Ombudsman Column

An interesting column by Post ombudsman Deborah Howell today on the relationship between the paper and the web site.

By Jim Brady |  December 11, 2005; 11:53 PM ET  | Category:  Content
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I find Froomkin's column excellent reading. The amount of detail is impressive, not to mention enlightening. If his opinion is revealed ... I have no problem with that. Should I disagree, I can click my mouse and change the subject. The web is fairly bursting with opinions of every stripe.

Bounteous thanks to the for providing such stimulating, uncensored, truthful reporting.

Use any title or disclaimer you wish, just send us more Froomkin!!

Posted by: Sofiea | December 12, 2005 02:41 PM

In my opinion, Froomkin's column is the best thing on the Washington Post website. Since it is clear that White House Briefing is an online only column, I never assumed that Froomkin was part of the MSM staff.

Ms. Howell's suggestion that the title be changed seems like sour grapes and jealousy since she also admits that it is popular.

Posted by: gaylehal | December 12, 2005 03:07 PM

I read Froomkin's column daily. I have found that it often compares and contrasts so-called liberal and conservative newspapers, reporters, bloggers and sources. I do not object to Mr. Froomkin's personal opinion seeping through when he provides the source so that I can look and make up my own mind. The ombudsperson's viewpoint seems needlessly antagonistic. I made no indecorous assumptions about the column's name: "White House Briefing."

Posted by: Warren Jasper | December 12, 2005 03:51 PM

Froomkin is the only reason I read this website. If one is intelligent enough to browse and read thru post, you should grant him/her the benefit of the doubt that he/she is also capable enough to know from his writings that Froomkin is not a WH reporter. I find Ms. Howell's suggestion insulting to our intelligence.

Posted by: Mulu Geta | December 12, 2005 04:27 PM

> "The title invites confusion.
> It dilutes our only asset -- our
> credibility"

Printing Karl Rove's words verbatim as a "senior Administration official" does not diminish the WaPo's credibility? But talking about the gaps (nay, chasams) in the White House reporting does?



Posted by: Cranky Observer | December 12, 2005 05:03 PM

i sign on to this website daily for only one reason - Dan Froomkin. Perhaps Ms. Powell can focus her attention on what Mr. Woodward is doing to the credibility of this paper instead of disparaging the best column on the website.

Posted by: zepgrrl | December 12, 2005 06:01 PM

Seems to me that, from Deborah Howell's complaints, I can't tell if it's her or someone else at the Post that desperately wants Scott McClellan's job. Given the obsequiousness with which many of the Post's (and other major paper's) writers have treated this corrupt administration, I find Howell's remarks downright silly. Is it possible that some of the Post's White House reporters are afraid that Froomkin might just jeopardize their treasured "access" to power unless he's reined in? Howell might try complaining a little less on behalf of Karl Rove and exhorting her colleagues a bit more to do their jobs as the First Amendment enabled them.

Posted by: punpirate | December 12, 2005 06:10 PM

Reading thru the _hundreds_ of supportive and positive posts for Froomkin... I saw one that you should seriously consider.

Rename your paper: The White House Post

Posted by: Richard | December 12, 2005 06:40 PM

I can't get through the week without Mr. Froomkin.

Here's a copy of the feedback I sent to the Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell. I'm glad to post it here since the volume of mail received by Ms Howell will likely rule out any acknowledgement of her receiving my comments


Before my beef about your Sunday 'Ombudsman' article in 'Outlook' today (Dec. 11 2005), I'd like first to say I enjoy reading the Ombudsman column immensely. Some stories I don't focus on 100%, most are well worth the read to understand better how the WaPo runs.

Today I learned much of what I enjoy (online) isn't Washington Post at all! The story about the two Posts was fascinating. I live in the DC area (Beautiful Fauquier County) so I enjoy the print version of the Post 7 days a week. I am also an avid reader of the online Post (which I learned today was WPNI).

I'm sure there were a few other Post 'junkies' who learned that for the first time as well.

