Anti-Gay Marriage Advertorial Rankles ‘Washington Post’ Readers

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By: Joe Strupp

A 16-page advertising insert taking a strong stand against gay marriage ran in some editions of The Washington Post Sunday, sparking more than 1,000 e-mails and phone calls, according to Ombudsman Michel Getler, who said most of the comments opposed the publication as offensive.

“They were overwhelmingly negative about the Post distributing this thing,” Getler told E&P, noting that many of the responses were from outside the Post circulation area, indicating a formal campaign against the publication may have begun. “People were upset and they let the paper know.”

The advertorial did not run in the metro edition of the Post, according to Getler, but could be found in about 200,000 zoned copies. It was labeled “BothSides Magazine” and appeared to be a creation of Grace Christian Church, with support from a number of Virginia area churches.

Formatted like a magazine, the publication included articles that argued against comparing gay rights to civil rights and criticized same-sex couples as parents.

“In the homosexual marriage movement, they have moved beyond asking for tolerance and are demanding a national endorsement,” one column states. In another Q&A section, the publication says, “Q. What is wrong with letting homosexuals marry? A. Everything. Marriage is defined by the God of nature, and a wise society will protect marriage as it has always been understood.”

Although the publication was clearly marked as advertising in several locations, and carried a note on the second page stating it “is not a product of the Washington Post,” newspaper officials said it drew an angry reaction from many readers.

“It is not something everyone agreed with,” said Publisher Boisfeuillet Jones Jr., who said the advertisers had a right to pay for placement of their viewpoint. “I’m not going to say I agree with it, but it is a case where we went through the vetting process.”

Neither Jones or Getler would reveal how much the paper received to run the insert, nor how many readers might have canceled subscriptions due to its distribution. Officials in the Post circulation department did not return calls to E&P. Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. declined comment.

“It seems to have struck a nerve,” said Marc Rosenberg, manager of corporate and public policy advertising for the Post. “The key issue is that it is clearly identified as an advertising message.”

Editors of the insert could not be reached for comment Tuesday. The entire magazine is available online at www.bothsidesmag.com.

“We will not allow something hateful to go in the paper,” Jones said, indicating he did not believe this incident involved a hateful message. “Gay marriage is a public issue and matter of public debate, and we believed its point of view has a right to be expressed.”

Getler agreed, but pointed out that the insert could have been more clearly differentiated as an ad. “It looked a little bit like an editorial product,” Getler said. “They might have insisted more that this be in a format that was clearly not a magazine. You could argue that the disclosure could have been larger. But the Post did not commit a sin by accepting it.”

Several e-mails Getler received, however, blasted the paper for running the insert. “The Washington Post lost a few notches of respect in my opinion,” one e-mail said. “And that is all a paper really ever has.” Said another, “The fact that the Post ran an advertisement whose clear purpose was to drive a wedge between two minority groups (blacks and gays) and which gave a voice to people who practice quack science and sell it as gospel is simply disgusting.”

Jones would not say whether he would approve of a similar publication being inserted in the future. “It would depend on what is in it,” he added.

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