Fred Hiatt | Media Matters for America

Fred Hiatt

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  • Did The Washington Post Just Violate Its Own Policy On Climate Science-Denying Letters?

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    The Washington Post published a letter to the editor by the Heritage Foundation’s Hans A. von Spakovsky that appears to directly violate the newspaper’s policy against publishing letters that deny the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change.

    In the June 29 letter, which took issue with a recent Post op-ed by Yale Law School Dean Robert Post, von Spakovsky asserted:

    [Robert Post] called global warming “perhaps the single most significant threat facing the future of humanity.” But human-induced global warming is unproven, not an undisputed fact.

    However, in 2013, the Post’s then-letters editor Michael Larabee told Mother Jones that the newspaper has a policy against running letters that flatly deny human activities are causing climate change. Larabee stated: “It's our policy as well not to run letters to the editor that are factually inaccurate, so we wouldn't publish a letter that simply says, 'there's no sign humans have caused climate change.' … That's a broad absolute that doesn't take into account the existence of large amounts of science indicating otherwise." Larabee is now the oped editor at the Post; Jamie Riley Kolsky is now the Post’s letters editor.

    Speaking to Media Matters in 2014, Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt said that climate science deniers would not be completely barred from the Post’s opinion pages. But Hiatt also reiterated that the Post seeks to avoid publishing letters that are “factually inaccurate,” which should certainly apply to von Spakovsky’s claim that “human-induced global warming is unproven.” At least 97 percent of climate scientists say that human activities such as burning fossil fuels are causing climate change, and scientists are as certain that human activities are driving global warming as they are that cigarettes can kill.

    To make matters worse, the Post also failed to disclose a glaring conflict of interest in von Spakovsky’s letter. The letter was a defense of ExxonMobil, which is currently under investigation by several attorneys general who are seeking to determine whether Exxon committed fraud by deliberately withholding truthful information about climate change from shareholders and the public in order to protect its profits. Yet the Post identified von Spakovsky only as a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, neglecting to mention that the Heritage Foundation has received almost $800,000 directly from Exxon since 1998.

    The letter by von Spakovsky also marked at least the fourth time that the Post has published the bogus claim the attorneys general investigating ExxonMobil for fraud are trampling the company’s First Amendment rights. If Exxon has indeed committed fraud, “its speech would not merit First Amendment protection,” as Yale’s Robert Post explained in his June 24 op-ed.

    UPDATE (7/7/16): Reached for comment over email, Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt told Media Matters:  

    Our policy hasn’t changed, but I do feel that when someone is mentioned, and especially in an unflattering way, in an article, we should lean toward allowing a response if space allows, and we should lean toward allowing the writer to say what he or she wants to say as far as possible within our bounds. In this case, the writer had been mentioned (in a June 24 oped by Robert Post); and the fact that the letter writer sides with what you describe as the 3 per cent of scientists, and wants to say that climate change is not an “undisputed fact,” is relevant to the argument that Robert Post was making. We thought it fair to let him express his view; useful to readers to understand the debate Robert Post was describing; and then fair to allow for further debate, as happened five days later with David Dunn’s July 4 letter, “Climate-change deniers are spreading a fraud.”

  • Media Ethicists Savage Wash. Post's "Troubling" And "Dishonest" Disclosure Standard For Writer/Lobbyist

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    The Washington Post claims that broadly disclosing that one of its opinion writers is a Republican lobbyist is sufficient even when he is advocating for positions that specifically benefit his firm's unmentioned clients, a standard media critics say is "troubling" and "dishonest."

    Ed Rogers writes conservative commentary for the Post's PostPartisan blog. Like many conservative columnists, he regularly criticizes environmental and energy regulations and the environmentalists who support them.

    But unlike those other columnists, Rogers has a massive conflict of interest: he is chairman of the lobbying firm BGR Group, whose clients benefit from the positions he espouses. While the Post discloses his position with the firm in the bio appended to his posts, it does not reveal BGR's specific clients and conflicts, even when they directly overlap with the subject matter of Rogers' writing.

    After Media Matters documented how Rogers' firm received more than $1.6 million last year from energy and transportation clients that benefit from positions he espoused in his columns, a Post spokesperson defended the practice, telling Media Matters via email, "His full-time lobbying job is in his bio on every single piece he writes." (Media Matters noted this in our original post on the matter.)

