Monday, January 23, 2006

The WaPo Deborah Howell/Ombudsman Flap

While Deborah Howell continues to defend herself against the storm of protest caused by her Jack Abramoff article, it’s interesting to re-read two WaPo articles. But first, the obligatory explanation paragraphs: Deborah Howell is the new (as of October 23, 2005) ombudsman at the Washington Post. On Thursday, January 19, 2006, WaPo Executive Editor Jim Brady turned off the reader comments feature. He said the comments had become personal and abusive attacks against Howell because of her January 15th article about Jack Abramoff. One sentence in Howell’s column set off the firestorm: “(Lead WaPo reporter Susan) Schmidt quickly found that Abramoff was getting 10 to 20 times as much from Indian tribes as they had paid other lobbyists. And he had made substantial campaign contributions to both major parties.” When Howell tried to back-and-fill in her next column and wrote that what she should have said is that Abramoff “directed” the Indian tribes to make contributions to both major parties, it only served to intensify the protests. Howell’s scenario is not a likely Abramoff tactic. Plus, her job is to ameliorate not infuriate. The word ombudsman originated in Scandinavian countries. It comes from the Old Norse “umbodh”. The “um” means “regarding,” and the “bodh” is “command”. An ombudsman typically is a person “who investigates complaints and mediates fair settlements, especially between aggrieved parties such as consumers or students and an institution or organization.” The two above-mentioned WaPo articles are 1) “Howell to Become Next Post Ombudsman” by WaPo staff writer D’Vera Cohn on February 25, 2005; and 2) Howell’s first WaPo column, “Who I Am -- and What I Hope to Do” on October 23, 2005. The advance hype about who Deborah Howell was and what she would do at WaPo are a far cry from who and what she turned out to be. Cohn said February 25, 2005, “Deborah Howell, the Washington bureau chief and editor of Newhouse News Service, was named ombudsman of The Washington Post yesterday, a job in which she will serve as independent critic of the newspaper on behalf of its readers.” Cohn also said, “Howell, 64, is a veteran of the news business who is active in national journalism organizations and has described herself as ‘feisty and aggressive’”. Cohn said Howell “also oversees Religion News Service and the Newhouse Minority Scholarship Program.” Oh, and she was born in Texas. In her first column on October 23rd, Howell said, “I took the job, leaving a company (and its owners, the Newhouse family) I loved, because I believe I can use a lifetime of journalism experience to deal with many of the perilous issues faced by newspaper journalism, the journalism that I know and love best. “Another reason is that I care about readers -- all kinds of readers. I read at least three, and sometimes more, newspapers a day; I started reading newspapers as a kid and wish we had more young readers today. The Post is a fine newspaper, and this region is lucky to have newspaper owners willing to spend the money it takes in a tough economy to provide deep local, national and international coverage -- as well as to support an independent ombudsman.” But in her WaPo column Sunday, January 22, 2006; she said, “To all of those who wanted me fired, I'm afraid you're out of luck. I have a contract. For the next two years, I will continue to speak my mind.” Yo, Deborah Howell: You were not hired to be a WaPo Op/Ed columnist speaking your mind and spewing forth subjective views and opinions. You were hired to be objective and to be “an independent critic of the newspaper on behalf of its readers”. Howell says she’s tough and thick-skinned. Wrong. She’s bitchy, thin-skinned, defensive and worst of all, she whines. And when she says she’s got a contract and suggests she cannot be canned, she is also deluded. If Deborah Howell becomes an albatross around the neck of the Washington Post, watch how quickly the WaPo legal department finds a loophole just big enough to shove Deborah Howell and her contract through and onto the newspaper writers' ever-expanding Persona Non Grata list. On Sunday, Howell said, “Keep smiling. I will.” I sincerely doubt that.

1 comment:

Barry Schwartz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.