Well, now to the beef - it's actually not a particularly large beef. As I was reading the two posts article and you mentioned 3-4 folks writing for WPNI exclusively I was thinking - "Hey! What about Froomkin?". My reaction was such because frankly, I'd not recalled the names of WPNI folks you listed first. But then you devoted several paragraphs to Dan Froomkin and I was very pleased to read he got recognition.

Froomkin is amazing. I hit his byline impatiently several times a day awaiting a new daily fix of his stuff. The time he took a few days off he provided his readers with a treasure trove of his online sources - left and right wing blogs, as well as impartial sites,

End of Froomkin story :). The beef boils down to the bizarre tag at the end of the story about Dan's column 'should remove the White House Briefing' from his columns title. Say Whaaa??? I'm not sure how that follows from what you expressed as WaPo editors being 'afraid' people would assume Dan is a Post White House reporter. I don't want to take this email into the gutter of modern political discourse (sure I do ;), but let me try this angle: If any reader is stupid enough to think Froomkin is a WH reporter for the Post, the Post shouldn't concern itself with that reader.

I was flabbergasted by the incongruous conclusion to an otherwise excellent information sharing column.

I told you it wasn't a big beef!

Keep up the good work.


Calvin [~]


Posted by: Calvin | December 12, 2005 06:41 PM

if "unbiased" reporters did their job by asking the same sorts of questions of the White House that Dan poses in his column (for example follow up questions on Bush's comment to bomb Al Jazeera instead of asking if he is going to show up in Texas for jury duty) maybe your reporters would garner the respect that many of your readers have for Dan Froomkin. Having Bob Woodward on your payroll and then writing an article on how Mr. Froomkin hurts your credibility just shines an enormous spotlight on the obvious hypocrisy of your paper.

Dan Froomkin and Helen Thomas should be awarded a journalistic "Medal of Courage"

Posted by: Chris | December 12, 2005 07:38 PM

Froomkin is the best thing in the Washington Post. Just leave White House Briefing alone. If you are concerned about credibility, perhaps you should can Woodward.

Posted by: Cleter | December 12, 2005 07:46 PM

Ms. Howell -- Have you noticed that nobody much cares about what you wrote (as evidenced by the paucity of comments here), but people care VERY much about Froomkin (see the scores of comments at his column) and VERY VERY much about Harris' signaling that he is going to take Froomkin down -- if not immediately, then when he thinks nobody is looking. Over 200 comments there, UNANIMOUSLY in favor of Froomkin and against Harris (and you).

Can you sit still for a minute and think about the implications of nobody wanting to talk to you after what you posted?

Posted by: Disgusted | December 13, 2005 02:45 AM

This is ridiculous, at least Froomkin checks his facts which is more than I can say for your subscriber section of the WAPO. You let a Howie Kurtz run rampant with White House talking points that he never checks, you have your "premier" Robert Woodward who is so far in bed with this White House he provides nothing but pillow talk and the Washington Post itself. Mr. Froomkin has been able to return some of the credibility that the Washington Post has thrown down the drain.

Don't worry so much about people Ms. Howell, millions of us were smart enough to know the election of 2000 was a theft, smart enough to know the Voting Machine companies are playing with our votes, smart enough to know we were being lied to about Iraq and continue to be lied to, we are absolutely smart enough to know what the "Washington Post" would consider their "true" Washington Beat and what is an oasis in the Post that provides relief from the insanity passing for news today.

Posted by: Victoria | December 13, 2005 03:11 AM

Unbelievable. Leave Dan Froomkin alone. If you are worried about he Washington Post's credibility, do the right thing and fire Bob Woodward.

Posted by: Jeffrey | December 13, 2005 09:05 AM

Ombudsman lets Woodward off the hook, but chastises Froomkin for holding the WH accountable....


