Jones County, MS – A daily local newspaper sparked outrage recently when they published a cover story about what they called the “first same-sex wedding to take place in the state” of Mississippi. The hate mail the paper received was apparently so overwhelming that the paper’s very owner had to write an op-ed titled “Doing Our Job” to shame his paper’s critics.
The Laurel Leader-Call published a story simply called “Historic Wedding” on February 7. In it, reporter Cassidi Bush details the story of Jessica Powell and Crystal Craven, two women who met, fell in love, and decided to get married.
The story has one tragic dimension: Craven’s diagnosis last year with Stage 4 brain cancer, for which she has had three surgeries and is now facing chemo. Her partner (now wife) Powell has stuck with her through and through. Craven even wore a white cowboy hat during the wedding to hide surgery scars.
“Love is love, it knows no gender,” Powell told the Leader-Call. “I don’t remember voting on straight marriage, so why is gay marriage an issue?”
SheWired noted that the story’s author, Cassidi Bush, is a self-proclaimed conservative. Despite being written without a shred of bias for either side, Bush’s story has attracted a lot of criticism from readers in Jones County.
Owner Jim Cegielski said that he has been inundated by “hate calls,” emails, Facebook messages, and cancelled subscriptions over the story. He decided to settle the matter with his readers in an op-ed titled “Doing Our Job,” published February 16.
“We shouldn’t have to defend every decision we make here at the Leader-Call,” Cegielski wrote. “We were well aware that the majority of people in Jones County are not in favor of gay marriage. However, any decent newspaper with a backbone can not base decisions on whether to cover a story based on whether the story will make people angry.”
“The job of a community newspaper is not pretending something didn’t take place or ignoring it because it will upset people. No, our job is to inform reads what is going on in our own and let them make their own judgments. That is exactly what we did with the wedding story. [...] We never said it was a good thing or a bad thing, we simply did our job by telling people what took place.”
Cegielski also had a one-word response to people who said that they didn’t want their children to see a story about two women getting married: “Ugh.”
“We have stories about child molesters, murders and all kinds of vicious, barbaric acts of evil committed by heinous criminals on our front page, and yet we never receive a call from anyone saying ‘I don’t need my children reading this.’ Never. Ever. However, a story about two women exchanging marriage vows and we get swamped with people worried about their children.”
Cegielski wraps up his defense of his paper’s journalistic integrity by publicly and loudly standing up for his staff.
“I can’t help but be saddened by the hate-filled viciousness of many of the comments directed toward our staff… No one here deserves to be berated or yelled at simply because we were doing our job.
“You have every right to cancel your subscription… But you have no right to berate and belittle anyone on our staff.”
I’m thinking I might get a subscription to the Laurel-Leader Call, and I’m nowhere near Mississippi. In fact, you can do so here if you want to support the paper. You don’t even need to live in Jones County to subscribe.