UPDATE: Hours after our story was published, the Winchester Star pulled its editorial from its website.
A small newspaper owned and controlled by Pittsburgh Pirates owner Robert Nutting recently published an editorial that called into question its view of the LGBTQ community. If not for criticism by a progressive news site, few people outside Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley might have seen the editors’ choice of words. Those words also prompted words between Nutting and the publisher.
The Winchester Star is a daily publication with a circulation of less than 20,000, and is operated by Nutting’s Ogden Newspapers, which is publisher of more than 40 newspapers and media outlets across the U.S. It was started by his great-grandfather in 1890. On August 7th, the staff published an editorial critical of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam for the Democrat’s refusal to share a stage with President Donald Trump at the 400th anniversary celebration of the Jamestown settlement.
“Gov. Northam? He made a speech earlier in the day, a few hours before Mr. Trump, speaking not of the tradition’s majesty but of Virginia’s dubious 21st century achievements--i.e. homosexual marriage, elevation of the transgender lifestyle, etc.”
Within that paragraph, the word “dubious” was striking, especially as the only two such achievements listed were the legalization of same-sex marriage and the recognition of transgender rights. Those two issues were worded in subtle language cues (“homosexual marriage,” “transgender lifestyle”) that prompted ThinkProgress to question the Star’s opinion of its LGBTQ population.
The community Nutting’s paper serves, Winchester, Va., elected John David Smith as not only its first black mayor in 2016, but also its first openly gay mayor. And although ThinkProgress never heard from Nutting himself, the man who runs that paper for him did respond.
“The Winchester Star has a long history of supporting and advocating for LGBTQ rights (see some links to recent articles below) and will continue to do so,” publisher Mike Gochenour told ThinkProgress. Those links were for three news articles about LGBTQ issues.
The MLB’s media moguls
In 21st century media culture, several prominent newspaper owners have taken a hands-on approach to directing the editorial direction of their publications. For example, the New York Post’s editorial page matches the worldview of Rupert Murdoch — whose News Corp. owned the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1998 to 2003 — and the Las Vegas Review Journal’s opinion pieces are guided by the outlook of casino CEO Sheldon Adelson, who in 2016 famously pulled out of a deal that would have moved the NFL’s Oakland Raiders to Vegas.
It should also be noted, Nutting is just one MLB owner whose holdings also include the media business: John W. Henry owns the Boston Red Sox and is also the principal owner of the Boston Globe; the company that owns the Toronto Blue Jays, Rogers Communications, owns more than 100 radio and television stations in Canada; the chairman of Liberty Media, cable magnate John Malone, owns the Atlanta Braves, and in turn also owns owns or holds large shares of QVC, Expedia, Sirius XM Radio, and Barnes & Noble. The wall between baseball team owners and the media their fans consume can be paper thin at times.
This works both ways, of course. Two days after the Star’s editorial, Dodgers part-owner Billie Jean King said in an interview that she hoped a gay baseball player will come out. Her pro-LGBTQ stance reflects on her team as well. However, the Dodgers have made no secret of their support for our community via sponsorship of Outsports Pride, L.A. Pride, and by hosting the team’s wildly successful LGBT Night.
As one of only 30 team owners, Nutting has substantial influence over the direction that Major League Baseball takes on the issue of gay players, so any indication of his position could be critical. But we have yet to hear back from Nutting despite multiple attempts to reach him.
We do not know how or why coded language found its way into the editorial in Nutting’s newspaper, but you don’t need to be a codebreaker to recognize “homosexual” and “lifestyle” are anti-LGBTQ words denoting homophobia and transphobia, the very thing Nutting’s predecessor — Kevin McClatchy — cited as a reason for why he chose to remain in the closet until revealing that he was gay in a 2012 interview with The New York Times.
“An honest mistake”
In addition to calling Nutting’s office, Outsports reached out to the Pirates and Winchester Star publisher Mike Gochenour for further comment. While we have not heard back from either the team or the CEO as of press time, Gochenour did speak with us.
He told us by phone that he had a conversation with Nutting about the editorial after it was published, and after a Virginia progressive political blog and ThinkProgress criticized it. Gochenour said the two of them concluded that the editorial “went south, unintentionally, from the beginning” and that “it wasn’t presented well at all but it certainly wasn’t the intent.”
Gochenour elaborated: “We learned from the editorial that we need to proof better and just make sure that never happens again. It was an honest mistake that just shouldn’t have happened. But unfortunately, it did.”
As mentioned above, the Winchester Star pulled the editorial from its website hours after this story was published, and you can see that for yourself by clicking here.