Last week, I contacted the Washington Post’s ombudsman Andrew Alexander with a series of questions about the offensive Pat Oliphant cartoon which recently ran in the Post, including how many complaints they had received, why they had not reported on the ensuing controversy and what polices if any the Post considered in deciding to run it. He promptly responded, “The Oliphant cartoon has been removed from washingtonpost.com. I received about 8-10 complaints.” As to my other questions, he invited me to contact the Post’s managing editor Raju Narisetti. I did so immediately. I posed these questions:
1.Does the Post have any standards/guidelines which were considered in determining to run the cartoon? Were they followed in this instance?
2.Why then was the cartoon removed from the website?
3. Do the editors have comment on the reaction that this was not mere criticism but actually anti-Semitic?
4. The NY Post apologized for the ape cartoon following a public outcry. Does the Post intend to offer any public apology or defense?
5. Is there a reason why the Post did not cover the controversy which it generated and/or the outcry from the Jewish community?
He never responded. Instead I received this response from Kris Coratti, Director of Communications:
Syndicated cartoons are not chosen by the editors at washingtonpost.com. They are posted through an automatic feed. We removed the specific cartoon in light of the comments we received, which we thought were well-grounded. We are also reviewing our procedures to ensure that syndicated content on our website receives appropriate editorial review.
I asked her to respond to the balance of my questions, specifically numbers 3-5. I have received no response.
So on the positive side the Post seems to have recognized the error of their ways in running the cartoon. However, the refusal to offer a public apology as the New York Post editors did or to cover the fallout from their own misjudgment is disappointing to say the least. This is the sort of thing that, if attempted by a politician, would surely bring scorn from the Post. Although the Post’s editors appear chastened by the experience and their action in removing the cartoon from the website is encouraging, one wonders why they have not been candid about their error and forthcoming about their policies.
Coincidentally, Alexander devotes his weekly to the subject of transparency, writing:
Newspapers demand accountability and transparency from the institutions they cover. But when it comes to The Post, one of the world’s best-known media institutions, the attitude seems to be: Good for thee, but not for me.
The Post keeps its journalistic policies largely hidden, making it virtually impossible for readers to know the paper’s ethical and journalistic standards.
I couldn’t have said it any better.