    Asked again why specific disclosures are not provided for pieces that support issues favorable to a certain client, the spokesperson did not respond. Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt did not respond to requests for comment.

    The Post's standard requires readers to search federal lobbying records to research if Rogers has clients that might be impacted by his commentary rather than proactively divulging the information.

    Media ethicists panned this policy and urged the paper to do more.

    "The burden is on The Washington Post," said Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker. He singled out Media Matters' report that Rogers had advocated building the Keystone XL pipeline without the Post disclosing that his firm represents Caterpillar, Inc., which would financially benefit from its construction. "If he is going to write about utilities or Keystone and he has clients with a stake in that, the Post should say that."

    "It fits a pattern that I find troubling," he added. "Which is that in the television world and in this world, it is cheap to have partisans on the air or write blog posts but when you have on someone talking about say Mitt Romney, does the viewer know that that person has a relationship with Romney? And the same thing here. Does the reader know that Rogers has clients that would benefit from Keystone, so therefore the issue becomes transparency."

    Kevin Smith, former ethics committee chair for the Society of Professional Journalists, agreed.

    "It's the same scenario repeated time and time again," he said. "When the Washington Post can't present a complete accounting of their writers' associations it goes beyond head scratching and speaks to dishonesty with their readers."

  • What Is George Will Hiding?

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    George Will has found himself in financial disclosure trouble several times in the past -- from failing to reveal his money connections to Wisconsin's conservative Bradley Foundation when citing their data to writing columns critical of former Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry's opponents without mentioning his wife worked for Perry's campaign.

    So when he appeared at a VIP dinner to kick off last weekend's Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Defending the American Dream summit, Media Matters was interested in whether he was paid for the appearance by the influential conservative political group backed by the powerful Koch brothers, as well as who paid for his travel and expenses. 

    But despite repeated attempts by Media Matters to get answers from Will, AFP, his syndicator, and others, nobody is talking. 

    Because Will routinely promotes Koch-supported candidates and policies in his syndicated column, several journalism ethicists raised concerns about his connection to the right-wing political group and urged that questions about payments for his appearance be answered given Will's prominence in the conservative movement and his past failure to disclose.

    "If Will does intend to write about Americans for Prosperity's agenda," and wants to behave ethically "he should have purchased a ticket to the dinner equal to the value of the meal (thus leaving nothing extra for the AFP's later lobbying use)," said Tom Fiedler, Dean of the College of Communication at Boston University and a former Miami Herald editor and political editor. "Of course, accepting an honorarium -- a payoff -- to attend the dinner would elevate the need for him to fully disclose all this if/when he would address AFP interests in a column."

    But finding out if Will was paid, how much and by whom, is not that easy.

    AFP Public Affairs Director Levi Russell said only: "He appeared and spoke with some of our supporters on Thursday night at a dinner, any of the speakers who come to our events, we don't discuss if they are paid or not."

    He later said, "You are free to ask him." But calls and emails to Will were not returned.

    Fred Hiatt, the Post's editorial page editor, said he did not know of Will's appearance fees, if any, and said he is not under the supervision of the editorial page since he is syndicated through the Washington Post Writers Group.

    "With regard to George Will: he is not a 'staffer,' as you describe, and Washington Post staff rules do not apply to him," Hiatt wrote in an email. "He is an independent columnist and we subscribe to his column through the Washington Post Writers Group. Questions about his dining or travel should be addressed to him. I have confidence that he will tell readers, as he does from time to time, when he has a conflict that is relevant to a column he is writing."

    The Washington Post Writers Group did not respond to an inquiry and no such information was provided by the Washington Speakers Bureau, with whom Will is contracted for outside appearances.

  • Washington Post Reverses Course, Adds Disclosure To Pro-Walker Columnist's Latest Piece

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    The Washington Post updated a piece from columnist Marc Thiessen to note his financial ties to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and indicated the need for better disclosure in future Thiessen columns on the 2016 presidential campaign, in response to inquiries from Media Matters.

    On September 1, the Post published a column from Thiessen criticizing the idea of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney running for president again in 2016. In the piece, Thiessen identified Scott Walker as one of several "successful governors" that would be a preferable candidate. Thiessen co-authored Walker's 2013 book, a fact the columnist has previously disclosed when writing about the governor for the Post but which went unmentioned in his latest column.

