Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Deborah Howell Washington Post Edition)
For the record, Deborah Howell--the ombudsman, the "readers' representative"--is the *only* person at the Washington Post or at washingtonpost.com who has failed to return my phone calls. 925-708-0467.
Will Bunch has a good piece, and writes:
Topic: Letters Sent to Romenesko
Date/Time: 1/17/2006 10:37:42 AM
Title: Why no WP clarification?
Posted By: Jim Romenesko
From WILL BUNCH: We don’t remember too much from four years of high school Latin, but we do recall this phrase: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes -- Who will guard the guards themselves? Is there a way to say in Latin, “Who will be an ombudsman for the ombudsman?” Seriously -- to whom does one complain at the Washington Post when the person who is there to receive reader complaints defiantly gets it wrong?
We’re referring, of course, to Sunday’s piece by the Post’s new ombudswoman, Deborah Howell, which ... ended up on a note that read like it was straight from the offices of the Republican National Committee. Here’s what she wrote: “The second complaint is from Republicans, who say The Post purposely hasn't nailed any Democrats [in the Abramoff scandal]. Several stories, including one on June 3 by Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, a Post business reporter, have mentioned that a number of Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (N.D.), have gotten Abramoff campaign money. "So far, Schmidt and Grimaldi say their reporting on the investigations hasn't put Democrats in the first tier of people being investigated. But stay tuned. This story is nowhere near over.”
The first assertion is flat-out wrong. Dorgan and Reid could not have received “Abramoff campaign money,” because as numerous articles and investigations have shown, Abramoff never donated a dime to any Democrat. Not one. That’s not surprising, since Abramoff... is a Republican. Which is one of the primary reasons why this is a Republican scandal, despite assertions to the contrary in the Post, on CNN, and elsewhere.
Did Dorgan and Reid receive donations from some of Abramoff’s many clients? Yes. But if that’s what Howell meant, that’s not what she wrote. When you’re lumping public figures into an ongoing criminal investigation, you should be pretty damn clear on the facts.... If a newspaper prints something that is wrong, there should be a correction, and if something is unclear to the point where it suggests something that is not true, then there should be a clarification. And yet so far the Post has offered neither....
As for the second point that Howell makes above, her disappointment that the Post hasn’t bagged a Democrat yet is palpable, as she begs readers to “stay tuned.” We would hope that the Post’s reporting will be guided by the truth, not a zealous desire to make sure that both political parties are implicated. We get the sense that Howell would have wanted Woodward and Bernstein to keep reporting on Watergate until some Democrat entered “the first tier” of the scandal -- a notion not much more ridiculous than what she wrote on Sunday.
It’s easy for the Post to brush aside 700 blog posts from political partisans (even before that darned “glitch” made them disappear), because while we journalists love to write about politics, deep down we think that anyone who truly cares about it must be some kind of nut. So maybe they’ll listen instead to one journalist with 25 years of experience.
Deborah Howell’s column was wrong.
Will we get that correction?
We'll "stay tuned.”