In the past 10 days reporters at The Post have scored two impressive exclusives -- Dusko Doder's interview with Soviet President Konstantin Chernenko in Moscow and Jim Hoagland's on-site session with President Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola. These are two examples of enterprising journalism made possible by the diplomacy and contacts of experienced reporters.
The Chernenko meeting was the first face-to-face meeting accorded to a Western newpaperman and demonstrated that he was alive, well and even good-humored. He stated his views on arms talks and other U.S.- Soviet matters.
Doder, who speaks flawless Russian, was on the trail of the interview for months. In Washington, his boss, Jim Hoagland, assistant managing editor for foreign news, pressed the Soviet Embassy. Doder, an impressive correspondent, was the first reporter to spot the signs of the death of Yuri Andropov, Chernenko's predecessor. He took on the Moscow assignment three years ago after working for United Press International there, editing on The Post foreign desk and serving as The Post's Eastern European bureau chief.
Doder's story, plus a partial text of the interview and anwers to written questions, led The Post last Wednesday. The New York Times ran two stories about Russia the next day. The first, on page 10, was a news analysis barely mentioning The Post source in the ninth paragraph. The second, on page 11, mentioned The Post interview in the second paragraph, and a Times editorial on Friday referred to the content disparagingly in a lead paragraph.
The Moscow episode followed another annoying exchange between The Post and The Times.
On Oct. 14, Hoagland met with the Angolan president and learned that there were secret proposals to try to work out independence for neighboring Namibia and withdrawal of 25,000 Cuban troops in a cooperative effort with the Reagan administration. In addition, Hoagland, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his South African reporting, obtained access to the nation's military chief of staff and visited troubled southern Angola during an eight-day visit.
The trip was the culmination of a year of negotiations for Hoagland, who had last visited Angola in 1970 when it was still in Portugal's hands. The thrust of his dispatch 10 days ago was confirmed by reports published yesterday that the Angolan president had dismissed his foreign minister, described as "a leading skeptic" of U.S. diplomatic efforts to bring about a regional peace.
How was Hoagland's dispatch handled in The New York Times? The day after it appeared, The Times, in a story from Toronto, mentioned in the fourth paragraph that the Angolan president "in recent interviews" had indicated "initiatives with the United States on ways to end the impasse in soutn Africa." There was no mention of where the interviews appeared.
There were murmurs around The Post news room that this was cavalier treatment of important news break- throughs. Newspaper rivals obviously have the option of ignoring, burying, pooh-poohing or, if they can manage it, topping a competitors's exclusive. The honorable way is to acknowledge another's achievement and go on from there. In these cases, several Post editors thought there was ample evidence of back-of-the-booking and back- handling.
Post editors, determined they should not emulate The Times' brush- offs, issued a memorandum to the news staff: "It is the policy of this newspaper to give credit to sources whose exclusive stories deserve coverage in The Washington Post."
For readers, most of whom read only one newspaper a day, the two episodes may sound like intramural sport, but to editors and reporters who invest experience, resources and initiative, recoition of success by their peers is a very sensitive subject. For an ombudsman who often measures The Post against The Times, it is a chance to balance accounts.
The Doder and Hoagland pieces were first-rate journalism, both giving readers useful information and were carefully offered with facts about the circumstances of the interviews, the limitations and providing background delving below the surface of the statements. They deserved better from their competitors. information and were carefully offered with facts about the circumstances of the interviews, the limitations and providing background delving below the surface of the statements. They deserved better from their competitors.