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November 5, 2006
WaPo Ombud: We Were Unfair To George Allen

The Washington Post ombud, Deborah Howell, addresses reader complaints that their coverage of the George Allen campaign has been relentlessly negative. Her verdict -- they're right:

Allen supporters think he can't catch a break; I sympathize. The macaca coverage went on too long, and a profile of Allen was relentlessly negative without balancing coverage of what made him a popular governor and senator. But it must be remembered that Allen shot himself in both feet with the "macaca" remark and his clumsy handling of the revelation of his Jewish heritage. Then he declined to talk to The Post for the profile. The profiles of both Webb and Allen were critical, but Webb's was leavened by his quotes.

It was bothersome that so much weight was given to "Fifth Quarter," the 2000 family memoir by Allen's sister, Jennifer. The book described family problems and portrayed Allen as a teenage bully. She called it a "novelization of the past," and Post reporters were unsuccessful in corroborating her account. Except for one brief remark, neither Jennifer Allen nor her brothers would comment on it.

Even in acknowledging the bias, Howell misses the point. Their coverage of the "macaca" incident went on far too long, and their editorial positions on the race seem to point to a bias in that might explain it. The "Fifth Quarter" exercise was completely lacking in editorial judgment. The Post reported this as if it were a contemporary allegation of marital abuse rather than an unsubstantiated account of supposed meanness by a teen-age Allen, which has absolutely no bearing on Allen's qualifications for political office. It's not bothersome that "so much weight" was given the novel, but that the Post took it seriously at all, to the point of trying to corroborate stories about Allen's temperament as a teenager.

Isn't anyone at the Post even slightly embarrassed by that?

The Post has consistently ignored Allen's record as Governor and Senator. Allen has repeatedly won statewide elections in Virginia, but the Post has never given any indication why that might be. Instead, it has done its best to mix water and dirt as ammunition in the nation's slimiest race. Howell might want to address that in her next ombud column, and give us an explanation of the editorial judgment that allowed it.

Howell also addresses their coverage of Michael Steele. She admits that their coverage of Benjamin Cardin has been "relentlessly positive". Howell also says that the Post underplayed the story about the Prince George's County endorsements for Steele, a significant political story, by giving it a one-column space in the Metro section. All of this is true, but Howell still doesn't connect the dots. We know all of these stories got mangled by the Post. Howell needs to tell us why all of these editorial decisions and slights affected one party in this race, and she needs to do so honestly.

Until then, the Post's political coverage will remain suspect, and their overall credibility diminished. (via Extreme Mortman)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 5, 2006 10:15 AM

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WaPo Ombud: We Were Unfair To George AllenEd Morrissey The Washington Post ombud, Deborah Howell, addresses reader complaints that their coverage of the George Allen campaign has been relentlessly negative. Her verdict -- they're right:Allen supporters... [Read More]

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