Dear Mayor Washington:
A few days ago you made a speech that was really an open letter to your friends at The Washington Post. I do not speak for the newspaper, but I would like to give you my personal reaction to the points you raised.
When you criticized us for not giving more prominence to the restoration of $10 million to the federal payment to the District, I think you were right. But maybe we're both wrong. In one respect, news judgment is like psychiatric evaluation. If you don't like one expert's and you'll get a different opinion.
What happened was this: President Ford had drawn up a proposed budget before he left office. The President Carter had to review that budget and decide what he wanted to change.
When the White House announced its decisions, we thought the most important item in the package for our area was the President's refusal to recommend funding of an educational assistance program that pumps $28 million a year into Washington area schools. That was good news judgment, I think.
However, as a result of that judgment, the headline and the beginning of the story gave no clue that, later on, in paragraph 9, we would report that you had been successful in getting the $10 million restored.
That result was that a lot of subscribers stopped reading before they got to paragraph 9 - and as far as they were concerned, we didn't cover the story. I agree with you that we could have done better.
Your other points do not seem to me to be as well taken. When our policemen solve crimes, catch criminals or report a decrease in crime, we give them good coverage. They deserve it and we enjoy putting good news into the paper. But when the Mayor criticizes us, we feel obliged to report that, too, and to give the story prominence. There are times when we have to take our lumps, just as you do.
I must also disagree with your taking us to the woodshed for quoting "reliable sources." Would you prefer unreliable sources?
As you know, we check our facts carefully, and facts about wrongdoing by public officials can usually be learned only from people who are themselves on the government payroll - and therefore vulnerable to reprisal. They won't risk their necks in the public interest unless we protect them.
I might also point out, Mr. Mayor, that one reason we quote "reliable sources" is that when we have a question to put to you, we quite frequently must settle for a chat with your spokesman. Your spokesman is a fine man, and quite competent. But he's not you. He's not the Mayor, and he can't speak out as you can.
When we quote reliable sources on allegations of misconduct, it is entirely proper for you to refute the allegations - if you can. But please attack our facts, not our sources.
I was amused by your comment that you move about the city at night without fear. Give me an official car, a driver who can double park at the entrance to wait for me, and an armed police detective to serve as my bodyguard, and I'll join you in making the rounds at night without fear.
Finally, Mr. Mayor, let me remind you that it is human nature to take little note of the many good things that are said about us; after all, compliments are no more than ourdue. It's the occasional critical comment that sings and remains engraved in our memories. Evan one seems too many. I know. I've had my share, and I know just how you feel.
But keep in mind that diligent public officials and the press are on the same side, Mr. Mayor. We are united in our sense of responsibility to the public, and for that reason we ought to work together with a minimal amount fo friction. When we do disagree on occasion, we ought to talk it out, get it over with, and then close ranks and resume our friendly cooperation toward common goals. I hope you agree.