The Washington Post's ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, wrote a response to the mountains of criticism Post writer Monica Hesse received as a result of her puff piece on NOM's executive director, Brian Brown. While Hesse photocopied Brown's "I'm a reasonable, concerned American" frame right into the Post without any critical perspective, Alexander decided to only respond to the most superficial problems in the article.
The article (which I posted about on TBP) showered antigay activist Brian Brown with praise for not being one of those unreasonable extremists on same-sex marriage, someone who presents the middle with "rational" arguments to justify their opposition to same-sex marriage. He's a great guy, and outstanding citizen, and people who are opposed to him are insane and unreasonable.
Alexander's response is even more asinine than the original article. He literally opens by scolding those nasty "liberals who support gay marriage" for making Hesse cry.
That's only the half of it. He then gets even sillier:
And some details about her personal life seem to belie claims she has a conservative agenda (more on that later).
I'm on the edge of my already wet seat! What could those details of her personal life be that erase what she wrote?
Especially sensitive to accusations of a "homophobic agenda," her e-mails offered a glimpse into her personal life.
"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.
Wait... why does her being bisexual mean that she can't have a "conservative agenda"? There are plenty of queers who are conservative. If anything, it'll just make the right even happier: Here's a bisexual who can see that we're great people! Obviously anyone who disagrees with us is just unreasonable and fringe.
The issue isn't whether she's bisexual or not, or even whether she's homophobic or not, or even whether she's for or against same-sex marriage (all different things). The main criticism was what she wrote was a vapid, fawning, uncritical profile of someone who said repeatedly that he wasn't anti-gay or trying to impose his religious beliefs on others, while devoting his life to spreading lies about LGBT people. Her writing speaks for itself, and her personal life doesn't change that.
As I said in my previous post on this topic, it's unlikely that she's actually a homophobe, considering some of the other Style-section pieces she did on gay life in DC. What's more likely is that she simpy followed the footsteps of other Post journalists and try to take their opinion out of their writing by numbing their brains entirely. She can't be liberally biased if she just copies rightwing talking points into her articles!
Alexander responds to criticism that she didn't seek out the other side of the argument with:
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, except she did get others' opinion of Brown: his wife, Family Research Council's Chuck Donovan, and the homophobic Bishop Harry Jackson's. Of course, they all love him and think he's great, but if the point was to use only Brown's "voice," then she failed rather clumsily in that effort.
Alexander says that, in retrospect, she should have sought out the other side. But I don't really get why that should be something that they think about after the fact, or why it isn't instinctive for the Real Journalists at the Post.
Alexander's response to criticism of Hesse's own assessments of Brown shines a little light on the situation:
Compounding the story's problems were passages like: "He takes nothing personally. He means nothing personal. He is never accusatory or belittling."
These types of unattributed characterizations are not uncommon in feature writing. But many readers thought Hesse was offering her opinion of who Brown is, as opposed to portraying how he comes across.
He's right, those sorts of characterizations are common in the Style Section. But that's just the problem that Alexander never addresses: a profile of a controversial political figure like Brian Brown should never have been left to the Style Section. In fact, the entire problem was treating him like he was just a nice guy and his politics as if they were of no consequence, like a new fashion sweeping the nation. Is NOM hot or not?
His views and actions hurt people, but one wouldn't really get that from the article. Even NOM is happy about the profile and fully acknowledge the fact that it was biased in their direction. Right-wing orgs are never happy with the traditional media unless they completely capitulate to their side, and that's just what the Washington Post did here.
Alexander's defense is a little tough to swallow, especially since he doesn't really address the heart of the argument. It's amazing the DC's paper of record can't recognize a political figure and cover him appropriately instead of playing right into his "I'm a reasonable, sane, Real American" schtick. Aren't they supposed to know a thing or two about politics?