And this is why I think readers should care about how The Post handled the case of Jose Antonio Vargas, 30, a former Post reporter who confessed in a compelling 4,000-word piece for the New York Times last week that he was an illegal immigrant from the Philippines, brought to California by his grandparents when he was 12. In his rags-to-riches story is a disclosure that Peter Perl, The Post’s assistant managing editor for personnel, knew of Vargas’s illegal status when Vargas was a Post employee from 2004 to 2009. Perl kept it a secret.
Vargas, who was part of a Pulitzer-winning reporting team in 2007, brought his first-person confessional to this paper in late March, and Post editors spent many weeks editing and fact-checking and getting Vargas to do additional work for the free-lance story. Editors described the editing and vetting as unusually thorough and exacting.
Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli suddenly killed the story in mid-June.
Vargas then quickly submitted it to the Times, which published it online Wednesday and is scheduled to print it in its Sunday magazine for June 26.
Why would The Post punt to a rival a riveting, already edited story that could provoke national discussion on immigration — an issue that sorely needs it — and that also included possibly illegal, and perhaps forgivable, conduct by a former Post reporter and current member of management?
Beats the heck out of many in The Post’s newsroom and beats the heck out of me. The cardinal rule of journalism, or politics, is that if there’s bad or questionable information, put it out yourself, be thorough and transparent, and don’t pull any punches.
Brauchli said in an interview with me and in other public statements that he prefers not to discuss internal Post deliberations about news judgment. “We made a judgment not to run the piece,” he said. Fair enough. Few editors go on the record about internal deliberations over a published news story, unless the story later results in accolades and awards.
And, I, too, see cautionary notes about Vargas that might have led to Brauchli’s decision. He left behind a reputation in The Post’s newsroom for being tenacious and talented but also for being a relentless self-promoter whom many colleagues didn’t trust. Editors said that he needed direction, coaching and constant watching.
It’s also disturbing that Vargas has formed a nonprofit group to advocate for immigration reform. He has crossed the line from journalist to advocate.