Capital Editor Feeling Heat For Pulled Column

| May 20, 2011 | 0 Comments

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UPDATE 11:46 AM 05/20/2011: This story has now been featured on Gawker and Queerty.

Tom Marquardt, the Publisher and Editor of The Capital felt some heat for his decision to run a story about lesbian mothers on Mother’s Day.  As soon as the article appeared in The Capital, the backlash was strong from readers.

But now, he is feeling a different kind of heat with critics chiding the editor for not having the courage to stand by his decisions. Apparently, Mr. Marquardt intended to publish a “mea culpa” op-ed apologizing for the column. Parts of that op-ed piece were excerpted in a post yesterday on Poynter.org. Marquardt told Poynter.org that he decided to scrap the piece and not offer the apology as planned.  Today, SF Daily also looks at the response that was never published and takes him to task on his assertion that gays are fine on any day other than Mother’s Day–among others.

A reader of Eye On Annapolis sent us a copy of the original e-mail and op-ed piece sent by Marquardt to his staff for discussion.

From: Tom Marquardt <[email protected]>
Date: Wed, May 18, 2011 at 11:34 AM
Subject: op ed column
To: Loretta Haring <[email protected]>, Rob Hiaasen <[email protected]>
Cc: Dionne Walker <[email protected]>, Shantee Woodards <[email protected]>

I am intending to publish the following column on Sunday. Please let me know if you have any problems with it. Sorry for its appearance – it has not been edited.

There is an old saying in journalism that, adjusted for modern times, goes something like this: Architects cover up their mistakes with vines, attorneys send theirs to jail, businesses write them off, and doctors put them 6 feet under. But a newspaper publishes its mistakes for all to see.
And that we did on May 8 with a Mother’s Day story on a lesbian couple raising two baby boys born to them through artificial insemination. The reaction among our readers was swift and damning.

Wrote Elena Andreu in her May 10 letter to the editor, “Of all the examples of motherhood available in this city, you couldn’t or wouldn’t find a beautiful example of a mother who has an inspiring story of a life committed to her family, her neighborhood or her community, one who alongside her husband, has championed a cause, or withstood the mounting wave of opposition tearing at the epicenter of our families and breaking them apart?”

We could have but didn’t because reporters and editors, tired of writing the same story year after year, sought a different angle to an annual event. 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.

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..

Readers are quick to complain if we don’t have a story about World War II on D-Day or if we don’t have a schmaltzy love story on Valentine’s Day. Heaven forbid if the Naval Academy graduation doesn ‘t appear on the front page or if we let Thanksgiving Day pass without a story about some local family that is particularly thankful. Readers, particularly the older ones who grew up with traditions, are comforted by seeing newspapers reinforce their personal values no matter how trite or common the story.

“You can write me off as ‘One of Them’ who clings to their god and their guns,  but I cling to neither…just old fashioned traditional values that seem to have went out of fashion,” wrote one upset reader.

And another: “I am neither a hater nor a homophobe, but I find your decision to feature the ‘Mama and Mommy’ article prominently on the front page, complete with color photos, on Mothers Day no less, to be a slap in the face to anyone in disagreement with this lifestyle. Yet, that slap is not why I’m canceling. Rather, it is the ongoing attempt to desensitize our culture into accepting as normal what is clearly abnormal. Whether you believe in natural law, God’s design, or some combination thereof, homosexuality is aberrant behavior. And since it always will be such, the only course of action is to make it appear to be normal through desensitizing the society generation by generation. “

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.

I suspect that many of you were very uncomfortable with the story and angry for us putting it on the front page, but found forgiveness and perhaps more tolerance. Thank you.

That we did this story on Mother’s Day was without doubt what put some readers over the edge.
“There is quite a difference between reporting on the activities of our legislature as they go about this sad debate regarding psuedogamy versus offering as a ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ article the twisted tale of two young women caught in the moral confusion of our times.  What next?
“One can only hope you will consider your editorial choices more carefully in the future, especially in light of your claim to be running a family newspaper.”

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.

Trying to be a newspaper for all walks of lives has its challenges, but the local paper needs to better reflect the fabric of the community.

From some of the emails we have received, the feeling is that The Capital needs to take a stand and stand by their position to run the original piece and not kowtow to a few readers who made comments or sent in letters. Others are calling for Marquardt’s head to roll based on the lack of conviction he showed with publishing an article that he admits was wrong (for timing) and then backtracking to offer an apology to readers, and then ultimately making a decision to not run it at all.

Considering we live in a time where acceptance of the LBGT lifestyle more the norm it was laudable to run the article. But questionable to back off. This year, we saw the same sex marriage bill fail by a slim margin and it will be back. We have had “out” politicians running for office and serving the public. Our columnist Seth Perry wrote an entire column based on this and the mindset of future generation. Even the family publication, Chesapeake Family has a very popular blog called the Lesbo Mom Blog. Even Governor O’Malley has recently discussed the need to up the protections for the transgendered community on the heels of the horrible attack at a Baltimore County McDonald’s. An interesting aside on the last point, according to a Google News search and a search on Hometown Annapolis, The Capital did not report on O’Malley’s announcement on the transgender protection, yet nearly every other regional media outlet did.

What are your thoughts? Should Publisher and Editor Tom Marquardt stick by his decision to run the original article? Should he offer an apology?  What are your thoughts on the situation? Please leave a comment.

 

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Category: NEWS, OPINION

About the Author ()

John is the publisher and editor of Eye On Annapolis. As a resident and business owner in Anne Arundel County for more than 15 years, he realized that there was something missing in terms of community news--and Eye On Annapolis was born in late spring 2009. John's background is in the travel industry as a business owner, industry speaker, and travel writer. In terms of blogging and social media, he cut his teeth with MSNBC.com.