    Media Matters published a piece criticizing the Post and reached out to the paper's editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, who indicated that Thiessen's mention of Walker was "so glancing" that it did not warrant disclosure. But the Post subsequently reversed course, adding text to the column explaining, "Full disclosure: I co-authored a book with Walker." 

    Hiatt told Media Matters that he intends to meet with Thiessen to discuss the need for a "best approach" to disclosure in future columns touching on the 2016 presidential campaign.

    "You are right that he has disclosed the relationship with Walker whenever he writes about Walker. In this case the reference to Walker was so glancing that I didn't think the co-authorship needed to be re-disclosed," Hiatt said in an email. "But you ask a reasonable question, and as the campaign proceeds I will talk with Marc about what the best approach will be."

    The original lack of disclosure drew criticism from media ethicists who said leaving out the fact that Thiessen had co-authored a book with Walker is misleading to readers.

    "I think this kind of entanglement is unacceptable," said Edward Wasserman, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. "Where you don't know if a particular writer's column is a payback for favors done in the past or auditions for jobs sought in the future. The reader is not in a place to make any intelligent decisions based on the off-screen relationships. The fact that he is getting money off screen is just not compatible with that."

    As Wasserman suggested, Thiessen's extensive political career would make him a plausible hire in a Walker administration. The two have "developed a bond," according to the Post's own reporting.

    Kevin Smith, ethics committee chair of the Society of Professional Journalists, said such financial connections "widen an already large divide between the journalist and the public's right to be accurately and fairly informed." 

  • Why The Washington Post Is Running A Series Of Editorials On The "Existential Threat" Of Climate Change

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    The Washington Post is publishing a week of climate change editorials aimed at sparking action on what editorial page editor Fred Hiatt calls "an existential threat to the planet."

     In an interview with Media Matters about the ongoing series, Hiatt said that the Post views this as a moment "when the debate could begin to get unstuck." He believes that increasingly dire warnings from scientists about the threat of climate change and new regulations aimed at reducing carbon pollution could lead to new legislation on this issue. "So we wanted to encourage that process and also put forward as you'll see later in the week, a couple of approaches that we think would make a lot of sense and might at some point even be politically feasible."

    The series marks a major effort from an editorial page that has in the past been criticized by progressives for publishing misleading columns about global warming.

    "Over the long run it is an existential threat to the planet, I believe that, so you don't get much bigger than that," Hiatt said about the decision to run the week of editorials. "That doesn't mean that you can set aside other really big problems that are facing us today, but over time ... the longer we wait to do something about it, the greater the damage is likely to be and the more disruptive the response will be."

    Monday's first editorial lamented the faltering national debate on this issue, while today's offering explained why the country can't afford to "wait while the world warms."

    Among the potential solutions the paper is considering -- in an editorial slated for Wednesday -- is an effort to create some kind of carbon cap or permit fee, perhaps based on a proposal from Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), that would require utilities and others to pay a fee for levels of greenhouse gas emissions beyond a certain point.

    "We have consistently said that the best way to do this is to put in some way to put a price on carbon, you can do that with carbon tax, you can do that with a cap and dividend system and we'll talk a little bit about the relative merits," Hiatt said. "Somehow you need to put a price on the greenhouse gases that we emit into the atmosphere so that people have to pay for the damage they are doing and they have an incentive to invest in new approaches." 

    Hiatt cited editorial writer Stephen Stromberg as the "driving force" behind the series, which will run through Friday.

    "We've been talking about it for quite a while," he explained. "But whether to do it as an occasional series or all at once or call it a series or not call it a series we sort of probably decided on that a week or so ago."

    Hiatt agreed it is unusual for a newspaper to devote an entire week of editorials to one issue, but said climate change warrants the attention.

    "I've done this before, we did a big series on inequality maybe 10 years ago," he said. "I don't do it too often because I think it's asking a lot of readers who expect, they don't come to editorials for a long read. Every once in a while I think it makes sense and including as a way for us to say this is really an important issue, and one of the luxuries of an editorial page is we can write about stuff even if we don't have an immediate news peg."

  • EXCLUSIVE: NOW President Calls For George Will's Ouster After Rape "Victimhood" Column

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    The National Organization for Women is urging The Washington Post to drop George Will's column after he downplayed the prevalence of campus sexual assault and suggested some college efforts to curb it "make victimhood a coveted status." 

