In a recent discussion of the Janet Cooke affair, I said I was surprised at the "gleeful vindictiveness" with which The Washington Post was pilloried for letting Cooke's story slip through. Some of the criticism came from newspaper writers and editors who had themselves been hoaxed.
For that matter, who among us has not been victimized by a trick, fraud, scam or lie at one time or another?
Richard H. Tubbs of Kensington was surprised to hear that I had been surprised. He points out that "preeminence in any field of endeavor, whether actual, assumed or self-proclaimed," has always caused some people to "want to see the giant brought to his knees."
Tubbs notes that people in this group are always on the alert for signs of a giant's downfall, and they react to mistakes made by a preeminent person or institution with the gleeful vindictiveness that surprised me.
As soon as a person or institution achieves an exalted status, he says, the snipers begin searching for an error that can be exploited either "to diminish the stature of the mighty or increase that of the critic -- or perhaps do both simultaneously."
"Like you," he says, "I am saddened by this reaction, but I cannot bring myself to feel too much sympathy for . . . that institutional paragon of perfect judgment, The Washington Post." In a postscript he adds that he has decided not to die until he can ride the entire 100-mile length of the Metro system and he hopes he'll be reading The Post and this column during all those years. He notes that for 33 years he has been enjoying my "fair, perceptive and humorous columns."
I think Tubbs' comments about human reaction to those who achieve preeminence are quite discerning. There is a tendency at times to regard a TV star, a best-selling author, a popular politician or a newspaper with vague resentment and perhaps the comment, "That lucky bum! He makes 50 times what I make, yet he doesn't have brains enough to realize how limited his ability is."
However, I would like to point out that ever since Eugene Meyer bought The Washington Post in 1933, it has hired thousands of people with honest credentials and has molded them into a staff whose work has for decades been regarded as fair, perceptive and highly skilled.
If those who judge The Post are as fair and perceptive as they expect their newspaper to be, they will not condemn us for an occasional mistake.
Judge us by our batting average. Even Hank Aaron and Ty Cobb struck out occasionally. Nobody can bat 1.000.