What Riled Readers Last Week

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By Deborah Howell
Sunday, March 18, 2007

Three topics dominated recent mail -- the lack of coverage of an address by Jordan's King Abdullah to a joint session of Congress, an op-ed piece on Iraq by Robert Kagan and the Justice Department's firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Liberal bloggers seemed to be driving the complaints about the Kagan op-ed, and conservative bloggers, the comments about coverage of the firings.

Serge Duss of Alexandria wrote: "The head of state of an Arab country, Jordan's King Abdullah, addressed Congress on March 7 and The Washington Post ignored it. Not a word in the following day's paper. I couldn't believe it!" Reader Joan Salemi of West Springfield said: "When [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert addressed that body it was front and center as it was for [former Israeli prime minister Binyamin] Netanyahu."

Karen DeYoung, senior diplomatic correspondent, had planned to cover the address, but in what she termed "the perennial problems of deadlines and space limits . . . at mid-afternoon, I was asked by the desk to change gears and do a different story, which didn't involve Abdullah or Jordan." As it turned out, that story was held because of a lack of space. DeYoung believed -- and I agree -- that "we should have at least had a brief wire or some acknowledgment of his speech to the joint session and what he said on the day it occurred."

Her editor, Carlos Lozada, also agreed: "I should have assigned someone else to write a story on the speech; even though it was not a major news event, it was worth having in the paper, but it slipped through the cracks. However, we did come back to the speech in a larger Sunday story by DeYoung and Glenn Kessler about evolving U.S. diplomacy in the Mideast."

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The story on the ouster-that-backfired of eight U.S. attorneys around the country kept getting deeper last week as media and congressional scrutiny continued.

Readers' complaints sounded generally like this one from Malcolm Tanigawa of Fairfax: "Regarding the front-page article 'Firings Had Genesis in White House,' I request that you look into why [reporters Dan] Eggen and [John] Solomon saw fit to avoid any mention of the firings of all U.S. attorneys by President Clinton. For the younger generation and people with short memories, the article would imply that such firings are a new thing."

Eggen, who covers the Justice Department, did note that fact in several but not all stories on the firings. He said, "Bush also got rid of all but one U.S. attorney in 2001, and in both of those cases it was at the beginning of a change in party power, which seems fairly obvious and routine. The issue here is doing a mass firing in the middle of a term, which leads to appearance problems and which is viewed by many as an intrusion on the independence of prosecutors. No one, including the Department of Justice, can cite a time in recent decades when it has happened before."

Seems like a reasonable explanation to me.

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