    Will has received harsh criticism over his June 7 syndicated column, in which he cited the response to "the supposed campus epidemic of rape, aka 'sexual assault'" as an example of how when colleges "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate."

    The column has drawn complaints from numerous women's rights groups and prompted National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill to call for Will's ouster Tuesday.

    "George Will needs to take a break from his column and The Washington Post needs to take a break from his column, they need to dump him," O'Neill told Media Matters in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. "It is actively harmful for the victims of sexual assault when that kind of man writes a piece that says to assault victims, 'it didn't happen and if it did happen you deserve it.' That re-traumatizes victims. I can't believe that Mr. Will has had this experience if he would put out such a hateful message."

    "We want him to back off and we want The Washington Post to stop carrying his column."

    O'Neill later added, "That is absolutely the kind of further attack on victims that just does such extraordinary harm ... The media blaming women for the horrific rape of violence against women and sexual assault it is really shameful."

    NOW's request follows a similar call for Will's departure from the women's rights group UltraViolet, which launched a petition drive to remove Will.

    Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt defended Will's column, issuing this statement to Media Matters:

    George Will's column was well within the bounds of legitimate debate. I welcomed his contribution, as I welcome the discussion it sparked and the responses, some of which we will be publishing on our pages and website. This is what a good opinion site should do. Rather than urge me to silence a viewpoint they disagree with, I would urge others also to join the debate, and to do so without mischaracterizing the original column.

    That debate has occurred on the Post's own website, which has published pieces criticizing the Will column from Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., as well as Post blogger Alyssa Rosenberg.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy And Washington Post's Move To The Right

    Blog ››› ››› JUSTIN BERRIER

    Jeff BezosThe announcement that The Washington Post is partnering with and hosting the conservative and libertarian-leaning blog The Volokh Conspiracy is evidence that the Post may be moving to the right in the wake of the paper's acquisition by Jeff Bezos.

    On January 21, The Washington Post announced that it had entered into a partnership with The Volokh Conspiracy, a blog that has operated since 2002 and largely focuses on legal issues but has strayed into other areas, including climate denialism. The Post praised the blog in its announcement of the agreement, calling it a "must-read source [that] will be a great addition to the Post's coverage of law, politics and policy." In his first official post, the blog's founder, Eugene Volokh, revealed that the Post granted him "full editorial control."

    The move was celebrated by right-wing media outlets such as the American Spectator, which praised Washington Post owner and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for highlighting a blog that provides legal commentary "from a [generally] libertarian or conservative perspective," writing, "Perhaps it should stand to reason that a man who made a fortune offering people choices, should offer the same alternatives to his readership. What a novel concept in today's news atmosphere." TownHall editor Conn Carroll cited the acquisition as evidence that Bezos was "clearly moving" the Post "in a libertarian direction."'s John Nolte also cheered the decision to host The Volokh Conspiracy, writing that it will "give the Post the sorely needed voices of legitimate conservatives, but unlike Klein the Volokh Conspiracy won't attempt to hide their ideology." 

  • Washington Post Will Fill Vacant Reader Rep Role, But Not Revive Ombudsman

    Former Ombuds Urge Return to "Truly Independent" Internal Reviewer; Hiatt Declines

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    After revealing this week that its reader representative had departed, The Washington Post confirmed Friday that there will be a replacement. But the paper made clear that it will not revive the popular ombudsman position that the reader representative supplanted last year.

    "We will not bring the ombudsman back," Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt said in an email. "We will continue to have someone in a reader rep role." He did not indicate when that person would be named.

    Hiatt said that while ombudsmen have made valuable contributions to the paper in the past, "we are in an era when we have to make difficult choices."

    The decision comes as former Post ombudsmen and others who hold similar jobs elsewhere urge the paper to bring back the ombudsman job, citing the need for independent reviews.

    "I think that's a mistake," Patrick Pexton, the last Post ombudsman, said this week about the prospect of not reviving the ombudsman job. "I said so when I left in March. I understand the arguments against having an ombudsman, but I don't agree with them."

    The newspaper allowed Pexton's contract to expire at the end of February 2013, ending the paper's decades-long tradition of employing an independent contracted ombudsman to critique the paper's reporting. Hiatt subsequently announced that the position would be replaced by a reader representative, a part-time position with less independence and more focus on reader views than internal investigation.

