Friday, August 13, 2004

COMING CLEAN AT THE WASHINGTON POST. A few observations about Howard Kurtz's front-page piece in yesterday's Washington Post about that paper's shortcomings in the run-up to the war in Iraq:

- The Post has less to come clean on than did the New York Times, which earlier this year published a mea culpa about its own gullible reporting on Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction. By contrast, the Post appears to have been more skeptical. Thus, though Kurtz's piece is certainly welcome, he doesn't document the kind of gross malfeasance committed at the Times, and especially by Ahmad Chalabi's favorite reporter, Judith Miller.

- What Kurtz mainly writes about is an imbalance: stories favorable to the administration were pretty much guaranteed page-one treatment, whereas those questioning White House claims were relegated to inside the paper. Given that, what I find shocking is that Walter Pincus's deeply skeptical reporting was given less emphasis than it should have been in part because he is apparently a lousy writer, and because the editors charged with whipping his copy into shape were overwhelmed by too much other work. Pincus's reporting was never more needed than it was during this period. The excuse that there was no one available to rewrite his stories is pathetic for a great newspaper.

- All hail Bob Woodward! Frequently criticized as a toady to those in power, Woodward - an assistant managing editor at the Post - not only comes across as someone who is genuinely anguished over the Post's tilt, but as Pincus's foremost advocate at a time when it mattered the most.

- Speaking of imbalance ... the Times published its "Editor's Note" inside the paper, whereas the Post published Kurtz on page one. Good for the Post. Like many Bostonians, I try to read the Times every day, but check out the Post's website only when there's something really important that I want to read. But this kind of transparency suggests there's something to the notion that the Post is on the upswing, whereas the Times is still struggling to re-establish its pre-eminence in the post-Jayson Blair, post-Howell Raines era. Josh Marshall wrote intelligently on this recently.

Overall, an excellent effort by Kurtz, and a great move by the Post's editors to put it on the front. The trouble is, the media always do a pretty good job of looking back. What will happen the next time?

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