The Post killed a column by Jack Anderson last week, and critics immediately charged the paper with censorship. The column alleged that nine past and present members of Congress, among them Sen. Edward Kennedy, "stand accused" of illegal drug use, implicating them in a "Capitol Hill drug ring" that Mr. Anderson claimed he uncovered.
Although it identified former Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr. (R-Calif.), some concluded the column was deep-sixed because of Sen. Kennedy's name. "It didn't fit with the paper's political bias," was the common charge. The Miami Herald, and reportedly other major newspapers, chose not to publish the column, which alleged also that Sen. Kennedy's daughter had purchased drugs from the "ring."
Executive Editor Ben Bradlee said the column "failed any reasonable test of credibility" and, like Herald editor Jim Hampton, ruled against publication "in fairness" to those named. Other incumbents were Ronald Dellums (D-Calif.), Charles Wilson (D-Texas), Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) and Parren Mitchell (D-Md.). Other former members listed were Fred Richmond (D-N.Y.), John Burton (D- Calif.) and Lionel Van Deerlin (D-Calif.).
Unlike The Post, The Herald turned the column over to the news staff "to pursue further." The paper carried a long story containing denials, some of which had been issued before the Anderson piece was written. Several names had figured in earlier news accounts about a grand jury probe related to cocaine seizures and the arrest of two D.C. men.
Denials on behalf of Sen. Kennedy and his daughter have been issued by his office and by Joseph Califano, special counsel to the House Ethics Committee. Justice Department spokesman John Russell says he knows of no basis for an investigation of the senator. Although he admitted "there is no supporting evidence against these congressmen so far as I know," Mr. Anderson asserted that the names were given to a grand jury and the House Ethics Committee. He divulges arranging "cover" for a special investigator to work as an aide to a congressman.
In a telephone interview defending his column, Mr. Anderson identified the congressman as former Rep. Michael Dornan (R-Calif.) who, he said, provided the nine names in testimony before the committee last March. Repeating his claim that he knew the names for a year before publishing them--on which basis he said he wouldn't quarrel with The Post's decision to withhold his column-- Mr. Anderson insisted he was dealing "with evidence" and challenged the denials, particularly those of Mr. Califano and the Justice Department.
Still, the column was not convincing, and The Post was justified in not running it. The decision, however, raises questions of inconsistency or selectivity in choosing the news. Several weeks ago, editors gave extensive space to allegations that D.C. Mayor Marion Barry had used cocaine or was present when others did despite the paper's acknowledgment that its own independent investigation concluded there was no such evidence.
Earlier, the paper didn't hesitate to publish stories that Reps. Goldwater and Wilson were alleged by anonymous sources to have been involved in the use of cocaine. Rep. Dellums was the subject of stories in mid-March concerning purchase and use of the drug. The allegations, which the congressman has denied, were attributed to a former employee of the House doorkeeper's office who has since been sentenced to a year in prison "for conspiring" with Mr. Dellums and an aide. On March 22, the paper carried a story saying "the information accumulated so far in the year-long Justice Department investigation of alleged drug use on Capitol Hill does not warrant criminal charges against any congressmen, according to sources familiar with the investigation. . . . Most of the information against the three past or present congressmen known to be under investigation (Messrs. Dellums, Wilson and Goldwater) is either hearsay or one person's word against another. . . . The three have been the subject of unsubstantiated allegations. . . ."
Something here should be troubling us. Stories appear to contradict one another, and reality isn't given an even shot with rumor. Sources aren't being called to account adequately, and the news media appear too willing to go along for the ride. As with Mr. Anderson's material, editors should be demanding more authentication, more often.