    He named Doug Feaver, a former Post editor who had retired in 2006, to the position. But this week Hiatt confirmed to Media Matters that Feaver had left the paper earlier than he was scheduled.

    As reader representative, Feaver reported to Hiatt and wrote columns that consisted mostly of reader comments about news issues, not the sort of commentaries on Post reporting that readers had come to expect from the paper's ombudsman.

    At the time of Feaver's appointment, Hiatt promised that Feaver would be able to fill the ombudsman's shoes.

    "While it's true Doug doesn't have the two-year contract that we traditionally gave ombudsman, to me that's not the main difference," Hiatt told Media Matters at the time. "Nobody who knows him will doubt that he will be totally independent in his judgment and that he will hold us all properly accountable."

    This accountability was absent from Feaver's published works. Of his 28 blog posts since April 5, 2013, 26 consisted of Feaver aggregating reader comments from Post articles and columns without additional commentary. The other two consisted of a piece declaring the paper free of any conflict of interest regarding the Post's Jerusalem correspondent and Feaver's first post chronicling the initial inquiries he had received in his position ("the biggest issue to come to my attention was the disappearing print button on the article pages of").

    "I looked at almost all of his blog posts," Pexton said. "Reading between the lines it seems his instructions probably included, or he chose himself, not to make any judgments and I think the key thing an ombudsman does is make judgments."

    Asked about Feaver's work at the paper earlier in the week, Hiatt said that in addition to his public platform, Feaver's job consisted of privately channeling reader questions and concerns to others at the paper ensuring they are responded to properly.

    Pexton said bringing back the ombudsman position would have given the Post "a little bit more credibility, they'd have a go-to source for readers if they are upset or concerned. I think that in this era of engagement, having a full time person engage with readers and the staff is crucial, it makes you more responsive, it makes you more credible."

    Andy Alexander, another former Post ombudsman, agreed that Feaver's job description did not go far enough.

    "What Doug did, even if he did it very well, was far different than what a truly independent ombudsman would do," Alexander said. "Anyone who served in the role of Post ombudsman would tell you that its value was that you were truly independent and you were empowered to really cover the Post as a beat. You functioned as a reporter who independently investigated the Post. A truly independent ombudsman is empowered to go into the newsroom and investigate, it goes beyond saying what is on readers' minds.

    Alexander pointed to new Post owner Jeff Bezos as someone who could make a difference, stating, "you have a new owner who has deep pockets. I would encourage them to re-instate the position of an independent ombudsman, I think that is the best way to represent the interests of readers."

    Asked Friday what he thought of the push for the ombudsman to return, Hiatt portrayed the position as a valuable asset, but nonetheless a luxury at a difficult time for the newspaper business.

    "I understand why Andy, Pat and others feel the way they do. I think our readers gained a lot from their contributions," Hiatt told Media Matters in an email. "But we are in an era when we have to make difficult choices. With two reporters inside the Post covering the media, including the Post, full time and many more critics writing about us from the outside, this seemed to us like one of the difficult decisions that make sense."

    Hiatt's suggestion that the decision was made at least in part for business reasons appears to contradict his statements in March 2013 that the termination of the ombudsman was "not a financial issue" but rather a deliberate move to reinvent the position for the benefit of readers.

  • Exclusive: Washington Post Reader Representative Departs, Replacement Unclear

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Less than a year after taking the newly created post of reader representative at The Washington Post, Doug Feaver has left the paper, Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt confirmed Wednesday.

    Feaver, who had served in other positions at the Post but retired in 2006, took the part-time job in March 2013. That announcement came one month after the paper had eliminated its ombudsman position, a mainstay at the paper for more than 40 years. 

    The Post's elimination of the ombudsman drew criticism at the time from former holders of the position and other media observers, who said that the ombudsman served a vital purpose as the only independent communication between readers and the newsroom.

    Unlike the ombudsmen, who worked on two year contracts, the reader representative was a paid staff member who served at the pleasure of the editorial page editor.

    In an email to Media Matters, Hiatt confirmed the departure of Feaver, saying that the reader representative had agreed to work for one year but had "moved the departure date up a bit for personal reasons."

    Hiatt added that the Post is still considering whether or how Feaver will be replaced, saying that Feaver's deputy, Alison Coglianese "may assume the role."

