Irked by What The Post Didn't Say

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By Deborah Howell
Sunday, January 21, 2007

Readers are bothered by omissions in The Post. That can mean stories they think should have been covered and facts or angles not reflected in stories.

Navy Capt. Tom Van Leunen was among several readers who complained that The Post had no story on the White House ceremony honoring Cpl. Jason Dunham, who was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military decoration, for throwing himself on a hand grenade and saving his buddies' lives.

"Last Sunday The Post ran a front-page story on the alleged murders of Iraqis by U.S. Marines at Haditha. No problem with that. It's a story and one that deserves to be covered. Thursday, President Bush posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor to the family of Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham. I have tried fruitlessly to find Cpl. Dunham's story in The Post. In fact, it appears that no Post reporter even covered Dunham's sacrifice. Am I the only one noticing the disconnect here?"

There should have been a story. National Editor Scott Vance said the national staff was scrambling to do follow-up stories on Bush's Iraq policy speech the night before. The Medal of Honor ceremony was mentioned only briefly in a White House story. Vance said he regretted there was no separate article. Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt did feature Dunham in his column Monday, with a photo.

The Post covers every public funeral of Iraq war dead at Arlington National Cemetery and runs a story on every local soldier killed in Iraq, in addition to the Faces of the Fallen, which is archived at washingtonpost.com.

One caller asked about a Jan. 10 story on federal approval of a new United Airlines nonstop flight from Dulles to Beijing: "The main thing I wanted to know was how long a flight it would be and how many hours does it save. . . . Tell the financial section that it is those kinds of things that people care about nowadays." Reporter Del Quentin Wilber said that he had the flight time -- about 14 hours -- in his story and that it was deleted by a copy editor.

A Montgomery County reader called to say: "I would like to express my disgust with The Post for printing a picture with no caption in the Montgomery (Extra) section of the paper. Maybe that's [Maryland Gov. Martin] O'Malley. Maybe, it is not Mr. O'Malley. Who knows? I don't know what he looks like." That photo was the cover art for all the Maryland Extras. The story was a preview of the upcoming legislative session, and O'Malley's name was in the headline by the photo, so editors thought a caption was not needed, said Robert McCartney, assistant managing editor for Metro news. He agreed that every photo needs a caption.

The lack of late sports scores and stories frequently produces complaints. A caller asked: "How about these ballgames that end about midnight? Is it too late to get them in? The fact that we are not getting these ballgame updates and stats is bad. In the Tostitos Bowl, that was a fantastic game, 43-42 overtime. Not only was it not in the [the next day's] Sports, there was no wrap-up the following day, or even the stats of this game. Now, you missed the Sugar Bowl, too."

The caller was mistaken on some points, but deadlines and late games are not always compatible. Sports editors want to get in accounts of late games, and circulation folks want to ensure that the paper is distributed on time.

The Post has three editions: The first goes to outlying counties, the second to closer-in suburbs and the third and final to the closest suburbs and the District. Those editions have different deadlines, the last about 1:30 a.m. That means late West Coast games often are not in the final edition.

Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, the assistant managing editor for Sports, said The Post "when possible will publish those scores that were missed in the newspaper, one day late." On the Tostitos Bowl, he said, a story on the game made the final edition on Jan. 2, on the front page of the section. On Jan. 3, a game story ran in the first edition and was replaced by a later game story in the second edition.

"So readers who got the second edition missed that story both days. Our mistake. The Sugar Bowl made the final on Jan. 4 and was rerun for the first two editions on the 5th, so that was done correctly," he said.

"We encourage our readers to go to washingtonpost.com, which has all the material from the final edition of the paper," Garcia-Ruiz said. Post sportswriters often update a final edition story on the Web with information that doesn't make the paper.

Jessica G. Riley of Arlington was upset that Monday's Business section story and graphic on steakhouses frequented by the business and political elite didn't have a picture of a woman among the 15 guys. "I know that people don't automatically think of women as business leaders, and they might not think of them going to steakhouses either. However, shouldn't the dearth of women have been mentioned in the article? Couldn't The Post find one woman to highlight?"

Washington Business editor Nancy Szokan replied, "The reader raises a good point about the absence of women in the graphic. Several times during the week we discussed the very male nature of the story. But steakhouses simply seem to be an overwhelmingly male scene."

Reporter Michael Rosenwald said he looked for easily identifiable women for the graphic. He interviewed steakhouse managers and owners for names. He learned from campaign records that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's campaign staff went there frequently, and he was going to add her until he was told by her congressional staff that "she doesn't eat much steak" and wouldn't be appropriate for the graphic.

Rosenwald was told that Hillary Clinton had recently dined at Charlie Palmer Steak, but Clinton's staff didn't return his phone calls for confirmation. Shame to see the guys get all the ink.

Deborah Howell can be reached at 202-334-7582 or atombudsman@washpost.com.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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