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Opinion Readers critique The Post: For peat’s sake, it’s time for a geography lesson

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Every week, The Post runs a collection of letters of readers’ grievances — pointing out grammatical mistakes, missing coverage and inconsistencies. These letters tell us what we did wrong and, occasionally, offer praise. Here, we present this week’s Free for All letters.

I always enjoy reading William Booth’s articles about people and events in Britain. He unfailingly treats British eccentricity with wry humor and tolerance. So, it was with delight that I found the Nov. 12 front-page article “Peat: A ‘superhero’ in fight for the planet,” Booth’s account of the reclamation of peat bogs for the sake of climate health. However, he needed a small geography lesson!

The area described in the article is indeed in Lancashire, which is not, as identified, in “northeast” England, but rather in northwest England in what is known as Merseyside near Liverpool. My husband, who was born in that vicinity, would have taken The Post to task for such an egregious error.

Jennifer Santley, Falls Church

Sacrificing truth for color

The Nov. 7 front-page article “The vaccine countdown,” about a small Washington state hospital with a staff divided on whether to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, committed a journalistic error by publishing direct quotes by “both sides” (as if there are ever only two).

Example: One person was quoted as saying, “Stop firing good people in the name of socialism.” There are two errors in that sentence. No one was being “fired”; it was an employee’s decision to leave the job. And requiring that staff safeguard themselves and others is not “socialism”; it’s a necessity to vouchsafe the public welfare.

Why does The Post (and so many other media outlets) think articles need “color” from quotes, even when the quotes spread false and misleading information? Please rethink this ridiculous practice, unless the statements are immediately followed with corrective language.

Alice Cherbonnier, Cockeysville, Md.

The ‘Afghan blunder’

John Bolton, national security adviser to President Donald Trump from April 2018 through September 2019, was somewhat vague in his Nov. 3 op-ed, “The Afghan blunder already endangers security.” It was not clear which blunder he was talking about.

The United States has spent about $1 trillion and many American lives, with additional contributions by NATO allies, to help set up a government in Afghanistan in hopes it would continue a democratic tradition after we left. A special goal was women’s rightful place in society. Our objective over 20 years was to avoid the resurgence of the Taliban, which gave asylum to Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks on the United States. To that end, U.S. forces captured an important Taliban leader, Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the founding fathers of the Taliban and an associate of Mohammad Omar, in 2010 and handed him over to Pakistan. Baradar was imprisoned in Pakistan after that.

Most Americans were tired of the long war in Afghanistan and wanted it to end. A reasonable approach, consistent with our objective, would have been to bolster the government under Ashraf Ghani that we had helped establish, take steps to minimize the risk of Taliban resurgence and then leave. One way to minimize the risk of Taliban resurgence would have been to ensure that Baradar stayed in prison and unable to incite Afghans to violence against the Ghani government.

But that is not what Trump did. He requested that Pakistan release Baradar, which it did in October 2018. Bolton was national security adviser at that time. Did he agree with this action? On Trump’s behalf, Zalmay Khalilzad negotiated the peace deal. Baradar refused to acknowledge Ghani’s government as legitimate; Trump agreed to cut Ghani out of the deal. Eventually, Khalilzad and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed a peace deal with Baradar, representing Afghanistan, in Doha, Qatar. The deal had a strict timeline with measurable milestones of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan to be completed by May 1, 2021, and vague promises from the Taliban that it has not honored. There was not much contemporary news coverage.

Most sensible people evaluating this deal handing over Afghanistan to Taliban control, bypassing the Ghani government, would consider it to be against everything the United States had fought for over a 20-year period. Was this what Bolton called the “Afghan blunder”? If not, why not?

Arun Guha, Silver Spring

An editor who added joy

I appreciated “Former Post copy editor was committed to local news and its fine details,” the Nov. 8 obituary for Pamela Feigenbaum. Although I was saddened by her early death, I was pleased to learn who wrote those funny and clever headlines on Animal Watch.

I loved Animal Watch and looked for it every week, often reading it to my husband. I clipped out many of those hilarious headlines and put them in my journal. My condolences to her family, and thanks to her for adding some joy to my days.

Carol Goodloe, Arlington

Case in point

James Surowiecki’s Nov. 14 Outlook essay, “Why do we buy covid lies? We’re bad at math.,” was interesting for its discussion of the general lack of understanding of statistical concepts, especially as applied to the coronavirus pandemic. This poor understanding is not just a result of statistics not generally being taught either in high school or college; in this case, it is also caused by private-sector and government employees not being clearly knowledgeable either, maybe unintentionally. Because of this problem, the government can mislead the population using incomplete information not obvious to the general population.