    Feaver, who had served in other positions at the Post prior to his appointment, took the job in March 2013, one month after the paper had eliminated the popular ombudsman position. Feaver's last column ran December 5.

    Feaver's appointment drew criticism at the time because it followed the elimination of the ombudsman, a contracted position that was given more independence to critique the paper.

  • Washington Post Replaces Ombudsman With Part-Time Employee Pulled From Retirement

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    The Washington Post's new reader representative, Doug Feaver, made clear when he was offered the position that he did not want it to be full time.

    And it appears he is getting his wish, according to Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, who said Feaver, a former Post editor who has been retired since 2006, will likely spend just two or three days a week on the job and have no set weekly column.

    Feaver replaces Patrick Pexton, who as Post ombudsman was hired on a two-year contract that allowed complete independence. The Post has had such an ombudsman for more than 40 years.

    "Doug will be part time and we've agreed that he'll kind of feel his way and figure out after some time how part time," Hiatt said Thursday, just hours after announcing Feaver had taken the job. "Right now, I'm sort of assuming it's two or three days a week. I've said to him 'If you find out it needs to be more, we're open to that, or if you find eventually we only need one person, I'm open to that,' I have huge confidence in Doug so I am kind of leaving it to him to figure out what's the best way to make the job work."

    Hiatt announced on Thursday that Feaver would be hired as a part-time employee and work with Alison Coglianese, a full-time staffer who had served as assistant to the Post ombudsman for years.

    Hiatt says that concerns that a reader representative employed by the Post will have less independence than the paper's traditional ombudsman are misplaced. 

    "While it's true Doug doesn't have the two-year contract that we traditionally gave ombudsman, to me that's not the main difference," Hiatt said. "Nobody who knows him will doubt that he will be totally independent in his judgment and that he will hold us all properly accountable."

    Feaver said he happened to get the job somewhat by accident, explaining that he was visiting Hiatt on another subject a week ago and Hiatt asked him about the position.

    "I was in to see Fred on an entirely unrelated matter and he said 'what would you think about this?' and I said 'that could be very interesting.' So that's how the conversation started," Feaver, 73, said. "We were just talking, within the past week. I told him when we started talking I wasn't the least bit interested in a full-time job."

    Asked why, Feaver added: "I've been retired, officially retired for the last several years and it was very nice to be asked to come back and do something. But it wasn't going to get into another one of these 60-hour week situations that I did for a long time."

    Feaver worked at the Post from 1969 to 2006, serving in jobs that included reporting and editing for the Metro, Business and National staffs, as well as executive editor of

  • Former Washington Post Ombudsmen: Cutting Position Would Be A "Big Mistake."

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Former Washington Post ombudsmen are speaking out against the paper's contemplation of eliminating that position, stating that it serves a vital purpose as the only independent communication between readers and the newsroom.

    The ombudsman, which is a contracted job with a defined term, has been a Post staple since 1970, making it among the longest-existing reader representative positions at a major daily newspaper.

    But Post officials say that the paper may cut the job when the current term of Ombudsman Patrick Pexton ends on March 1, 2013.

    "We haven't decided what we are going to do after Pat leaves," Fred Hiatt, the Post's editorial page editor, told Media Matters in an email. "I think it's important that the Post continue to be accountable and to offer readers a way to ask questions or lodge complaints and be confident they will be heard. I'm not sure that having an ombudsman whose primary focus is on writing a weekly column is the best way to achieve that goal."

    Hiatt has recently offered similar comments to Politico and the Washingtonian.

    The proposed shift did not sit well with several former Post ombudsmen, who stressed the paper's tradition of using the position to interact with readers and feared that the paper would try to save money by dropping the position.

    Andy Alexander, who held the job before Pexton, said eliminating the ombudsman would be a "terrible loss for Post readers."

    "And I'm afraid it would be widely interpreted, fairly or unfairly, as The Post using financial pressures or other reasons as a pretense to get rid of an internal critic," Alexander, currently a visiting professional at Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, said in an email. "From the outset, the role has been to provide readers with access to an independent agent empowered to investigate charges that The Post has not lived up to its high journalistic standards."

