WashPost Raves About Leftist 'Laramie Project' Play by Ford's Theatre; Fails to Disclose Paper's Official Partnership

October 3rd, 2013 3:05 PM

The Washington Post launched two stories today promoting “The Laramie Project,” a leftist play staged by Ford’s Theatre that blames the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard on the bigotry of America. In neither story did the Post disclose to the reader that The Washington Post is an “Official Media Partner” of this play and the larger “Lincoln Legacy Project” to “create dialogue around the issues of  diversity, equality and acceptance.”

Drama critic Celia Wren wrote a rave review on page 2 of the Style section headlined “In any space, Ford’s ‘Laramie Project’ is a thoughtful and provocative work.” When reached by NewsBusters, Washington Post spokesperson Kristine Coratti insisted that the partnership has no relationship to that unbiased newsroom:

This was sponsored by the community relations department of The Post, which supports arts and education institutions throughout the DC area. All sponsorships, including this one, are entirely separate from the newsroom of The Post and have no bearing on The Post’s coverage.
This sponsorship in particular is part of a multi-year commitment to Ford’s for their diversity projects, which included different performances over the past three years.

But curiously, when I looked up find the community relations department’s "Partners" section of the Post website, “The Laramie Project” was nowhere to be found. This is not because the web folks are slow, since there is an event for September 30 listed at the top. When asked about this, Coratti replied:

We don't always have everything listed on the site. This was certainly not an intentional omission.

And I should make clear that my community relations team is responsible for the CR section of the site. It is also separate from the newsroom.

Celia Wren’s rave review had this pull quote: “The show doesn’t aim to lull viewers into a cozy theatrical illusion. It aims to make them feel, notice, and think.” That’s a kind way to say this staged LGBT agitprop. This was the longer rave:

“The Laramie Project” is about the ambivalence, biases and anguish of a community — and a culture — before and after a horrific hate crime. But, as written by Kaufman and his colleagues, the play is also about a theater company researching and creating a play: With its documentary style, direct address, and moments where role-juggling actors helpfully identify which, of many Laramie and Tectonic Theater characters, they are portraying, the show doesn’t aim to lull viewers into a cozy theatrical illusion. It aims to make them feel, notice and think.

That being said, to judge by Tuesday’s performance, Gardiner’s production is rich in funny, affecting, artfully idiosyncratic evocations of vivid and sometimes disturbing personalities.

Wren explained that the play had to be staged at the rehearsal space of the Woolly Mammoth Theater due to the government shutdown. The theater runs through a public-private partnership of the Ford’s Theatre Society and the National Park Service. Ford’s was able to continue during previous shutdowns, but guess what – the monument-closing Obama folks wanted Ford’s theatre closed as well.

Wren concluded with the inevitable Shepard-Lincoln comparison: “when and if the production finally unfurls on the Ford’s stage, right next to the box where Lincoln was shot, ‘The Laramie Project’ will be resonant and duly gripping.”

The second story came in the Post’s Express commuter tabloid. The “Weekend Pass” section put the play on its cover with a large photograph and the headline “A ‘Project’ in Progress: Fifteen years after the murder of Matthew Shepard, Ford’s Theatre offers a chance to contemplate what has (and what hasn’t) changed with its production of ‘The Laramie Project.’”

Speaking of what’s changed, neither of the Post’s stories addressed the counter-narrative of author Stephen Jimenez, who believes the Shepard murder was not a hate crime, but a drug crime, and that Shepard’s killers were not heterosexual. I asked Kristine Coratti about that troubling new theory as well, but she declined to address it.

As Brent Bozell revealed, the Post also skipped Jimenez and the disclosure of the Post media partnership  in a Sunday Arts story on September 22. (Brent also has some of the "blood on your hands" quotes that these reviews don't include.)

Kristen Page-Kirby’s review in the Express hammered away at the progressive politics:

It wasn’t a random crime. Shepard was killed because he was gay; one of his killers argued that Shepard had come on to him that night — a “gay panic” defense.

His killing became a turning point in the discussion of LGBT rights; hate crime legislation was proposed in multiple states and at the federal level (it failed in 1999 but was signed into law as the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act by President Barack Obama in 2009), and Americans were forced to confront exactly what homophobia could look like. It could look like a young man hanging from a fence for 18 hours.

Hearing of the murder at the time, Matthew Gardiner, director of the Ford’s Theatre production of “The Laramie Project,” on through Oct. 27, was afraid.

“I was not openly gay at the time, so it had a very negative impact on me in the sense that it was terrifying to look at a young gay man and what could happen to him,” says Gardiner, 29. “I have an emotional attachment to this story.”

Would that emotional attachment overlook the facts, if different facts emerge than this play's claims?

The Express also talked to Paul Tetrault, the Ford’s Theater director, who explained their plan for a five-year series of plays, each addressing a “social-justice issue.” In its third year, Tetrault now wants to go beyond five years. “We need a play that deals with women’s issues. We need a play that deals with immigration issues. We still haven’t solved all of our race issues...There’s not shortage of ‘isms’ we have to deal with.”

This leftist itch to attack sexism, racism, anti-immigrationism, and so is demonstrated by the left-wing tilt of the Lincoln Legacy Project's Honorary Advisory Board: Julian Bond, Morris Dees, Wade Henderson, Janet Murguia of the National Council of La Raza, Laura Murphy of the ACLU,  failed New York mayoral candidate Christine Quinn,  WashPost columnist Eugene Robinson, former Human Rights Campaign boss Joe Solmonese, PBS host Tavis Smiley and his public-radio co-host Cornel West. This came from the official announcement of the play:

Events for The Lincoln Legacy Project will be presented in cooperation with several partner organizations including the Matthew Shepard Foundation, The Trevor Project, Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, Facing History and Ourselves, Not in Our Town, Split This Rock, Teaching for Change, the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"Inspired by Lincoln's work for justice, peace and equality, The Lincoln Legacy Project investigates moments in our nation's history where we have failed to live up to our ideals, and provides a platform for dialogue to address steps toward improvement and reconciliation," said Paul Tetreault, Ford's Theatre Society Director. "We hope that, in even a small way, this year's production of The Laramie Project might broaden our perspectives and open our eyes to how hate—in all its forms—weakens our society. We are honored to be joined by so many partner organizations who work in this sphere everyday to eradicate bigotry and intolerance."