It would be easy to take the recent charges of black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan against the press and dismiss them as the rantings of an anti- Semite now feeling the ranks of mayors, black and white organizations and the U.S. Senate closing in on him.
But unfortunately, there have been slips in the media, and The Post has contributed. Unfortunately, too, such sloppiness undercuts the moral indignation against this prominent black separatist.
The Post is in a particularly sensitive position in covering this man because Mr. Farrakhan, in a rambling, "apocryphal" broadcast, threatened a Post reporter, Milton Coleman. Some papers -- and Mr. Farrakhan -- have questioned whether it was a real threat, but Post editors have no doubt. (Post editors declined to print the text of the talk, as I had suggested.) Now there are new charges of mistreatment of Post reporter Susan Schmidt at the Farrakhan rally in Baltimore last week.
There have been some Post errors:
A headline said Farrakhan called Hitler "great" during a local news conference, without noting that the story beneath said Mr. Farrakhan qualified the word "great" by "wicked" and "wickedly." Post Managing Editor Leonard Downie Jr., admitted the head was faulty but said readers were given a fair report in the news story.
Sadly, among the several hundred thousand Post readers there are many who only scan the headlines and run off to work. All do not read with the devotion and patience of biblical scholars.
Another headline, "Jackson Denounces Farrakhan," inflated a disavowal of Mr. Farrakhan by the Rev. Jesse Jackson into a denunciation. A subsequent Post story made plain, as the headline put it, "Jackson Declines to Denounce Farrakhan, Despite Statements." Mr. Downie acknowledged poor workmanship on this head too.
The curious coverage of Mr. Farrakhan's massive rally at the Washington Convention Center on July 22: A brief seven-inch story describing a turnout of 10,000 persons appeared in some Post papers the next day, but because of the lateness of the speech, not in others. The story was not recycled the next day.
Strangely, the story failed to take any note of Mr. Farrakhan's anti-Semitic attack, a failure that was attributed by one editor to confusion over the assignment. Mr. Downie acknowledged the story was "incomplete."
Two days later Courtland Milloy wrote a column for the District Weekly and gave attention to the anti- Jewish attack. But readers in Maryland, Virginia and other areas outside the city of Washington did not get the news until a week after the event when a Metro reporter finally produced a story.
A wrong date for the Farrakhan rally last week in Baltimore appeared in a Metro advance story. (A Baltimore Sun news story had the right date and provided this perspective on Mr. Farrakhan: "His pronouncements on religion, politics and history have been roundly repudiated as anti-Semitic and racist by black and white national political leaders, Jewish organizations and black civil rights groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The U.S. Senate voted unanimously on June 28, 1984, to condemn his comments about the Jewish people and Israel.")
A story on the Baltimore rally Thursday appeared in only some editions of The Post Friday, and editors explained that the speech was finished after 11 p.m. and the reporter ran into obstacles in filing her report. A follow- up story ran on Saturday for all Post readers.
In reviewing Post performance I do not find evidence of the "if-we-ignore- him, he'll-go-away" kind of thinking. There are many Farrakhan stories, columns and editorials in the files. But the few among them with flaws provide ammunition for critics, such as Mr. Farrakhan. They attempt to build these errors into major faults and embroider them with allegations of conspiracy and unfairness.
This does not mean that the riddle of how it is that he draws 10,000 in Washington or 18,000, as he did in Los Angeles recently, should go unanswered. Crowds of such magnitude are not drawn together by promises of harangues against mayors, Jews or the press. Mr. Farrakhan has learned how to use bigotry to get media attention, but there is more to be reported than that.