The ‘brown baby’ controversy that erupted on WTOP’s Facebook page

WASHINGTON – When Associated Press race and ethnicity reporter Jesse Washington sat down to write a story about a white same-sex couple suing after incorrectly receiving the sperm of a black donor, he knew it would challenge certain viewpoints on race and would spark a nerve.

“I knew it was going to be provocative because it felt like another situation where a black baby is not wanted or is less worthy or less desirable than someone else and that evokes some really strong feelings.” Washington says.

Strong feelings is putting it lightly.

His story, “Should white mom be paid for brown baby mistake” sparked a heated debate on WTOP’s Facebook page Monday night. Within an hour of being posted, there were more than 100 hatred-filled comments, mostly calling WTOP racist.

One reader reached out to WTOP’s General Manager Joel Oxley and wrote:

“This Facebook posting (attached) by your news organization was repugnant and racist. I have been a reporter and editor who has lived and worked in this market for 25 years, and I have never seen anything this blatantly offensive coming from a news group that is supposed to be unbiased…and certainly not bigoted.

“Are you comfortable with your news staff sinking to this level of race baiting? If you are, then shame on you as well.”

In reaction to the comments on Facebook and the email, WTOP managers decided to delete the post.

John Meyer, WTOP’s director of digital media, says it was a difficult decision.

“While the headline was provocative, the story did a great job exploring some uncomfortable issues. We did leave the story on our homepage and it was actually on the homepage for most of the day.”

“When we posted to Facebook, the feedback we received was predominantly negative. Things got heated pretty quickly, so we pulled the post,” he says.

It did appear as though a majority of those commenting on Facebook hadn’t actually read the article and were in fact reacting to the headline and first two paragraphs of the story.

Washington says he deliberately wrote the headline and opening paragraph.

“Why write the headline that way? OK. We boil it down to the essence. But at the end of the day, we call this baby a mistake. And that’s hurtful,” Washington says.

The headline and his decision to use the word “brown” in describing the girl produced a similar reaction on AP’s Twitter feed:



One Twitter user replied “the wording of the piece is terrible”

Another said, “Is this an offensive choice of words? Yes”

Washington has received several emails on his personal website, as well, with regards to the story.

In his decision to use the word brown, Washington explains he was being literal.

“I’m not going to call this little girl black because she’s got a white parent. She’s bi-racial. She’s mixed. She’s literally brown,” he says.

On the surface it appears this is a story about a couple looking to have a child through sperm donation who was given the wrong sperm.

This is about much more than that, Washington says.

“This case was absolutely about race, not because of the mix up itself, which was one issue. The mom made it about race when she put in her lawsuit

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