Deborah Howell had her work cut out for her this Sunday. The Washington Post ombudsman had to explain why her paper did not mention fallen American soldier Major Alan Rogers‘ homosexuality.
Rogers died in Iraq early this year and, according to his friends, begrudgingly hid his homosexuality under the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Those same friends say Rogers would have wanted his untimely death to highlight our army’s unfair treatment of gays.
Howell explained yesterday, however, that the original story did include Rogers’s homosexuality, but Executive Editor Len Downie made the call to excise that tidbit because “there was no proof that Rogers was gay and no clear indication that, if he was, he wanted the information made public.”
Howell goes on to defend Downie’s decision, which is in line with the Post’s editorial standard on sexuality: it shouldn’t be mentioned unless absolutely integral. Not all gay activists, the paper believes, are gay, which is definitely true.
Though she doesn’t criticize Downie outrightly, Howell does some more digging into Rogers’ life – including chatting with other activist friends – and concludes that the story would have been “richer” with more details on Rogers’ private life.
The Post was right to be cautious, but there was enough evidence — particularly of Rogers’s feelings about “don’t ask, don’t tell” — to warrant quoting his friends and adding that dimension to the story of his life. The story would have been richer for it.
Now that the story’s out, perhaps Rogers’ death can do some actual good…