Washington Post Downplays Polyamorous Gay Triad in Murder Cover-up Trial

In an effort to remain politically correct, The Washington Post has bungled the coverage of two major murder cases in Washington, D.C. – all because of a squeamish editorial policy regarding when it's appropriate to mention an individual's homosexuality in a news story.

Just weeks after coming under fire for hiding slain principal Brian Betts' sexual orientation from readers, the Post has been caught similarly downplaying or ignoring the fact that the three defendants in the Robert Wone murder cover-up trial are gay.

Since Wone's murder in August, 2006, more than half of the Washington Post's articles and columns on the case – 61 percent (22 out of 36) – have neglected to mention the sexuality of the accused parties.

Many of the Post articles on the case refer to defendants Joseph Price, Dylan Ward, and Victor Zaborsky as simply “housemates.” In fact, the three were engaged in a romantic polyamorous relationship when their friend Robert Wone was stabbed to death one night at their Dupont Circle home.

While it may be irrelevant to many news stories, it is impossible to fully understand the Wone case without information on the sexual orientation of the three defendants. It establishes the prosecution's main argument: that Price, Ward and Jaborsky were intimate, romantically linked lovers who would protect each other at any cost – even if that meant covering up their friend's murder.

Columnist Camille Paglia said the dismal news coverage of the Wone trial “appears to be a blatant case of politically correct censorship,” in an April 9, 2009 column on Salon.com.

Either that, or Post reporters have been reading their paper's editorial policy a bit too rigidly. “A person's sexual orientation should not be mentioned unless relevant to the story,” is the Post's current policy, according to the paper's ombudsman.

The policy sounds sensible enough. But the PC-obsessed Post's decisions to omit sexual orientation information from its coverage of the Betts murder case and Wone murder cover-up – two cases where it is clearly relevant – has left many readers scratching their heads.

Reader anger over the Post's coverage of Betts – a middle school principal who was murdered after allegedly rendezvousing with two young men he met on a gay sex chatline – forced the newspaper's ombudsman to issue an explanatory column in early May.

“The line between privacy and disclosure is not always clear. The Post deserves praise for its protective instinct. But credibility suffers when readers feel deprived of information known and widely discussed in the community,” he wrote in a May 9 column.

The Post's tiptoeing around politically delicate issues has gotten the Post beaten in terms of coverage. After all, it was the gay weekly the Washington Blade that first revealed Betts' sexuality. In another case, four gay men and citizen journalists from Dupont Circle became frustrated with the poor coverage of the Wone story, and started a popular blog on the trial that has scooped the Post on multiple occasions.

Unlike the Post, these newspapers and blogs are not beholden to some idealized notion of political correctness. Instead, they understand that they are beholden to their readers – and to providing these readers with all of the relevant information, regardless of whether it's controversial.

It is also worth mentioning that the Post has not shied away from reporting on sexual orientation in the past, as long as the issue aligns with the paper's politically correct editorial slant. For example, the Post extensively covered the legalization of gay marriage in D.C., with some critics referring to the paper's coverage as celebratory.

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