Monday, August 16, 2010

Washington Post takes its eye off the brawl

One of the odder pieces of verbal tap dancing that has crossed my retinas lately is by Andrew Alexander, the (or a) ombudsman for the Washington Post. (Ombudsman: "a person who investigates and attempts to resolve complaints and problems, as between employees and an employer or between students and a university.") He asks:

"Brawl on the Metro: Where was the coverage?"

The item describes the Post's minimalist reporting on a, you know, a … sensitive event.
… When a large brawl broke out in the Metro system on a recent Friday night, it seemed a perfect chance to show local readers that The Post is their indispensable source for news. The fracas occurred near midnight on Aug. 6, and authorities said it involved as many as 70 people. It started at the Gallery Place Station and continued to the L'Enfant Plaza Station.
Throughout Saturday, it was among the most-viewed stories on the Web site, signaling intense reader interest. But as the day wore on, some readers grew frustrated that there was nothing more.
As Alexander acknowledges, Post readers might have been a scrap curious about a big-time "fracas" at two of the capital city's major Metro stations. But the paper was economical with further details.
Promoted on the front page and tucked at the bottom of Sunday's Metro section, it didn't answer key questions: What caused the fighting? Were the people who were injured participants or bystanders? Was Metro beefing up security?

Why such thin coverage? Much of the explanation is that The Post responded with too little, too late.

Even an ombudsperson for the Washington Post should know that "too little, too late" is not an explanation. After shuffling around for a few paragraphs about weekend staffing, Alexander finally gets to the point.

Pierre [editor] also worried about hyping a story that involved race. Although The Post's coverage on and after Sunday did not specify the racial makeup of those involved, many readers assumed they were black and offered racially insensitive online comments. "So ghetto," read one. Another urged ending "all welfare benefits for parents whose little animals cause this type of mayhem."

When The Post finally produced a more substantive story for Monday's paper, Pierre believes it was given too much prominence, even though it included eyewitness descriptions of multiple fights and bedlam as people tried to escape the pandemonium. The Post "overplayed it," said Pierre. "It was a fight on the Metro. Kids get into fights."

So part of the explanation for the petite coverage was racial. As Obamabudsperson says, "Although The Post's coverage on and after Sunday did not specify the racial makeup of those involved, many readers assumed they were black." Assumed? Well, was the assumption wrong? Neither the original story nor the so-called "more substantive story" in the Post, that "indispensable source of news," tells us. All we learn is that a brawl involving some 70 "youths" was just a generic fight.

"It was pandemonium," said Hay, who had traveled to the District from Charles County with her husband, sister-in-law, 25-year-old niece with special needs and two grandnieces, 11 and 14.

"We were pushing our kids out of the way, trying to plaster ourselves against the wall so nobody would hurt us. There were five fights right in front of us. . . . Metro is very accessible but not safe all the time. I don't know if I would ride it again in non-rush hours." … Five people hurt in the fight and ensuing crush were taken to hospitals, a Metro spokeswoman said, and an unknown number of others were injured.

No big deal. Hot-time, summer-in-the-city stuff. Move along.

Our fearless, impartial, probing readers' advocate Alexander is the same kind of weenie as the Post editors he mildly criticizes. It's too bad the paper didn't give it a little more play, a little sooner, but he understands why they didn't. The subject is sensitive. The Post is sensitive. He's sensitive. Some of the Post's commenters are so insensitive. Whatever happened to midnight basketball?



Marcus said...

Re: an unrelated post a few weeks back on the gold ETF GLD, below is a link to a powerful, very insightful interview with Ben Davies, a hedge fund manager in London who explains in 20 minutes or less the dangers of GLD and SLV. You can also find a presentation his firm put together for institutional investors of why the precious metals ETF's are such bad and dangerous investments.

Anyway, you're on a roll when it comes to politics and sociology. Enjoying the writing - keep it up.

Best Regards - "Marcus Marcellus"

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to midnight basketball?
Maybe it has become midnight football...

Rick Darby said...


Thanks, I'll check those links out.

I sold my GLD position for a decent profit. Recently took a much smaller portion, strictly for a trade.


Or midnight bash-it ball.

David said...

Journalism in America basically ended with the movie "All the President's Men" in 1976. Since then, the field has been dominated by people who want to "make a difference" by controlling public perceptions rather than just reporting what happened.

Speaking of Metro...the preliminary NTSB report on last year's Metrorail crash is out, and it is devastating. There appears to be something seriously wrong with the management of this entity.

Rick Darby said...

Journalism in America basically ended with the movie "All the President's Men" in 1976. Since then, the field has been dominated by people who want to "make a difference" by controlling public perceptions rather than just reporting what happened.

Which we see exactly here. The Post decided it was nobody's business what the racial makeup of the brawlers was — "that's for us to know and you not to find out."

It then, through its ombudsman, turned around and boxed the ears of readers who assumed blacks were heavily represented — even though
the paper never actually denied that was true or presented contrary facts.

So the Post damned its own readers, not for assuming wrongly, but for assuming anything about information the Post withheld.

And the mainstream media bitch and moan because they don't get unquestioning trust like in the good old days.

eh said...

This kind of crap used to piss me off (it still does to a large extent), so I would write letters/email to the byline person or the editor about it. But it didn't do any good, so I gave that up -- a complete waste of time. These people have control of the media, and they have an agenda, one which they sincerely believe is in the wider interest of society. So they will pursue that agenda, regardless.

Coloring the News

Rick Darby said...


I applaud William McGowan … but honestly, I don't think Coloring the News will make a dime's difference. Others, notably Bernard Goldberg, have written similar studies.

The running dogs of mainstream journalism are arrogant beyond belief as well as deep-dyed ideologues. They need to be tarred and feathered. The whole sick nest of contemporary journalism must be made irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

As a child of knee-jerk liberals, I was raised on that miserable newspaper and it still basks in the "glory" of purported journalistic heroes Woodward and Bernstein. The "Metro" section was long ago ceded to blatant black pride and grievance, and it is common knowledge that suited bureaucrats commuting to the suburbs do not ride the Metro at midnight and do not brawl in public. Along with the black thugs with nightsticks at a voting place, so too these savages have been deemed non-newsworthy in the interests of racial harmony. Please, people - do not go to D.C. (I escaped decades ago), do not ride the Metro, and keep your tax dollars in your pockets. If you buy a paper from a local stand, grab two or three more for free and trash them. Let's hasten the Post's demise in the interests of a Green America.