Several months ago, a reader wrote: "Why have the police closed off the curb lane for southbound traffic in the 2600 block of 16th Street?
"When the barricades frist appeared, I assumed that pretty soon I'd see men diggin in the street. However, day after day has passed with no sign of road work or similar activity. Can you tell me why that curb lane was closed off? Did somebody forget to take down the barricades after a job was finished?"
I thought our highway engineers would be the most likely source of information about street barricades, but drew a blank there. The police suggested that it might be well to check with the Secret Service. "The Cuban Embassy is in that block," I was reminded.
Well, it's not exactly an embassy any more, but I knew what the policeman meant. In recent years it has been known as the Cuban Diplomatic mission or the Cuban Interest Section. A spokesman for the Secret Service quickly acknowledged, "Yes, they're our barricades."
Why were they there? He chose his words slowly and carefully: The Secret Service wanted to keep traffic out of that curb lane for security reasons.
We exchanged a few additional sentences about security. Then I asked whether the lane could be opened up during rush hours, at least. The spokesman said he thought that question had already been raised by somebody else, and that it had been answered in the affirmative.
After I hung up the phone, I began trying to figure out whether I ought to write about the situation, and if so, how the item should be worded. Would mention of the easing of security during rush hours be an invitation to trouble?
It could be argued that motorists inconvenienced by the barricades had a right to know why they were there. But the Secret Service's reason for keeping vehicles out of that curb lane was obviously to make it more difficult for anybody to throw a bomb out of a moving auto.
So two questions faced me: Was there a real risk that publication of an explanation might put the bombing idea into some kook's head" Was publishing the item worth the risk of planting the idea in somebody's mind? I decided there was no compelling reason to risk violence.
Friday night's bomb explosion at 2630 16th St. NW brought a lesson home to me: Even if newspapers published nothing but inspirational news, noble thoughts and idyllic poetry, there would be people in every big city in the world plotting violence and engaging in it.
A newspaper's decision to publish or not publish something of this kind makes little difference.
Castro's enemies don't need to be reminded that they don't like him.
So, in retrospect, I think I made a bad decision. I should have run the item.
Yet if I had run it, I guess I'd feel even worse now. I'd be wondering whether I had helped plant the bombing idea in somebody's mind.
I'm glad I'm not a managing editor faced with the need to make daily decisions of this kind.
'TIS THE SEASON
M.K. writes: "The pain of being without a hometown baseball team gets pretty intense at this season of the year. The only thing that calms me down and relieves my withdrawal symptoms is reading about baseball in my morning paper.
"You guys have some corking good sportswriters now. Two that stand out among them are Byron Rosen, who does Fanfare, and Tom Boswell, whose baseball articles ought to be published in book form. The guy is just simply great.
"However, I have one complaint. In today's paper your sports department ran a big line score of the game at Wrigley Field in which the Phils beat the Cubs 23 to 22 in ten innings. But you showed only nine innings, not ten, and the Philly scoring added up to only 22 runs, not the 23 shown in the total. Who goofed, the printer or the sportswriters?"
We ran a photograph of the scoreboard, not type set by a printer.
Bill Elsen, who is the world's greatest Cubbie fan, tells me that Wrigley Field still uses a hand-operated scoreboard that cannot cope too well with extra-inning games. There is room for a tenth inning only when the final score does not run into double digits.
What happened on the day of the slugfest, obviously, was that there wasn't enough room to post all the scoring, so the tenth inning was sacrificed to accommodate the final score.
P.S.: You and I react differently to the same medicine. Reading a Boswell baseball story doesn't pacify me, it just makes me wish we could feed Calvin Griffith and Bob Short to the Zoo lions. Grrr!