Washington Post Ombudsman Defends Same-Sex Kiss Photo

More than just lip service

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Last week, same-sex marriage became legal in the District of Columbia, to the delight of some and the consternation of others. On March 4, The Washington Post marked the occasion with a front-page story, accompanied by a photo showing two young men sharing a chaste kiss outside the D.C. Superior Court. Michael Tomasky applauded the Post's decision to run the photo, calling it a bold and welcome move from a usually "provincial and cautious newspaper."

But according to Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander, the photo has drawn an unusual amount of ire from readers. In a column at Omblog, Alexander describes fielding "rants, often with anti-gay slurs," and hearing from more than one reader that a snapshot of two men kissing doesn't belong in a family newspaper. (One reader complained of the photo, "That kind of stuff makes normal people want to throw up," suggesting Dahlia Lithwick might have been onto something when she wrote about "the politics of disgust" in Slate this week.)

At last count, the photo has caused 27 Post readers to cancel their subscriptions. But Alexander offered an unequivocal defense of the photo and its placement:

The photo deserved to be in newspaper and on its Web site, and it warranted front-page display. News photos capture reality. And the prominent display reflects the historic significance of what was occurring ... There was a time, after court-ordered integration, when readers complained about front-page photos of blacks mixing with whites. Today, photo images of same-sex couples capture the same reality of societal change.

If the user comments on Alexander's column are anything to go by, much of the Post's reader base feels the same way. A smattering of comments do uphold the anti-photo argument--"Big, color photos of homosexuals hugging and smooching shows pure contempt for the values of the vast majority of Americans," writes one user. But most of the responses either praise the Post or wonder what the big deal is.

User heatherbrie walks the line, congratulating and jabbing the paper in the same breath:

Thank you for publishing this picture... it's good photojouralism. And good journalism, period. And to concerns about the 27 people who canceled their subscription, perhaps the Post needs to tally how many of us canceled their subscription because of the shoddy coverage in the run-up to the Iraq War. I bet I know at least 27 people personally who did so.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.