When "Blacks Score Below Whites in Pentagon Test" by George Wilson appeared as the lead story Feb. 21, I wrote in an internal memorandum, It "takes the play away, unfairly I think, from the principal conclusion of the test: that the all-volunteer force is 'above average.' The story doesn't give the reader this until page eight. The black/white results are significant and, as the story says, will arouse controversy. As it stands, the headline and story are tilted."
Similar views were expressed in an above-average number of letters to the editor and in complaints to this desk. Additionally, several Post staff members voiced criticism, two contrasting its front-page placement with the back- page space given the day before to a story about the Drug Enforcement Administration's being ordered to pay back salary to 200 black employees, victims of discrimination.
Some relevant background: Mr. Wilson, who has covered the Pentagon for more than a decade, received a tip about the contoversial test results; also, that Pentagon officials had begun meeting with representatives of minority groups for advice on how to present the report publicly. Mr. Wilson arranged a briefing with manpower chief Lawrence J. Korb. He was not given the report, but wrote his story from the briefing. Before publication, he checked it with an official who confirmed its accuracy without objecting to its emphasis.
The story has not been criticized for accuracy. Complaints were directed at its emphasis on racial disparities: that black men and women scored an average of 24 percent in math and reading tests compared with 56 percent for whites and 31 for Hispanics. The story stressed that the tests do not measure natural intelligence or learning potential, although they "raise serious questions about the quality of education in predominantly black schools."
National News Editor Peter Osnos says, "We recognized we had an important, and disturbing, story." Mr. Osnos acknowledges an argument that the story could have highlighted the "above-average" findings, but it could not have subordinated the results on minorities by much. Fair enough. He and others acknowledge also that making the story the lead that day was at least debatable. Altogether, I conclude the story was misplayed.
Two other topics:
* The Post was criticized for failure to report a press conference by Stedman Fagoth Muller, a representative of the Miskito Indians of Nicaragua, in Washington two weeks ago under the auspices of the American Security Council.
The Post reported from Managua Feb. 5 that Nicaraguan troops removed "thousands (of Miskitos) . . . . " It also said, ". . . it was impossible to verify the official accounts." On Feb. 20, the newspaper carried a Reuter story from Managua in which Roman Catholic bishops denounced the action. On March 2, a Post article featured a condemnation-- "a massive violation of human rights" -- by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick.
Diplomatic correspondent Don Oberdorfer says that on Feb. 22 he received a press release dated Feb. 23. It carried charges by Mr. Fagoth that the Nicaraguan government "has adopted a policy of genocide" against his and other tribes. Mr. Oberdorfer called the American Security Council, but was given no information on where the press conference would be held. Four days later, Mr. Oberdorfer was called and informed he could meet with Mr. Fagoth that afternoon. Mr. Fagoth presented dates and figures about persons who disappeared or died following "fires deliberately set" by Sandinista troops in tribal villages. Mr. Oberdorfer said The Post wished to check the figures independently.
* A Post story Feb. 22 identified Salvador Cayetano Carpio, leader of El Salvador's People's Liberation Forces, as an "aging former baker." Critics held this was misleading. It is at least incomplete. He is, as the critics point out, a known communist figure in Central America and was so identified by Foreign Editor Karen De Young in a report March 9, 1980.