    "Certainly, the role of the ombudsman can and should evolve in the Digital Age," Alexander added. "It makes sense to continue to use new platforms to converse with readers. But there is a huge difference between an ombudsman who merely reflects what readers are saying, as opposed to an ombudsman who has the independence and authority to ask uncomfortable questions of reporters and editors and then publicly hold the newsroom to account."

    Asked about criticism of the Post from former ombudsmen concerned that the paper might eliminate the position, Hiatt said, "I value their opinion, of course, but I hope they'll wait to see what we do before forming final judgments. I also think the media world is quite different from what it was when the Post began hiring ombudsmen." 

  • George Will's "Ethically Challenged" Relationship With The Bradley Foundation

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    George Will's practice of citing groups funded by a conservative foundation -- without disclosing that he is a paid board member of that foundation -- brought sharp criticism from media ethicists and journalism veterans who say such a lack of disclosure is a breach of journalistic ethics.

    "Is there a problem here? Of course," said Ed Wasserman, Washington and Lee University journalism professor and a Miami Herald columnist. "Even though he is a committed conservative guy with strongly held principles, you still have the right to read his commentary as something that is independently arrived at rather than a reflection of a nexus of relationships and entanglements that he is embedded in."

    Will was elected to the Bradley Foundation board in 2008 and received the Bradley Prize in 2005. A Nov. 19, 2011, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story about the Bradley Foundation revealed Will received $250,000 for the Bradley Prize and still receives $43,500 annually as a board member.

    Media Matters reviewed Will's columns from mid-2008 to the present and found at least a dozen instances in which he has promoted conservative groups that have received money from the Bradley Foundation without disclosing his connection to the foundation. Those groups include the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and the Federalist Society, and National Affairs quarterly.

    Among the examples is an April 23, 2009 column citing the Heritage Foundation, in which Will writes: "The [Department of Education] could not suppress the Heritage Foundation's report that 38 percent of members of Congress sent or are sending their children to private schools."

    Media Matters found one column in which Will's Bradley Foundation ties were disclosed. In an August 20, 2009 column, he cited the Institute for Justice, which received Bradley Foundation funding. Will's connection was noted at the end of the piece.

    The disclosure initially incorrectly stated that Will was on the board of the MacArthur Foundation, rather than the Bradley Foundation. It said: "The writer is a member of the board of the MacArthur Foundation, which provides some funding for the Institute for Justice."

    The error was later corrected at the end of a subsequent column to read: "George F. Will is a member of the board of the Bradley Foundation and not the MacArthur Foundation, as was disclosed in a recent column on threats to freedom of speech."

  • "Steadfast, Protective And, At Times, Adoring": The Washington Post And Michelle Rhee

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    Last year, Washington Post education reporter Bill Turque made clear what he thought of how his paper's editorial board covered then-Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.

    In a blog post, Turque wrote that the Post's editorial support for Rhee had been "steadfast, protective and, at times, adoring."

    The item was quickly removed from the Post's website, but Turque is hardly alone in his views.

    Two of the Post's journalists covering education recently shared with Media Matters their own concerns about the way the paper's editorial page has covered Rhee.

    Jay Mathews, a 40-year Post scribe who writes the Class Struggle blog and a weekly column, pointed to editorial writer Jo-Ann Armao's coverage of recent allegations of potential cheating on standardized tests. Mathews noted that Armao is his former boss and praised her work on education in general, but he said that on the testing issue, he could not "understand why her reporting instincts have failed her." Mathews criticized what he called Armao's "failure to address seriously what seems to me are problems that cannot be overlooked," later adding, "Her failure to see that, I find troubling and puzzling given my great respect for her as a person and a journalist."

    Valerie Strauss, who pens the Post's Answer Sheet blog, told Media Matters:

    "I didn't agree with very much of the editorial stance when it came to the Rhee era. But certainly, as an editorial board, it had a right to take a stand and stick to it. That's what editorial boards do." She added, "There were times when they could have been more critical, they could have looked harder and been more even-handed about how they presented information."

    Rhee's tenure at the helm of D.C.'s schools -- from 2007 to 2010 -- was contentious. She implemented a controversial reform program designed to improve achievement. She angered some parents and education officials and fired hundreds of teachers. (Rhee reportedly once invited a PBS camera crew to film her firing a principal.)

    Rhee had something to show for her work -- gains in student achievement. The Post editorial page -- along with other Rhee supporters -- has pointed to rising test scores as evidence of her success.