I also found it coincidental that a Nov. 12 The World article, “Harnessing the sea’s power — to make whisky?,” contained an example of an associated problem — the lack of understanding of technical units, such as associated with electrical power. The article, which concerned using tidal flow to generate electricity, erred by mixing up the units used to discuss the process. The article stated that one of the tidal power system designs “is rated for 2 megawatts, enough to power 2,000 homes a year.” A power generation system can produce (probably a maximum) two megawatts (a watt is a unit of power). Over a year, the system, if used continuously, would produce approximately 17,500 kilowatt-hours of energy. Energy is what one purchases from the power company. For 2,000 houses, this is an energy use of about 8,760 kilowatt-hours per year. But the generator of this energy should last more than one year and should be able to provide this energy use for more than one year. Thus, the original statement contained irrelevant information. In addition, these were averaged numbers; the energy needed by the 2,000 houses might not be available at the times it is needed.

This discussion just shows that articles about technical matters should be reviewed by people with technical training before publication.

David Griggs, Columbia

An ‘infuriating’ defense

In “An infuriating indictment of Israel,” [Book World, Nov. 7] Randy Rosenthal claimed that Sylvain Cypel’s book “The State of Israel vs. the Jews” “presents a one-sided condemnation of Israel’s ‘contempt for international law,’ ‘crime of apartheid’ and ‘systemic cruelty.’ ” The examples Rosenthal cited of Cypel’s alleged one-sidedness do not bear out this charge, however.

The preference that Israeli law gives to Jews over non-Jews does make Israel an “ethnocracy,” rather than a democracy, as Cypel is hardly the first to note; the Israeli Supreme Court has indeed given “legal cover” to the theft of Palestinian land and homes; and Israel has had a history of supporting “nefarious governments,” from apartheid South Africa to Augusto Pinochet’s Chile to Viktor Orban’s Hungary.

Cypel was also correct to argue that Israelis’ “barefaced racism” toward Palestinians and African asylum-seekers “appears to qualify Israel as a ‘white supremacist state.’ ” Rosenthal called this a “fallacy” because, “to actual white supremacists, Jews aren’t White” — a laughable objection.

Rosenthal’s pathetic attempts to discredit Cypel’s indictment of Israel succeeded only in revealing how difficult it has become for any conscientious person to defend the subjugation and dehumanization of Palestinians in the name of protecting Jews.

Carolyn L. Karcher, Washington

The writer, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, is editor of “Reclaiming Judaism from Zionism: Stories of Personal Transformation.”

“An infuriating indictment of Israel that won’t change anyone’s mind,” Randy Rosenthal’s Nov. 7 Book World review of Sylvain Cypel’s book “The State of Israel vs. the Jews,” was full of biases.

The opening sentence read, “Settlements aside, a Zionist is someone who supports a Jewish state in what is now Israel.” It is a fallacy to separate Israel from settlements, for that is how Israel was established. Right from the start, Zionist political leaders wrote and said their project was based on the building of Jewish settlements, with the aim of replacing Palestinians as a majority in historical Palestine. And the intent of mainstream Zionist leaders was also to displace Palestinians from their lands, as documented by Israel’s “New Historians.”

As for racism, prominent Israeli leaders of European descent, who long dominated Israeli politics, were racist not only toward Palestinian Arabs but even toward Jews of Arab descent. For example, David Ben Gurion, the lead founder of the Israeli state, wrote: “We need people who are born workers. We have to pay attention to . . . Oriental Jews, both the Yemenite and Sephardic. Their standard of living and their needs are lower than the European workers are. They will be able to compete successfully with the Arab workers.”

Philip Farah, Vienna

The writer is a board member of the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace.

Unbalanced coverage

I was glad to see the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference field hockey championship game covered in The Post, but the piece missed highlighting multiple significant details for readers [“Morrison’s red-letter day allows Cadets to cap undefeated season with title,” Sports, Nov. 7].

Focusing the article on one player made the piece unbalanced by excluding efforts of players and coaches in the game, and throughout the season on both teams, from both schools, for all readers.

St. John’s College High School and Bishop Ireton were first and second seeds all year. The St. John’s team did not allow a goal in WCAC play all year. The Bishop Ireton team appeared in its first WCAC field hockey championship in school history. This detail was readily available and applicable to the reporting on the WCAC championship game.

Gary Hermann, Alexandria

Let’s just say he’s a big deal

The excellent Nov. 7 Washington Post Magazine article about Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, “The man in the middle,” said of Mayorkas, “He is a diminutive 62-year-old. (‘Just under’ 5-foot-7, he once cracked to me with a sly smile that said it’s more than ‘just’ under.)” A person who is 5 feet 7 inches tall is not “diminutive,” which is defined sometimes as under 5 feet tall or “tiny,” “notably small.” Millions of Americans are less than 5 feet 7 inches tall, including many women.

I am sure the use of “diminutive” was not meant as an insult or as a derogatory term, but it may be interpreted as such by many folks, including me, who are 5-7 or less.

The great American hero Anthony S. Fauci is also about 5 feet 7 inches tall.

Jerry Ward, Montgomery Village

Draw a line on cartoons

I am very disappointed — and disgusted — with the amount of far-right political cartoons in The Post lately.

