There is a time when a house guest must pack his bag, call a cab and tell the host, whose hospitality he has abused, what a wonderful time he's had. That time is now, and what a wonderful time it has been -- a two-year weekend with never a dull moment.
In looking back over the past 24 months, there are no regrets and no apologies. The Post today looks very much the same as it did on Feb. 28, 1986, with the same strengths and the same weaknesses. At least one top editor feels that this column has led him to believe that I do not like The Post. He is wrong. Watching this newspaper evolve each day, as I observed the activity from the sidelines, was a wondrous thing, akin to a construction company's erecting a skyscraper every 24 hours, ready for occupancy in the morning, with hot and cold running water. And with all the complaints about the paper's contents, purported biases, omissions, distortions, insensitivities, bad grammar and some plain damned fool mistakes, it is amazing that the paper ever hits the street at all, much less before dawn with precision on every one of the year's 365 days, fair weather or foul. Sometimes a little damp, sometimes a little late, but always there.
The sheer volume of information in The Post is staggering, covering a range of subjects that in itself is mind-boggling. If there are errors made in haste or ignorance, it is because a daily newspaper such as The Post is, as someone once put it, the first rough draft of history. And The Post may well be the biggest bargain in town. Take the Real Estate section on Saturdays or the Health magazine, which appears every Tuesday. Those sections alone are worth the price of admission.
Great strides have been made in handling news of blacks, but it is my feeling that Post editors, black or white, have still not come to terms with handling these stories, good news or bad.
In one "good news" case I recall, a black Catholic priest was named an auxiliary bishop, the 11th black to be so honored in the United States. The first edition referred to him as black; subsequent editions omitted this reference, ordered by one of the top editors, himself black. He maintained the fact that it was the 11th black priest to be tapped for the high honor made his color irrelevant. I maintained it still represented a milestone in the fight against discrimination and should have been reported.
In the "bad news" department, the police warned the community to beware of a man posing as a gas meter reader, who was preying on elderly people. They issued a detailed description, which The Post carried -- except for the color of the man's skin. The reporter had included this detail in his story, but an editor -- white -- excised it. This is a very sensitive matter, dating back to the days when police would use such information as an excuse to frisk every black male who was outside his home.
My phone went off the hook that day with outraged protests from white racists demanding to know why the color of the hunted male had been omitted. There was no way with any propriety I could tell them the police were seeking a white man.
An oft-repeated complaint is that The Post is biased against Republicans, Jews, Arabs, Catholics -- you name it. The Post has published stories critical of the Catholic hierarchy and the state of Israel, but there isn't a shred of evidence that The Post is anti-Catholic or anti-Israel. Most readers will not accept the premise that The Post doesn't exist to enhance the prejudices of any group and that there is no conspiracy on the newspaper to promote or denounce any cause, even though sometimes the paper does make editorial pronouncements; these stated positions do not affect the reporting on the news pages.
So -- is The Post a great newspaper? Except for The New York Times, it has no equal as a purveyor to heads of state the world over of Washington developments. But if you really want to know how good The Post is, listen to the anguished cries of Washingtonians who have moved elsewhere and cannot have The Post with their morning coffee.