Wash. Post ombudsman responds to Media Matters

The Washington Post ombudsman has responded to a recent Media Matters item.

Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell responded via email to a recent Media Matters for America item: “I did not say that I endorsed printing misleading or false statements. I would never do that. I said that she was giving the administration's point of view. Either take that off your site or print my side of this.”

In fact, Howell said, “It was clear if you read the story that she was simply giving the administration's point of view as well as others.” Media Matters agrees that Linzer gave the administration's point of view. The problem is that, contrary to Howell's assertion, Linzer presented only the administration's point of view -- and that point of view is highly misleading, at best. This isn't even “he said, she said” reporting with the juxtaposition of correct and incorrect assertions, without any indication of which is correct. It's simply “he said.”

The following facts are not in dispute:

1) Linzer reported that “President Bush and his advisers ... have said Congress was repeatedly consulted.”

2) There is ample evidence that Congress was not repeatedly consulted.

3) Linzer did not include any reference to this evidence or quote or paraphrase anyone who disputed Bush's claim; nor did she indicate, in any way, that the claim may not be true or unanimously agreed-upon. She simply reported the misleading claim by Bush and his advisers without including any contradictory information.

4) Linzer and Howell defended Linzer's decision not to include any information, quotes, or paraphrases rebutting the misleading claim.

In defending Linzer and calling Media Matters' complaint “weak,” Howell did endorse the printing of misleading statements without rebuttal -- regardless of whether that's what she said she was doing.

In yet another email, received as this item was being edited, Howell elaborated:

I have not endorsed printing misleading or false claims. Newspapers ask for all sides of a question or an issue and issues don't always get addressed fully in every story. This is an issue addressed in multiple stories. Please take that misleading and false headline off your site.

This presumably means that, if Linzer reports that the Bush administration says “2+2=7,” readers may have to wait for an article in a subsequent edition of the Post to learn that the administration's contention is disputed by ample evidence that 2+2 is, in fact, 4.