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From AJR,   August/September 2005  issue

The Post Backs Off   

But it never should have gotten itself involved with the Pentagonís Freedom Walk in the first place.


By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      

What was the Washington Post thinking?

How could it seriously consider, let alone commit to, cosponsoring an event sponsored by the Pentagon? Last time I checked, the Post covered the Pentagon.

What's next, teaming up with the White House?

In announcing that the paper was bailing out of Freedom Walk, an event planned for next month to honor both the victims of 9/11 and American troops in Iraq, Post spokesman Eric Grant--presumably with a straight face--said that "there seemed to be an increased possibility that the event could become politicized."

Let's see, a Bush administration rally linking the utterly disconnected terror attacks and the administration's very own war in Iraq, featuring country singer Clint Black, of "Iraq and I Roll" fame--that didn't sound a little political from the get-go?

It's particularly ironic that it's the Post, of all papers, that got itself involved in this mess. This is the same Post whose executive editor, Len Downie, is so concerned about being nonpartisan that he famously doesn't vote.

The Newspaper Guild, which is to be commended for urging the Post to cut its ties to Freedom Walk, pointed out that the paper's staffers "are subject to disciplinary action for participating in political activities that may be perceived as revelatory of personal opinions or bias."

As the Guild suggested, the paper itself should be held to these eminently sensible standards.

There's another reason the Post should have stayed away. This is a paper whose editorial page campaigned as lustily for the war in Iraq as the most redblooded of neocons. This, of course, is a war launched on what turned out to be a totally bogus rationale--that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

As for news coverage in the run-up to the war, the Post hardly covered itself with glory. While the fury of the antiwar crowd has been concentrated on jailed New York Times reporter Judith Miller, the Post--like the rest of the news media--published no shortage of overly credulous stories on WMD.

At the same time, it gave short shrift to pieces poking holes in the administration's case. In his dissection of his own paper's shortcomings on the issue, Post media writer Howard Kurtz quotes Pentagon reporter Thomas Ricks as saying, "The paper was not front-paging stuff. Administration assertions were on the front page. Things that challenged the administration were on A18 on Sunday or A24 on Monday."

So if I'm a Washington Post executive, I'm not sure I'd want my paper too closely linked to an event whose headliner proclaims:

Now it might be a smart bomb,
They find stupid people too.
If you stand with the likes of Saddam,
Well one might just find you.

It's good that the paper--barraged by criticism, some from its own newsroom--finally saw the light. It's a shame it wasn't thinking more clearly from the start.