The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Readers critique The Post: The cicada emergence is amazing. We should not fear and loathe these bugs.

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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.

These crawlies aren't creepy

I was decidedly disappointed to read Miriam E. Tucker’s Jan. 24 Local Opinions essay about the coming of Brood X of the 17-year cicada emergence, “Don’t get complacent. Another bug is on its way.” Though Tucker detailed the life cycle of the insect, the essay was more about what a nuisance they will be and a “pesky problem” that might drive people back indoors when pandemic restrictions are lessened in the spring and summer. She said residents need not be fearful, but the only positive aspect of the cicada emergence she mentioned was that it will be over in June.

Many people’s attitude toward insects is dominated by their fear and loathing, but the 17-year periodical cicada emergence is more than just “another bug on its way,” falsely equated with invasive Asian giant hornets. The mass, timed emergence of these native insects is an amazing biological phenomenon that evolved over millennia. It should be understood, celebrated, held in awe and used as an opportunity to learn about the wonders of nature. 

I hope before the emergence does occur this May, The Post has articles from science communicators who can illuminate this rare occurrence to help those victims of the creepy-crawly syndrome appreciate it more and educate people about natural history and what really happens in the great outdoors beyond their phone screens.

Joel Floyd, University Park

The consensus on torture

The Jan. 25 Metro article “Colleges urged to vet ex-Trump officials before hiring them” described former attorney general Alberto Gonzales as having played a role in “the use of interrogation techniques that human rights groups consider to be torture.”

George W. Bush White House lawyers — including John Yoo, who although not mentioned in the article teaches at the University of California at Berkeley — declared that the CIA’s program of waterboarding, beatings, stress positions and other techniques did not constitute torture. In the years after 9/11, newsrooms largely went along with that assessment.

The New York Times, the Senate, President Barack Obama and many others have since described the “enhanced interrogation techniques” as “torture.” Dean Baquet laid out the reasons the New York Times began to do so in August 2014. In this article, though, The Post falsely implied that this is not a mainstream classification, minimizing atrocities committed by the United States and helping to sweep these crimes under the rug.

President Donald Trump reportedly wanted to bring back torture, and a future administration could do so. Inaccurate and understated descriptions of our government’s crimes raise the odds that they could occur again and go back on the lessons most newsrooms learned during the Trump administration to place truth above official points of view.

Nate Wiecha, Durham, N.C.

More wasp than social butterfly

Regarding the Jan. 27 Politics & the Nation article “Maxwell seeks dismissal of sex abuse case, says grand jury lacked diversity”:

“Socialite” is defined as a “person well known in fashionable society who is fond of social activities and entertainment.” Does this definition describe Ghislaine Maxwell, the 59-year-old woman and Jeffrey Epstein’s longtime friend, who is on trial for allegedly enticing and transporting minors to engage in criminal sexual activity?

Socialites everywhere, when they stop partying, should be offended by association with this woman charged with recruiting and grooming young girls as sex toys for men.

Virginia Montecino, Odenton

One lawyer who isn't a shark

The Jan. 19 obituary “Divorce lawyer won with unorthodox tactics” referred to a telling item of Mark B. Sandground Sr.’s office decor — “the oil painting of a rat.” Many of us knew the work’s creator, the late Manon Cleary, longtime professor/chairman of the University of D.C.’s art department and a fine artist whose drawings and paintings appear in major collections. The painting hung with a series of Cleary’s monumental, exquisite rats in the 2006 retrospective I curated for the Washington Arts Museum. Cleary delighted in Sandground’s self-deprecating commission of this work she titled “Portrait of Mark.”   

Jean Lawlor Cohen, Chevy Chase

It's curtains for Trump

In his stunning Jan. 26 front-page photograph, Salwan Georges perfectly captured the history-making procession of the House impeachment managers through the U.S. Capitol. It was thrilling to see democracy in action as our representatives carried out their official duties. Viewing the scene from above, as Georges composed his photo, through the grand ruby and gold curtains drawn apart, presented a remarkable scene playing out in our beautiful, beloved U.S. Capitol.

