Student Journalist’s Story on Same-Sex Wedding Spurs ‘Hate-Filled Backlash,’ Possible Pulitzer

An eye-opening tale emanating from the deep South that just crossed my path: Last month, a University of Southern Mississippi broadcast journalism student who doubles as a local newspaper staff writer wrote a front-page story for the paper on the “first known gay wedding ceremony in Laurel, Miss.”  Controversy ensued, with a possible Pulitzer to be named later.  Keep reading…

The article by USM’s Cassidi Bush appeared as the centerpiece in the Laurel Leader Call under the headline “Historic Wedding.”  It focused on the marriage ceremony of a lesbian couple in Mississippi’s Jones County, Jessica and Crystal.

As the blog Deep South Progressive shared, “The wedding was much like any other wedding you’ve ever heard of.  Jessica had a dress from David’s Bridal. The wedding included a maid of honor and a best man. There was a cake-cutting and punch at the reception. There was a flower girl and there were ring bearers.”  OK, one heartrending twist: Crystal has stage four brain cancer, making the couple’s long-term future uncertain.

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Sigh.  So, of course, let the “hate-filled backlash” begin.  Wait, what?  Yup, some Jones County readers are apparently not happy seeing a story in the Leader Call about gay marriage unless it has the word ‘anti’ in front of it.  In the story’s wake, there were more than 40 cancelled subscriptions, 50 angry phone calls to the newsroom, and “a string of angry comments” on the paper’s Facebook page.

One example, via Deep South Progressive: “This is what we have to put up with on the world news every night. Never thought I would open my local paper and see such. Insulting!!!”

Bush also had to deal with some personal attacks.  As she told The Student Printz at USM, “One of the most surprising comments was a lady that questioned my faith. They said if you were a Christian you would have known better. I don’t think it had anything to do with my faith. It had to do with my job.”

Fortunately, saner (talking) heads including Rachel Maddow picked up the story and called out the strange Jones County bias.  And at a staff meeting earlier this month, Bush’s bosses at the Leader Call rewarded her work, announcing they had submitted the piece for a Pulitzer Prize.  If she wins, she would be the youngest recipient of an award in Pulitzer history.  [Update, March 14th email from Claudia Stone Weissberg, website manager for The Pulitzer Prizes: “News stories published in 2013 cannot be submitted for Pulitzer Prize consideration until December 2013. There is no way Ms. Bush’s story could have been entered already, since it was published on February 7, 2013. Our entry site is closed to entries and will not re-open until December.”]

Bush, one more time: “It’s been really crazy.  This is not a story that I would have ever dreamed would get my name out there. . . . It has given me more confirmation of how important unbiased journalism is.  If I had put the slightest bit of my opinion in the story, there would have been a completely different outcome.  The experience had taught me to treat every single thing I write as if it has the possibility of being seen all over the world.  I’ve also learned not to be afraid of controversy.”

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