While I may disagree with opposing views and much of the blather of some of the right-wing opinion writers, I appreciate the forum and am happy there is a well-rounded space for all reasonable opinions.

The cartoons, however, are a different matter. The Nov. 9 Drawing Board cartoon by Michael Ramirez was truly hateful and pernicious and had no place in The Post.

Exactly what is the paper trying to prove or accomplish by printing far-right cartoons? Aren’t they supposed to be an amusing caricature of current events? I don’t think this one fit that bill, no matter one’s political stance. And where will The Post draw the line? Today, Democrats are portrayed as anti-American, but tomorrow will it be “laughing” off a suggestion of violence?

And seriously, you know your audience. Republicans won’t sign up because there are a few political cartoons with a right-wing stance.

Most readers get just a little bit of solace from the day’s news by looking at the political cartoons, me included. Don’t show some sort of false equivalency and ruin this for us.

Please do better.

Jessica Peterson, Two Harbors, Minn.

Never in my more than 40 years of reading The Post have I seen such an outrageous, insulting, egregious, outright infamous editorial cartoon as the Nov. 9 cartoon by Michael Ramirez. It was pure, jaw-dropping calumny. Progressives “hate America”? A hammer-and-sickle in the word “progressives”? Are you kidding me?

And this on the day after a sitting congressman released a video in which he depicted himself attacking our president and murdering a member of the other party — who happened to be featured in this cartoon.

P.A. Franklin, York, Pa.

Off the map

The Post fell into the trap of furthering propaganda about the red face of Virginia. The Nov. 4 front-page article “A sharp turn looms in Virginia” showed a graphic that burned red across a map, surrounded by headlines that, together, furthered the narrative that Virginia turned redder because of upset Democrats or Beltway politics. The problem with the article was not only the implications of the graphic but also that the numbers did not consider the difference in overall voters voting in the two compared years.

The Democrats got more Virginians to vote for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2021 vs. 2017 across the state by nearly 180,000.

The map did not visualize this.

By my calculations, the number of Virginia voters grew by about 460,000, and a whopping 660,000 more people voted in the 2021 election than in the 2017 governor’s race. So what is the narrative then? More voters voted, and more voters voted for the Republican candidate. It could mean that the Democrats motivated nearly 180,000 of the overall 660,000 more who voted, but that too many liberal-leaning voters stayed home.

As a liberal voter in Fairfax County, I can anecdotally relay that the governor’s race seemed very low on the “get the vote out” thermometer. Sorry to say, but this one bit the dust more likely because Democratic-leaning voters didn’t feel the heat, but conservative voters did — as they had some 485,000 more voters vote for the Republican candidate statewide than in 2017.

Laura Monroe-Duprey, Alexandria

The full story of ‘three-fifths’

The Nov. 5 letter “The filibuster must go” repeated the myth that it was “the Three-Fifths Compromise that gave outsize influence to Southern slave states.”

The opposite is the case. As the Trump administration learned, for purposes of allocating House seats to the states, all people living in a state on a particular day are counted. It doesn’t matter whether they are citizens or aliens; free, imprisoned or enslaved; enfranchised or disenfranchised; adults or children; propertied or propertyless. Following that policy, the South wanted enslaved people to count as full people for purposes of congressional representation; the North objected. What the South didn’t want enslaved people counted at all for was the other one of the two things based on population: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States . . . according to their respective Numbers.” The North, of course, did want enslaved people counted for purposes of taxation. The famous compromise was intended to decrease somewhat the Southern taxation burden while similarly decreasing its representation in Congress. Because most taxes weren’t deemed direct, the envisioned Southern benefit was minimal.

What gave White Southerners outsize political influence was not the compromise but technically freeing the enslaved after the Civil War. Then Southern “Redemption” following Reconstruction reduced Black political power to minimally more than during slavery, but Blacks — despite the provision in the 14th Amendment to reduce representation proportionate to the number of disenfranchised adult male citizens to all such people — were counted as full people, rather than merely three-fifths for purposes of congressional apportionment.

Paul H. Blackman, Arlington

At last, a reason to cheer

Apart from sports, we don’t often get a chance to celebrate our home teams and local talent. So it was especially welcome to see a feature on the Washington National Opera’s return to the stage [“For the WNO, a homecoming worth singing about,” Style, Nov. 8].

Michael Andor Brodeur’s review of the singers, the musical selections and the tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg was thorough and even revelatory, including an explanation of the mysterious colored gloves. But he might have given a little more attention to the orchestra. I found the conductor and musicians to be in splendid form, and it was thrilling to see them fully onstage rather than semi-hidden in the orchestra pit. This town needs all the bravos (and bravas) it can get. Thanks to the Washington National Opera and Orchestra for giving us reason to cheer!

Rayna Aylward, Annandale

Read more Free for All letters:

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Readers critique The Post: Missing an important point on pregnancy and the coronavirus

Readers critique The Post: What were we smoking?

Readers critique The Post: Carve out space for this artist’s credit

Readers critique The Post: Please have more respect for child-care professionals

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