Sidney Tishler, Rockville

Dig deeper to get 'the left' right

Slightly more than two weeks after right-wing insurrectionists stormed the Capitol and attacked a police officer with an American flag, The Post chose to present false equivalencies through a supposedly violent and fractured American left in the Jan. 24 Politics & the Nation article “Violent demonstrations signal a fractured left.” All the article actually delivered, however, was a lesson on the perils of lazy word choice. 

There have been notably few modern-day instances of violence associated with left-wing protests, marches or rallies — excepting cases in which violence has been used as a tool of suppression against protesters by militarized police forces. Technically, one can commit “violence” against a window or a wall. In a world full of real violence against real people, however, it would be wise not to blur the lines between a murderous riot and a peaceful protest in which some factions engage in looting and/or petty vandalism. The writers also promised to tell us of the fractured left. But we never learned what was meant exactly by “the left.” Not that anyone would realize it from articles such as this one, but there are, in fact, political ideologies outside the spectrum of Republican and Democrat. I venture to speak for many progressive politicos who ascribe to a public-good model of governance when I say: We are not the wayward left children of an ever-right-shifting Democratic Party. We are something else entirely. It’s beyond time we expanded our political vocabulary (and our political parties).

Reana Kovalcik, Washington

COYOTE's wily namer

Regarding the Jan. 27 obituary for Margo St. James, “An outspoken advocate for sex workers and their rights”:

In 1973, I was St. James’s housemate in Mill Valley during the founding of COYOTE — Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics — the organization she created to advocate the decriminalization of prostitution. The idea for the name COYOTE was the brainchild of St. James’s good friend, the author Tom Robbins. She was always proud and amused that Robbins had a hand in this groundbreaking endeavor. 

Rona Elliot, Los Angeles

Suspicious variance in variants' names

The Jan. 27 front-page article “Biden signs orders seeking to boost racial equity” twice referred to former president Donald Trump’s habit of calling the coronavirus the “China virus,” implying it was discriminatory. Yet, the same day, the editorial “Why the mutant viruses matter” referenced the South African, British and Brazilian variants. 

So when is it acceptable to refer to the virus from its country of origin? When it’s not China, or when it’s not being said by Trump? Or when it’s being described by The Post?

Lisa B. Ezell, Washington

The Windy City's portals to the City of Lights

In his Jan. 24 Great Works, In Focus column, “A masterpiece that will have you dodging raindrops in 19th-century Paris,” about Gustave Caillebotte’s painting “Paris Street, Rainy Day,” Sebastian Smee wrote that the painting “hangs at the Art Institute of Chicago, where it blasts away the company.” I would remind Smee that hanging on a hook in that same building is “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat.

Bill Tucker, Potomac Falls

Thanks to Sebastian Smee for beaming me up from a cold D.C. morning and onto the rainy and always beautiful streets of Paris! As a sailor, I’ve admired Gustave Caillebotte’s paintings of sailboats and canoes, but Smee’s insightful and magnetic review of “Paris Street, Rainy Day” had me multitasking: (1) reaching for my mask and car keys for a quick road trip to the Art Institute of Chicago (reopening soon) to see the work firsthand, and (2) checking on flights to Paris (unfortunately, coronavirus barred and shuttered). 

Coming back to earth, for now, I’ll reread the review, be transported to the City of Lights and dream of Paris’s eye candy in all directions. Again, thanks a million for giving me an uplifting and joyful day.

Bill Porter, Arlington

A world without a leader

At least nine times since Jan. 6, The Post has used the phrase “leader of the free world” in articles, editorials and columns to describe either former president Donald Trump or President Biden. The most recent was the Jan. 19 Metro article “ Howard drum line to join Harris on Inauguration Day .”

It is long past time to retire that phrase because political leaders and the populace in the free world haven’t followed Trump’s lead for a long time, and the insurrection on Jan. 6 will make it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for Biden to reclaim the mantle anytime soon. Only the Bolsonaros and Dutertes of the world are following the outgoing president, men not counted among leaders in the free world.

