Call this "Between Editions: Or, Accentuate the Negative."
When President and Mrs. Reagan attended the anniversary celebration of the Joffrey Ballet at the Kennedy Center March 10, The Post's first edition reported they were "welcomed . . . with a combination of loud boos and cheers. The boos were repeated again when the Reagans waved to the audience during intermission." The headline read "Reagan Booed at Joffrey Gala," and the subhead, "Dobrynin Skips Show Dedicated to Afghans."
The next edition's story was changed. It dropped any reference to "cheers," while adding "somewhat more loudly" to the "boos." Added elsewhere was "At least one-third of the audience . . . ended up standing in the back of the theater through the first sequence." The subhead was rewritten as "Scattered Shouts in Kennedy Center Opera House."
Among some others, the changes were noted by Thomas Kendrick, director of operations for the Kennedy Center and, incidentally, a former assistant managing editor in charge of Style, where the stories appeared. I was in contact with him attempting to verify readers' comments that the booing came from only one person. Mrs. Reagan was quoted to this effect in both editions.
Those contacted agree that more than one person booed. Most say it was begun by "a young man" in the tier above the presidential box and at least "several" picked it up. An Associated Press reporter, who did not want his name used, said, "No question, there was more cheering than booing." Mr. Kendrick recalls "booing being drowned out by cheering."
No one questions The Post's reporting the booing. What troubles me, Mr. Kendrick and others is why the mention of cheering--if it was pertinent in the first edition--was omitted later.
Style Assistant Managing Editor Lee Lescaze says, "The lead was changed because Style felt that the news was the boos. It isn't news when people clap for the President and Mrs. Reagan." He says "Style's reporter estimated that one-third of the audience was kept standing and is comfortable with that estimate."
Mr. Kendrick says "malarkey" to this last point. It isn't physically possible to have one-third of an audience of 2,250 standing in the rear, he says, and at the most there were 90 persons standing. He concludes that the exaggerated figure in the second edition was used to convey "unhappiness." To be sure, no one is happy being steered through metal detectors to see a ballet--and not with tickets running up to $100. In the first edition, The Post described this as "hundreds in emeralds and silk were still cramming single file . . ." and "not many who watched the first act from the back of the theater . . . were smiling."
The Soviet ambassador's refusal to attend was newsworthy and reported in the ninth paragraph. Yet, replacing it in the subhead with "Scattered Shouts . . ." can only be seen as hyping the story at the expense of something that did not depreciate in value between editions.
As initially written, the story had some balance. As altered, it took a slant that was unnecessary, unfair and, in one respect, inaccurate.
Call this "Misplaced Behavior."
Prominent on the front page a few weeks ago was a story labeled "Cocaine Behavior." It reported "recreational sniffing of cocaine as no more habit- forming or threatening to health than small doses of alcohol or tobacco"; that "the pattern of use is comparable to that experienced by many people with peanuts or potato chips"; and that "it may interfere with other activities of the individual, but it may be a source of enjoyment as well." Further on it was pointed out that "heavy use" can be "enslaving." Its placement and emphasis drew immediate negative reaction. Indeed, the authors of the reported findings complained that the story's presentation was misleading. A letter from them was published several days later.
Managing Editor Howard Simons believes the material justified being on page one. Even had the story been written--as it should have been--to avoid the impression the drug is safe for casual use, I cannot agree. Coincidentally, the paper carried another drug story on an inside page the same day. Based on a government-sponsored national survey among 17,000 high school seniors, it reported marijuana smoking dropped sharply last year while the use of "uppers" increased significantly. The research was impressive. That and the balance with which the story was written made it more deserving of the front page than the one above.