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WaPo Ombudsman: NOM Profile Fell Short


Andrew Alexander, ombudsman of The Washington Post, waded into the controversy sparked by the newspaper's recent profile of National Organization for Marriage executive director Brian Brown (pictured), saying that the story published on August 28 "fell short" because of "a storytelling concept, a writing technique, and a bad headline."

In an assessment published on Sunday, Alexander acknowledged that the article by Monica Hesse, titled "Opposing Gay Unions With Sanity and a Smile," which appeared on the front page of the Style section, elicited a reader outcry unlike any he had yet experienced on the job. However, he denied that shoddy reporting or a homophobic agenda were to blame, especially given that Hesse, who is partnered with a man, used to be in a relationship with a woman.

"Rather, this is a case where three things -- a storytelling concept, a writing technique, and a bad headline -- combined to ignite reader reaction as vitriolic as any I've experienced in my seven months as ombudsman," wrote Alexander.

Alexander suggested that the profile failed in execution, using unattributed characterizations of its subject and a biased-sounding headline, and neglecting to include perspectives from opponents. The result was the opposite of what the writer intended, he said.

"Hesse was stunned," wrote Alexander. "She had expected to hear from anti-gay marriage conservatives who might view the story as 'snide.' Instead, she heard from liberals who support gay marriage, accusing her of writing a puff piece about someone they believe fosters prejudice and intolerance. The story was shallow and one-sided, they complained."

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