Never mind that it was a weekend in which American policy in Lebanon became more controversial, the war of words between Moscow and Washington over the tragedy of Korean Airlines Flight 007 intensified and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko announced that, for the first time in 26 years, he would not come to the United Nations General Assembly. The loudest noise recorded in the Post newsroom was made by angry, suspicious subscribers who did not find the results of the Miss America pageant in their Sunday paper.
That 20-year-old Vanessa Williams, the beautiful Miss New York, had been crowned the first black Miss America was indeed extraordinary news. The judges' choice was announced on national television a few minutes after midnight Saturday and many subscribers were watching. They knew also that Miss New Jersey, Suzette Charles, another black woman, was first runner- up. Here was an unprecedented event, of no small social significance, in the 62-year-old annual search for the ideal young American beauty.
Scores of subscribers did more than hint that The Post had engaged in some late-night racial discrimination--a suspicion that will interest critics who come at The Post from the opposite side--by not running the story they had seen unfold on their screens. Had the winner been a white woman, some argued, the news would have been front-page.
The fact is the story did run in 280,000 copies of the two last editions. And, except for the kind of inexplicable mishap we generally associate with government agencies, it should have been carried in another 126,000 copies. Three editions, amounting to the bulk of the million-plus Sunday press run, had already gone to bed.
The AP story, complete with background on the new queen and runner- up, reached the national news desk within minutes of the announcement from Atlantic City. It was moved to the composing room for inclusion in the next edition, which was scheduled on the presses at 12:40. The composing room was fixing also to include a late- breaking sports story. Both were fed into the machinery, and Murphy's law took command: only the sports story emerged. By the time the Miss America story was reset in type, it made only the last two editions. Incidentally, this story has not been on the front page for at least 10 years.
All this was explained by various hard-pressed news editors and aides. Most felt their explanations were listened to but not accepted. One of the many readers who were unmoved said, "It doesn't make any difference. You've made your point."
Most complaints were from women, some evidently convinced that the paper deliberately held the story as a way of making a racial statement. Disavowing the notion, a senior editor recalled that in recent years feminist organizations harangued The Post for carrying any news about beauty contests, which they characterized as "cattle shows."
Leaving no question that Miss Williams is newsworthy, the paper ran a picture and summary account of her selection on Monday's front-page, plus a long feature in Style. Another story was published Tuesday. She told a press conference the other day that she felt an "invigorating nervousness" about her sudden and obviously well-deserved fame. Surely, we'll be reading more about Vanessa Williams. She'll be here to visit President Reagan and speak at the National Press Club in mid-October.
Readers opposed to abortion faulted the paper recently for failing to note that Planned Parenthood operates clinics that perform abortions. Reporting on the organization's efforts to be included in this year's Combined Federal Campaign, stories said Planned Parenthood offers "abortion-referral services" and "counsels pregnant women on the availability of abortions." One story said it "runs abortion clinics."
William Hamilton, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood in Washington, confirms that in 1981 about 80,000 abortions were performed in the organizations' 40-odd clinics--about 5 percent of the abortions performed in the United States. A subsequent Post story said the organization "operates some clinics where abortions are performed and offers abortion referrals." Record squared.