12
Sep
2005

Letter to Washington Post ombudsman

From Media Matters for America

September 6, 2005

Dear Mr. Getler:

I am writing to express my deep concern over the recent use of a dishonest anonymous source by The Washington Post. As you have surely become aware, on September 4, the Post printed an article titled "Many Evacuated, but Thousands Still Waiting; White House Shifts Blame to State and Local Officials." In the article, an anonymous "senior Bush official" sought to dismiss criticism of the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina by contending falsely that "[a]s of Saturday [September 3], [Louisiana Gov. Kathleen] Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency."

The Post was responsible enough to print a correction to the original article, pointing out that, in fact, Blanco declared a state of emergency on Friday, August 26 -- before the hurricane made landfall -- though the correction did not note that the error occurred because the Post relied on a "senior Bush official" who provided false information. Nonetheless, I believe this incident raises serious questions the Post needs to address.

The use of anonymous sources has come under attack from many quarters in recent weeks. We at Media Matters for America are not among those who contend that anonymous sources should never be used. To the contrary, we fully understand that anonymous sources are often vital to uncovering stories that those with power do not want told.

In this case, however, the Post reporter's reliance on an anonymous source defies reason. The statement made by the anonymous source was an assertion of fact that could have been easily refuted.

Blanco's declaration was widely reported at the time it was made, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune reprinted an August 27 letter from Blanco to President Bush in which she noted that she had declared the state of emergency. That the Post allowed itself to be the conduit by which "a senior Bush official" delivered a political attack -- the accuracy of which could have been determined quickly and on the record -- is unconscionable. [...] Read the whole thing at //mediamatters.org/items/200509060009


© Virginia Metze
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