Every so often, someone in a newsroom will describe a story as a "dog's breakfast," meaning a collection of messy tidbits that justifies the space. This column is a dog's breakfast.
* Last Sunday, two of The Post's top reporters, Thomas E. Ricks and Vernon Loeb, wrote a story headlined "No. 3 Civilian Ruffles Feathers at the Pentagon." It was about the undersecretary of defense for policy, Douglas J. Feith. It started out with praise for Feith by his boss, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and by White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. But then it went quickly to the reason for writing the article, which was that "Feith is disliked by many people who work with him on a daily basis." If you are going to take a shot like that, you ought not miss. The next day, The Post ran a correction acknowledging that the accompanying photograph was not of Feith. The correction didn't say that the photo caption also was missing the words "by" and "as" in this sentence: "Feith . . . is disliked [by] some, but is viewed by his boss, . . . Rumsfeld, [as] a real talent." (For my 35 cents' worth, The Post makes far too many mistakes of all kinds in photo captions.) The following day, another correction noted that the article and headline incorrectly reported Feith's place in the Pentagon hierarchy. Finally, all but one of the comments critical of Feith were by unnamed sources, which may be understandable when dealing with the Pentagon bureaucracy but which also undercut the article's credibility among readers who complained.
* The Post's coverage of the antiwar movement has been more prominently displayed lately in the main news sections, but last Tuesday the Style section weighed in with a lead feature headlined "The Peace Warriors." Reporter David Montgomery is a stylish writer, but a number of readers felt that he and the paper got carried away. "Once again, The Post has trivialized the peace movement," one said, adding that "imagined cleverness at the expense of news value is unbecoming to The Post." Others cited references to the many "species" who "flock, trot, march, slither for peace." They noted the lumping together of the "wild frontiers" inhabited by anarchists and anti-corporate, anti-globalization kids with suburban seniors, Quakers, Protestant pooh-bahs and others, as in: "Today, the whole menagerie will be buzzing, bleating, bellowing in the movement's latest efflorescence . . ." One reader said this "over-reaches good taste in search of alliteration and simile," while others said it sought to make "those who do not want war look like oddballs."
* Comments by Senate Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi at a 100th birthday and retirement celebration for Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) on Dec. 5 have been front-page news for many days now. But when Lott first made those remarks, suggesting the country would have been better off if then-segregationist Thurmond had won the presidency in 1948, virtually the entire press corps missed them. The Post began a 1,000-word account of the Thurmond send-off by reporter Mark Leibovich on the front page, but without any reference to Lott's remarks. The next day, staff writer Thomas B. Edsall reported Lott's comments, but that story ran on Page A6. Edsall's story also reported that Lott's remarks produced "an audible gasp and general silence" among attendees, raising further questions about how it could have been missed. Despite being a day late, the Post account was the first to focus national attention on Lott's comments. As far as I can tell, those comments were known to the reporter and story editor that first day, but they apparently were judged not to fit into that initial piece, which was focused on Thurmond.
* In contrast to not reporting Lott's remarks right away, the Reliable Source column on Wednesday was quick to report a tasteless anti-Israel "joke" told at a New York celebrity luncheon the day before by Taki Theodoracopulos, described in the column as "the Greek millionaire who bankrolls the American Conservative magazine edited by Pat Buchanan." Several readers took understandable offense at both this joke and The Post's judgment in repeating it. Theodoracopulos is not a Senate leader nor as well known. But if he or his money has influence, is it not better to know where his taste in humor lies? Could you convey that without repeating what he said? Maybe. I winced as well, but it's better to know such things.