The wisdom of the now-infamous "White Man Gets Mayoral Nomination in Baltimore" headline [front page, Sept. 15] continues to be debated in journalistic circles. But among readers it merely confirms what they think they already know about The Post: Race is a minefield that the paper doesn't navigate too gracefully. To those who want less attention to racial differences, The Post is obsessed and excessive. To those who want more coverage of their particular racial or ethnic community, The Post is indifferent, if not hostile.
Whence come these conclusions?
For some readers, of course, coverage of anyone other than whites is an affront. But The Post is committed to diversity -- a code word, some readers say, for all that they loathe, from liberalism to affirmative action. This newspaper is not exactly trying to please them.
Other readers complain that there is just too much in the newspaper about blacks -- an assertion with which many blacks take issue. As best as I can determine, the complaints in this category are aimed largely at Metro columnists Donna Britt and Courtland Milloy, both of whom write regularly, though not exclusively, about blacks. But the answer is not to eliminate the types of people and places and insights Britt and Milloy bring to the pages of The Post but for editors to expand the mix of perspectives and personalities to better reflect the diversity of the Washington area.
Some readers insist that blacks are coddled, that some stories are shaped so that blacks won't appear in a negative light. A few readers insist that this extends to withholding news of black-on-white hate crimes (718 in 1997, according to the FBI) while overemphasizing white-on-black hate crimes (2,336). Most hate crimes never make the news nationally, but there is no policy against reporting on any particular category of such crimes.
Many blacks charge that The Post is racist because it misses some stories, including, most recently, the fact that six black Alabamians have been missing since May. The Post is neither omniscient nor omnipresent.
Some blacks say The Post regularly insults their intelligence, for example, by assuming that a conservative black church would be an odd choice of an audience for presidential candidate Steve Forbes to bring his message of "economic and social conservatism"; or that blacks won't, as one caller put it, "elect an intelligent person to represent them whether they are Asian, red, black, blue, green, whatever."
Are blacks permitted to write about race in ways that would not be accepted from whites? That is an oft-expressed notion. One reader, reacting to a July 25 Outlook piece by John Fountain -- in which Fountain wondered if he had somehow become less black "in my attempt to assimilate into an America, corporate and institutional, that remains largely for whites only" -- said: "If the word `white' appeared everywhere in this paragraph that the word `black' appears, you'd be fielding complaints from readers asking when The Washington Post had become an organ of the Ku Klux Klan. Sometimes the best way to improve relations between the races is just to stop harping on racial differences every chance you get."
Said another reader: "I haven't been able to figure out whether The Post is still trying to make up for its past reputation of racism or just trying to drum up more readers." There's probably a bit of both. What is deemed long-overdue inclusion by some is taken as a "bludgeon" by others. There's no question that The Post can do better. But the racial angst inside The Post -- where decisions are often made on an ad hoc basis and it's the luck of the draw whether the result is insensitivity or oversensitivity -- mirrors what's happening in the world beyond the newsroom.