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WaPo botches Betts murder story

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The Washington Post has made tremendous progress in covering overtly gay issues since its new editor took over. When same-sex couples walked the aisle in D.C., the Post was there, flooding the zone with a multimedia extravaganza of marriage coverage.

But when the LGBT angle isn’t so obvious, the Post continues to cling to 1950s-era notions about sexual orientation — namely that it’s something to suppress or hide.

This lingering problem with honest reporting at the Post surfaced again in recent weeks as the tragedy of the Brian Betts murder unfolded. Betts, a nationally respected educator, was principal of Shaw Middle School in D.C. and a hero to his students. The Post has devoted much coverage, including front-page stories, to his brutal killing. Three teens are charged in connection with the murder; a fourth person faces charges related to alleged use of Betts’ credit card.

Almost immediately after the story broke, several of us at the Blade began getting tips that Betts was gay. Not closeted, but openly gay to a wide circle of area friends and colleagues.

Indeed, Betts was gay and the Post, even in a lengthy, prominent Sunday story about the murder, refused to report that basic fact. Post editors will tell you that his sexual orientation isn’t relevant or that they can’t prove it. Don’t believe them.

First, the Blade’s reporting staff was able to establish Betts’ sexual orientation quickly and with certainty. Surely the Post’s mammoth newsroom could have done the same.

Second, if Betts were straight, there is no question the Post would report basic facts, such as whether he was married, engaged, had a girlfriend, ex-wife or children. But because he was gay, such details are considered “personal,” “private” and “irrelevant.” It’s an indefensible double standard: If the fact of a straight subject’s sexual orientation is considered fair game for public disclosure, then the same must hold for LGBT subjects. The specifics of what you do in the bedroom: private. The fact of being gay or straight: public. It’s that simple.

Finally, and most significantly, his sexual orientation proved key to the story. Betts allegedly met his killer or killers through a gay-oriented chat line.

The Betts case is reminiscent of the story of Maj. Alan Rogers, a gay service member killed in action in Iraq two years ago. At the time, the Post covered his funeral and, despite interviewing multiple gay friends, and despite Rogers’ work for a gay-oriented organization that advocates for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” then-editor Leonard Downie, Jr. personally intervened, editing the story to remove any reference to sexual orientation. He even excised all of Rogers’ gay friends from the final story. The Post ombudsman at the time, Deborah Howell, sided with the Blade’s take on the story and agreed with us that dealing truthfully with the issue of sexual orientation would have painted a fuller, more honest picture of Rogers’ remarkable life.

The same is true for Betts. The importance of the gay angle might not be obvious to straight editors, but fellow gay men especially understand the significance of Betts’ life story. The worst slur directed at gay men is that we can’t be trusted around children; that we’re pedophiles. It’s a cruel, baseless, despicable stereotype that has driven countless gay teachers into the closet. That Betts — a respected educator — was gay and rose to such prominence in his field is an important and, yes, relevant, part of the story.

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National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Certifies Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc

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Washington, D.C. — Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc, the parent company of the Washington Blade and Azer Creative, announced today it has been certified by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) as an LGBT Business Enterprise. The NGLCC supports and advocates for diversity and inclusion for LGBT-owned businesses. With this certification the Blade’s parent company joins more than 510 business and 134 corporate partners of the NGLCC.

Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. owns and operates the Washington Blade, the oldest and most acclaimed LGBT newspaper in the country. In 2012, the company launched Azer Creative, a full-service design firm. The company employs more than a dozen full-time LGBT staff.

“We are excited to become one of the 500 LGBT businesses across the country certified by NGLCC,” said Lynne Brown, the Blade’s publisher and a co-owner of the company. “The LGBT community has been part of our company from the beginning and we look forward to continue that for many years to come.”

The Washington Blade was founded in 1969 and is known as the “newspaper of record” for the LGBT community both locally and nationally. Visit washingtonblade.com for more information. Azer Creative is a full-service graphic design firm based in Washington, D.C. Visit azercreative.com for more information. 

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Blade Blog

Vote now for the 2013 Best of Gay DC!

Choose in dozens of categories among hundreds of nominees, and make your voice heard!

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Best of Gay D.C., Gay news, Washington Blade
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Blade Blog

Nominate the ‘Best of Gay D.C.’ now!

Dozens of categories cover all the best for LGBT Washington. Who deserves the prize this year?

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Best of Gay D.C., Gay news, Washington Blade
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