Adam Polaski

Navy Homecoming Kiss Photo Stirs Backlash

Filed By Adam Polaski | December 27, 2011 5:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Corinne Reilly, Jim Romanesko, Kathy Best, kiss, Marissa Gaeta, Navy, Seattle Times, Virginian-Pilot

Gaeta-Snell-kiss.jpegLast week, Bil named this image of Navy Officer Marissa Gaeta's homecoming kiss with partner Citlalic Snell the Gay Photo of the Year. Now, it's coming under fire from your typically anonymous crop of readers and Internet commenters.

The photo, snapped by Brian Clark, first ran in The Virginian-Pilot, and while it garnered many positive reactions (including Bil's), it also elicited some vocally negative criticism from readers.

The reporter behind the story, Corinne Reilly, relayed some of these comments to Jim Romanesko:

Here are a couple of examples, which were in my email this morning:

"That photo is illustrious of why people instinctive know this country is rotting from the inside out. Whats next a close up shot of bestiality! Jim, Southern CA"

"Please spare me the deviant behavior. How much did the Human Rights Campaign pay you to do this 'story'???"

The Seattle Times also ran the photo and posted the accompanying article online. They, too, dealt with a divisive audience, some who applauded the photo and others who took the newspaper's editor, Kathy Best, to task for the decision.

A dozen subscribers threatened to cancel their commitment to the The Seattle Times, and comments poured in about the newspaper's poor choices. In response to these, Best wrote a note addressing those who threatened to jump ship. She wrote:

Dear XXX

I'm sorry that you found the photo on today's front page offensive. That was not our intention. We selected the photo because it depicted an historic moment for the U.S. military, vividly illustrating the end of the "don't ask, don't tell" era in a striking twist on the Navy's "first kiss" tradition.

As you know, treatment of gay and lesbian members of the U.S. military has been hotly debated for years, including at military installations around the Puget Sound region. As politicians and military leaders argued, the effect on individual soldiers and sailors sometimes got lost. This photo, which both our picture and news editors described as iconic, showed what the policy change meant at street level.

Part of our responsibility as a news organization is to reflect the reality around us, even if it might make some readers uncomfortable. We do not make those decisions lightly. We debated how and where to use this picture extensively. In the end, we felt the historic nature of the photo merited front page treatment.

While you may not agree with this decision, I hope this explanation helps you understand it. We were not trying to push a political agenda. We were trying to show the real-world effect of a political change of policy.

I hope you will reconsider your decision to cancel the paper. Just as we value lively debates in our newsroom about how to display news, we value lively debates with our readers about whether they think we're doing a good job. We need readers like you who care enough to call us to account when you don't think we're doing our jobs well. It keeps us on our toes and helps inform the choices we make going forward.

Kathy Best
Managing Editor, The Seattle Times

In my journalism classes, we've discussed the ethics of deciding what goes on the front page, but the divisive topics have always been about war or violence -- is blood necessary? is physical human suffering appropriate? I would never think that a really sweet photo of a same-sex kiss would stir up such controversy in the news room.

It's nice to see that The Virginian-Pilot ran the photo in spite of any such discussion, and it's great that The Seattle Times re-ran the photo even more prominently. Still, the fact that the newspaper felt the need to respond to the critical, homophobic attacks at all with a statement defending its commitment to uphold the news is upsetting. Thankfully, they didn't apologize for their decision. Perhaps these sorts of smart exchanges explaining why reader discomfort is not a reason for not running a photo will help in the long run.

Photo by Brian Clark

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