Between hard-charging, fire-breathing superpatriots and scorned feminists who launch Exocet missiles with their vocal cords, making Ollie North look like a wimpy pacifist, the ombudsman more than earned his keep last week.
The women were up in arms; the cause was just. No alibis. The circuits in The Post newsroom just got overloaded. The cause: excessive heat from Capitol Hill. That and the street temperature were nothing compared with the voltage generated by outraged members of NOW.
The Post had kissed off NOW's annual convention in Philadelphia last week with a few paragraphs. The Post, preoccupied with the Hill hearings, blew it. Those things happen. The editor responsible should consider himself lucky to be among the walking wounded; he vowed to make amends.
It wasn't the only story muffed last week, but nobody complained about the other one -- a memorial service for Dr. Arthur Burns, a man who played a major role in Washington for at least a generation. He died last month.
Two ex-presidents and the secretary of state, as well as some senators, paid tribute. President Reagan sent a message. President Ford was there. President Nixon spoke warmly and with no notes. Almost everybody who is anybody in the capital was there, except for a reporter from The Post, where the memorable event was dismissed with a fleeting paragraph.
It was that kind of week. The article by Pat Buchanan in last Sunday's Outlook section, calling for a presidential pardon for Oliver North and John Poindexter, produced an unseemly effusion of cheers for The Post. The second wave of callers soon brought things back into perspective, when they discovered Mr. Buchanan wasn't the only writer in Outlook that Sunday.
A sharp-eyed reader caught a bad one. In a long excerpt from the remarks of Rep. Lee Hamilton at the hearing, Robert McFarlane was cited as saying the Boland Amendment did not apply to the NSC staff. That was wrong, as Sylvia Sheinkopf of Burtonsville was quick to advise us. Daniel Balz, the national editor, realized she was right, but his problem was to establish who was responsible for the boo-boo. Alas, it turned out to be the good congressman himself, which is why The Post felt it need not publish a correction.
Another story that struck me as wanting was a good feature on Tom Watson's sentimental global journey in his Learjet. But a guest in the plane, not mentioned in the article, was one Strobe Talbott, a newsman who only a few years ago was publicly declared persona non grata by the Soviets and was unceremoniously dumped from Henry Kissinger's Air Force plane while en route to Moscow. Dr. Kissinger, suddenly informed that he had an unwelcome passenger, had the decency to order the pilot to land first in Copenhagen.
Yet, the same man, with the blessing of the Soviets, had now flown across Siberia and Mother Russia in the former IBM executive's private jet. This strikes me not as a byproduct of glasnost but as a gesture to his host, another demonstration of the reverence Soviet officials have for U.S. industrialists, a respect for capitalism that remains unchanged from regime to regime.
In an eventful week, the question most frequently raised was whether Newsweek editors did the ethical thing in revealing Col. North as a confidential source for its Achille Lauro story. It would have been unthinkable to have done otherwise, once the colonel publicly accused Congress of the leak.
The Newsweek decision came as a shock to some editors and reporters. Protecting a news pipeline is essential to aggressive and accurate reporting, but a myth has grown up over the years about the sacredness of confidential sources. There is nothing sacred about it. It is a matter of mutual trust and respect and a convenient means of doing business. It works only when it serves both parties, the news source and the news media.
The San Francisco press club years ago had a mascot, a ceramic black cat, which became a traditional fixture for its luncheons. Placed on the podium in front of a guest speaker, it became a symbol of assurance that words spoken behind this piece of crockery would never leave the room. That's just what it was -- a piece of crockery. But many journalists continue to believe their news sources are sacred. Bless them.