Despite past Froomkin criticisms, Post ombudsman Howell claimed washingtonpost.com's "Red America" controversy is outside her jurisdiction

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

Responding to readers inquiring about the controversy surrounding washingtonpost.com's recently resigned Republican activist blogger Ben Domenech, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell refused to comment on the matter, claiming that the Post and washingtonpost.com are separate entities "under totally different management." But in December 2005, Howell did comment on washingtonpost.com, characterizing blogger Dan Froomkin's online-only "White House Briefing" column as "highly opinionated and liberal." Further, if Howell's jurisdiction as the Post's ombudsman does not encompass the Washington Post website, as she suggests, then who is the ombudsman for washingtonpost.com?

Responding to readers inquiring about the controversy surrounding washingtonpost.com's recently resigned Republican activist blogger Ben Domenech, who wrote the website's Red America weblog, Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell refused to comment on the matter, claiming that the Post and washingtonpost.com are separate entities "under totally different management." According to Howell: "If you want to complain to the right person, try" contacting James M. Brady, the executive editor of washingtonpost.com. Howell's refusal to discuss the Domenech controversy raises two important questions: First, why did Howell suggest she could not comment on issues regarding washingtonpost.com when, in December 2005, she characterized washingtonpost.com blogger Dan Froomkin's "White House Briefing" column -- which appears only on the Post's website -- as "highly opinionated and liberal" and agreed with some at the paper that Froomkin's column should be renamed? Second, if Howell's jurisdiction as the Post's ombudsman does not encompass the Washington Post website, as she suggests, then who is the ombudsman for washingtonpost.com?

Though washingtonpost.com carries articles that appear in the print edition of the paper, as well as other content, it is operated separately from the newspaper by a subsidiary within The Washington Post Co. called Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive.

In announcing Domenech's resignation on March 24, Brady cited allegations that Domenech had plagiarized material he had written for other publications and websites.

According to Americablog.com, Howell's e-mail response to readers who wrote to her about Red America was as follows:

The Washington Post has not hired him. The website has. The two are under totally different management. He will not be working for the newspaper. If you want to complain to the right person, try executive.editor@wpni.com.

Deborah

But, as Media Matters for America has noted, Howell showed no such reticence in commenting in a December 11, 2005, column on a controversy at the Post over what she described as Froomkin's "highly opinionated and liberal" daily washingtonpost.com column. She also said that she agreed with Post writers who argued that the name of Froomkin's column -- "White House Briefing" -- should be changed to prevent readers from thinking that Froomkin is a White House reporter for the Post. Indeed, the Post's decision to launch Red America and hire Domenech presumably grew out of criticism of Froomkin's "liberal" column, a label obviously endorsed by Howell. Her claim now that she is not the "right person" to whom complaints about Domenech should be directed appears to reflect a double standard -- she'll respond to complaints about the "liberal" blogger who appears only on washingtonpost.com, but not about the partisan Republican, who might also be a plagiarist.

Further, Howell's email reply seems at odds with comments she reportedly posted to the Post's internal message board. As noted by the website MediaBistro's FishbowlDC weblog, in offering "some FAQ [frequently asked questions] on how I operate," Howell stated that she doesn't "blow off Post website readers if they have good points":

Q. Do you answer all e-mail?

A. No, I'd be further behind than I always am. I try to answer all local e-mail from Post subscribers. I also get increasing amounts of e-mail for the website and forward it, though I don't keep a pending file. I also don't blow off Post website readers if they have good points.

Moreover, if it is Howell's position that she cannot comment on content outside The Washington Post -- unless, apparently, the content concerns a "liberal" blogger -- does washingtonpost.com have its own ombudsman to whom readers can direct their concerns?

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Deborah Howell
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