanCBS: So what? That he/she initially saw nothing wrong in expressing those views is my point re newsrooms.

@JamesTaranto: Imagine how you’d feel if CBS aired a similar rant by one of your colleagues without identification.

Don Surber, an editorial writer at the Charleston Daily Mail wrote:

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WPost: Yes, we fear and loathe religious traditionalists

On Feb. 15, Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton made a startling statement:

It is possible that I’ll be The Washington Post’s last independent ombudsman and that this chair will empty at the conclusion of my two-year term Feb. 28. If so, that will end nearly 43 years of this publication having enough courage and confidence to employ a full-time reader representative and critic.

His column today may give some insight into why. Or, as reporter Byron York wrote:

WaPo ombudsman publishes emails revealing paper’s mindset on social issues. No wonder they want to get rid of him. http://ow.ly/hYSgJ

Friends, it’s bad. And I’m not really talking about the column, although the column is bad, too.

The column covers an exchange between a reporter and a reader. The latter understands what journalism should be and the reporter reveals some breathtaking bigotry about the people he or she is supposed to be covering. Simply quoting that bigotry from an unnamed Washington Post journalist is devastating. Just devastating. If you wonder, sometimes, whether any reporters drip with contempt for religious conservatives, this will not disabuse you of that notion. Pexton sets it up:

I get a steady stream of e-mails and phone calls from readers who assert that The Post has a “pro-gay agenda” and publishes too many “puffy” stories about gay marriage, and that it even allows too many same-sex couples to appear in the Date Lab feature in Sunday’s WP Magazine.

“The conservative, pro-family side gets short shrift,” as one reader recently put it, and The Post “caters slavishly to Dupont Circle.”

Indeed, that reader got into a vigorous three-way e-mail dialogue with a Post reporter and me over the issue, an exchange that goes to the heart of the question of whether The Post, and journalists in general, are hopelessly liberal and genetically tone-deaf to social conservatives.

He quotes from the dialogue:

The reader wrote that Post stories too often minimize the conservative argument: “The overlooked ‘other side’ on the gay issue is quite legitimate, and includes the Pope, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, evangelist Billy Graham, scholars such as Robert George of Princeton, and the millions of Americans who believe in traditional marriage and oppose redefining marriage into nothingness. … Is there no room in The Post for those who support the male-female, procreative model of marriage?”

Replied the reporter: “The reason that legitimate media outlets routinely cover gays is because it is the civil rights issue of our time. Journalism, at its core, is about justice and fairness, and that’s the ‘view of the world’ that we espouse; therefore, journalists are going to cover the segment of society that is still not treated equally under the law.”

The reader: “Contrary to what you say, the mission of journalism is not justice. Defining justice is a political matter, not journalistic. Journalism should be about accuracy and fairness.

“Good journalism also means not demeaning conservatives as ‘haters.’ ”

The reporter: “As for accuracy, should the media make room for racists, i.e. those people who believe that black people shouldn’t marry white people? Any story on African-Americans wouldn’t be wholly accurate without the opinion of a racist, right?

“Of course I have a bias. I have a bias toward fairness,” the reporter continued. “The true conservative would have the same bias. The true conservative would want the government out of people’s bedrooms, and religion out of government.”

That discussion is most revealing about journalists.

Why, we all know how much the Washington Post cares about civil rights, right? I couldn’t even begin to quantify how much ink has been spilled advocating for an entire class of humans deemed not deserving of even the most fundamental right to life. Why, sometimes I think the Washington Post almost cares too much about the scourge of abortion, don’t you? Oh wait, that’s right, they actually don’t care about that civil right at all. What’s more, they don’t even agree that the unborn human’s right to life *is* a civil rights issue — at least for the unborn children involved.

And guess what, unnamed reporter and your army of close-minded scribes: Whether or not there *is* a civil right to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples or other groupings is precisely — precisely — the debate at hand. In other words, some people make the claim that changing marriage law is a matter of civil rights. They claim, along with the the ruling in the California Prop. 8 decision, that bias against gays is rooted in religion (a claim with amazing and, to this point, completely unexplored implications). Others say that same-sex marriage is an ontological impossibility — that gender complementarity is an essential part of the definition of marriage, and therefore there is no civil right for marriage to be redefined as something for which gender is not essential.

Failure to understand the basic (and, frankly, not even that difficult to understand) arguments of those who oppose redefining marriage is inexcusable bigotry, particularly after years of witnessing what happens in the coverage of this debate. Reporters close their eyes, slam their fingers in their ears and shout “racist!” anytime a traditional marriage defender opens his or her mouth.

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