The free world is still coming to grips with the ongoing threat to U.S. democracy and the potential fallout beyond our borders. Our leadership in that space will be suspect for years to come.

Robert Becker, Washington

Big letters for a big lie

In his Jan. 24 front-page Fact Checker column, “As president, Trump made 30,573 false claims,” Glenn Kessler discussed the many false or misleading claims Donald Trump made as president. Kessler mentioned the “big lie” by Trump, who repeatedly called the 2020 presidential election a fraud. We know this was a blatantly false statement. Trump’s repeated claim of election fraud was the catalyst that led his followers in their insurrection at our Capitol on Jan. 6. 

This claim of fraud can no longer be referred to as the “big lie.” Small letters do not give this heinous rhetoric justice. The “Big Lie” will forever be remembered as Trump’s failed attempt to undermine the democracy of our country. These two words in capital letters will be etched in our history as a reminder to future generations of a flawed person who cared not for our nation but only for himself.

Sanford L. Taffet, White Plains, N.Y.

Wearing on readers' patience

 Let me see if I’ve got this right. We are in the grip of a worldwide pandemic in which the United States, with only 4 percent of the world’s population, has 20 percent of all deaths. We have a cratering (if not cratered) economy. Millions of Americans are unemployed. Racism abounds. Just weeks ago, we had an armed insurrection at our sacred Capitol. And I’ve only skimmed the surface of current crises.

So what does The Post devote almost an entire page to the day after Joe Biden was inaugurated? What women of power, intelligence and incredible accomplishment wore for his swearing-in [“Joe surrounded by amazing technicolor dreamcoats,” Style, Jan. 21].

Just what century does The Post think this is?

Jamie Ann Mastandrea, Burke

Hold women accountable, too

The Jan. 24 Washington Post Magazine article “This Must End” spanned half the magazine and featured 35 quotes from men (except one that was unsourced). Women, too, must be held accountable for the many danger signs that “we rationalized and ignored.” 

When the story is solely a close-up of one category of our country’s diverse leadership, this skewed reckoning marginalizes the diverse and courageous women and men who did resist on Capitol Hill, in front of the White House and far beyond. It was their fierce spirit, knowledge, networks, tireless dedication and perceptions of legitimate democratic leadership and institutions that enabled the pendulum to sweep back so rapidly toward democracy. 

The Post can potentially contribute toward nurturing inclusive and effective leadership as our country moves ahead to tackle intersecting crises, but first, the team should recognize that we all should be held to account and in ways that move us forward. 

Patti Petesch, Rockville

A spotlight on the White House

Regarding the Jan. 27 front-page article “Editor who led Post’s expansion is set to retire”:

Immediately after Donald Trump’s 2016 election, I heard Post Executive Editor Martin Baron speak to a group of worried citizens. How would The Post cover this president? He told us that the paper would have eight reporters on the White House beat full time, who would report the news relentlessly as they always did and continue to do their job. No drama, just hard work. 

His calm demeanor and his message were immensely reassuring, and, as we have seen, The Post’s team played a crucial role in uncovering what Trump hoped to keep secret. I appreciate Baron’s service to The Post and to our country, which helped me endure the past four years.

Deborah Ross, Bethesda

Read more:

Readers critique The Post: A chilling photo that provides an Orwellian reminder

Readers critique The Post: Capturing the content and context of the Capitol riot

Readers critique The Post: Don’t deceive us on the sixth great wave of extinction

Readers critique The Post: The real debates sparked by the Jill Biden op-ed

Readers critique The Post: It’s not ‘partisan gridlock.’ It’s a one-man roadblock.

Readers critique The Post: This Taylor Swift review missed the point

Readers critique The Post: Women are not a ‘novelty.’ Such language seems sexist.

Readers critique The Post: The Native American Veterans Memorial’s inexcusable omissions

Readers critique The Post: Some touching moments — alongside swings and misses

Readers critique The Post: Winners and losers all around

Readers critique The Post: Don’t plaster over Union Station’s classical beauty

More letters to the editor