Readers see bias as Sun editors seek balance

THE BALTIMORE SUN

THE FULL-PAGE photograph on the cover of last Sunday's Arts & Society section showed two gay, African-American men. They exuded affection and confidence. The men, Nigel Simon and Alvin Williams, also are the parents of three young children and are challenging the Maryland law that prohibits same-sex marriage.

The article, titled "The Accidental Radicals" and written by Sun reporter Stephanie Shapiro, filled two full inside pages. Under the main headline, "Making a case for marriage," the article is presented in a matter-of-fact manner with special attention to the details of lives of the men and their children.

But for some readers, the article was not matter-of-fact.

"The in-your-face attitude your paper has toward traditional families is over the top," said Gus Clark. "How long will it be before we see a picture of a gay couple in bed together reading the paper and drinking coffee?"

Evan Wilner, who called the article wonderful and brilliantly told, said: "It would be difficult to conceive of a more provocative headline than 'Making a case for marriage,' that is, unless it would be 'Making a case for gay marriage.'"

In a sharply divided culture - where political and social arguments have polarized large segments of the population - reporters and editors at The Sun have an obligation to search for the truths that often lie somewhere in the middle.

Sun editors say that enterprise reporting like "The Accidental Radicals" offers the opportunity to enlighten, overcome preconceptions and provide fresh insights about lifestyles.

But some readers believe that the tone and proportion of news space devoted to this article reflect the newspaper's liberal agenda on social issues.

"I am sure there are a few stable gay couples like the one you lionize in today's Sun," said John Baronas. "But you are so biased in favor of the gay lifestyle that you can't see it for what it is."

Over the past year, The Sun has published dozens of articles on same-sex marriage, many of them news articles about continuing legal battles.

It has recently published a comprehensive and balanced front-page article on the gay-marriage debate in Maryland and a Metro article about African-American pastors encouraging people to participate in last week's rally in Annapolis opposing same-sex marriage. It also has published several in-depth pieces on national movements supporting amendments banning gay marriages.

Sun editors say such articles are evidence of the paper's efforts to offer readers a balanced view of the issue. But critics point to other substantial pieces in the paper that they say reflect a lack of balance.

They point to a lengthy article on a 10-year-old son of two gay women who has become a spokesman for the gay-marriage movement; a Sun Journal on how the wedding industry is catering to same-sex couples; two news features about a Maryland gay couple's marriage in Massachusetts and profile of a gay couple that was featured in a "Family Stories" package in Arts & Society.

Then Wednesday, The Sun published an article about the likely marriage of two characters in the animated TV show The Simpsons when their town legalizes same-sex marriages. The package dominated the Today section front and an inside jump page.

"You guys have really gone too far," said Barbara Keelan of the Simpsons package.

Some readers say much the same about "The Accidental Radicals."

"'The Accidental Radicals' tells us that a two 'daddy' household isn't likely mainstream, but it is 'ordinary,'" said one reader. "It also intimates that all children whose parents are drug addicts (and by extension perhaps drunks and smokers) are better off with homosexual 'parents,' even though the article does not offer anyone who may have a differing view."

But for Lisa Polyak, also a plaintiff in the Maryland legal action, the article "educates the Sun's readership about our uphill struggles to compensate for the legal, financial and social inequities facing our families."

"It should be The Sun's mission to fight and advocate for the underdogs," said Allen Schick.

Michael Gray, the supervising editor of "The Accidental Radicals," said: "I don't think this story advocated for anything, let alone gay marriage. It presented a portrait of these men, who have become advocates themselves, and allowed them to present their points of view. Again, the aim was to get past the surface of the debate and show readers the lives of a few of the people advocating for gay marriage: real people with real lives and hopes and concerns."

If opinions on these recent stories are divided, one thing is clear. The Sun has an obligation to continue in its effort to provide thoughtful balance in its coverage of gay marriage.

Editors have the right to decide what is important and how each article is presented. But with this power comes the responsibility of offering different viewpoints and voices that bring readers along in the paper's search for truth.

Paul Moore's column appears on Sundays.

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