How PC Is Too PC?

Annapolis paper’s Lesbian Mothers’ Day feature prompts passionate debate

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Gawker.com is calling out the Capital for considering publishing a piece that never ran.

    Some background: The Annapolis-based Capital ran a front page feature on Mother’s Day headlined “Mama and Mommy: Odenton Couple has 2 moms, 2 kids.” The story focused on Melanie Morris and Angela Delano, a same-sex couple that has been together eleven years, got legally married in the District about a year ago and has two sons (ages 4 months and 2 years) through artificial insemination.

    Reaction from readers was swift and overwhelmingly negative, Capital Editor and Publisher Tom Marquardt said in a draft editorial that defended the piece but ultimately apologized for the fact that it ran on Mother’s Day, according to a report from Jim Romenesko on Poynter.org.

    Romanesko reports that Marquardt’s draft read in part:

    Only one reader complimented me for our non-traditional Mother’s Day story. The majority who reacted saw this story as the final liberal straw in their local newspaper or wanted to make a statement with their cancellation.

    In previous years we have written about single moms, poor moms, foster moms and handicapped moms — as well as the traditional moms with big families and heavy workloads. This year was different but difference is not what our readers wanted on a day when dad and kids shower love on the family matriarch.

    The decision to feature this story sparked long discussions between me and the editors. Lessons were learned, although at great expense and aggravation. Had we included homosexual couples in a wide-ranging story about mothers and published it on some day other than Mother’s Day, readers probably would have been more accepting of it. There was a better way to tell this story and to also tell the story about the traditional family.

    Marquardt circulated his draft of the column among the appropriate staffers and ultimately decided not to run it. In an email to Romanesko, he wrote:

    “It would be wrong to assume that the column would have run without editing and adjustment — I gave it to the key players seeking feedback, correction and suggestions. I am meeting with the staff in a few minutes and out of that conversation may come reason to write about the subject in a different way. But that particular column will not run.”

    Marquardt added that he wanted to make it clear “that my objection is not the story, but the story running on Mother’s Day.”

    Not good enough for Hamilton Nolan at Gawker. In a story headlined “Craven Newspaper Editor Apologizes for Story on Lesbian Moms," Nolan writes in part:

    “… like 99% of local newspaper editors, Marquardt was only too eager to cave to the local cranks and bigots.”

    Nolan then takes a quote from another section of Marquardt’s unpublished editorial:

    Unfortunately for us, we lost sight of what the readers want to read: feel good stories about people who reflect their values. Newspapers need to mirror its readers - all of  them perhaps, but inclusion not at the exception of the majority.

    And Nolan doesn’t sugarcoat his own reaction:

    Take a moment to savor the absolute debasement of journalism contained in this quote. Readers want crapola pseudo-news that agrees with every last one of their prejudices, and by god, that's what we're going to give them. That quote should be read aloud as a sort of Pledge of Allegiance in small-town newspapers across America, every morning.

    It may be of some consolation to Marquardt to consider a recent brouhaha at The New York Times (not exactly a small town newspaper) when a Vows feature took a turn readers were not expecting. The column in the Wedding Celebrations section of the Sunday Times generally documents a traditional couple’s path from first meet to vow exchange. But the Dec. 17, 2010, story featured less conventional newlyweds, Carol Anne Riddell and John Partilla, both of whom were married to other people when they met in a pre-kindergarten classroom at their children’s Upper West Side school. To say the story touched a nerve among the commentariat is to understate the case.