Posted by: Vienna local | December 13, 2005 09:52 AM

Deborah Howell is raising an interesting issue in discussing if Dan Froomkin's column 'White House Briefing' is adequately named. This leads to the even more important issue wether 'Washington Post' is a 'correct' name for a newspaper. How many citizen have unsuccessfully tried to post their letters and parcels at this 'officially' looking office building ( or have mistaken the paper or its internet appearance for information about the DC post office? Do U.S. Postal employees perceive WaPo as an obstacle for their work? These matters should be investigated and if there have been misunderstandings, the news company should be renamed. As an immediate measure, disclaimers should be placed at prominent places on the newspaper, the website, and all Washington Post office buildings!

Posted by: Gray | December 13, 2005 11:23 AM

i have a comment for the washinton post publisher donald graham.

if deborah howell and john harris succeed in their collaboration to "rein in" dan froomkin by threatening him with a column name change or similar tactics based on the patently unbelievable assertion that his column's name ("white house briefing") confuses some readers,

let those of us who believe that froomkin represents something that other wapo reproters lost long ago take this action:

began a campaign to encourage temporary subscription cancellations. there is no reason to permanently cancel a subscription because the post is, after all, not just a paper of (bad to useless) political reporting. there are sports, dining, gardening, business sections that are interesting and useful.

but temporary cancellations would affect revenue and would require the post to spend resources both to cancel and then to restart the seubscriptions

this owuld be the best and, i would guess, the only way to silence the harris-howell sophistry. once this issue has come to the attention of the guys at the top of the company, i suspect they could communicate with harris, howell and assorted layers of editors in a direct, simple way that the rest of us could never manage.

Posted by: orionATl | December 13, 2005 11:48 AM

Ms. Howell, it appears that you do not have the ability to perform your duties as an ombudswoman. Not only do you fail to grasp the true nature of the problem between Messrs. Harris and Froomkin, but you have no ability to mediate a fair resolution to the problem. Instead, you simply add to the problem by attacking Mr. Froomkin in your column.

To begin with, please understand what the White House Briefing is: a column that delivers concise news information on White House reporting from around the nation and world. Hence, there is absolutely no confusion in either the title or content of Mr. Froomkin's column. His regular readers understand this, and we appreciate the inclusive nature of Mr. Froomkin's column.

Next, you (with the prodding of John Harris) indict, try and sentence Mr. Froomkin's column without delivering any evidence of malfeasance or malevolence on Mr. Froomkin's part. Is it any wonder that Post readers see both you and Mr. Harris as waging a personal vendetta against Mr. Froomkin?

Please, Ms. Howell, either act as a professional and help resolve whatever honest issues Mr. Harris has with Mr. Froomkin, or stop making a public spectacle of the Post by airing the family's dirty laundry. Neither you nor Mr. Harris have added to the Post's credibility by waging a public attack on Mr. Froomkin.

Posted by: Kay Decker | December 13, 2005 12:25 PM

Ms. Howell, seriously now: Your job is to be the advocate for the readers complains against incorrect or inadequate reporting. It is not to be party in a quarrel between the Washington Post Political Editor and an online columnist, the more so since the dispute seems to go deeper than just an 'allegedly' misleading title. There are serious issues with misleading statements in WaPo publishing, concentrate on the really important ones. If you aren't capable of doing so, better look for another job.

Posted by: Gray | December 13, 2005 12:52 PM

I am a political independent, I consider Mr. Froomkin's work to be neither liberal nor highly opinionated. It is informative and minces few words. The Ombudsman's concerns with this column are misguided and based on a superficial view of what qualifies as balanced journalism.

Posted by: Hardy | December 13, 2005 01:24 PM


Is the problem that Rev. Moon isn't paying a fair rate?

Posted by: Vienna Local | December 13, 2005 01:25 PM

Deborah,how much did the White House pay you to write your column on Dan Froomkin? Or are you jealous that you can not do as good a job as Dan is doing in accurately informing people? It is the people like you who have failed America by allowing Bush White House to get away with starting immoral war based on dishonest claims. The country would be much better off if there were more journalists like Dan Froomkin and less like you.

Posted by: Gautam Shah | December 13, 2005 01:59 PM

Dear Ms. Howell:

I cannot add much to the generally thoughtful comments posted at Mr. Froomkin's and Mr. Harris's blogs concerning possible confusion about Mr. Froomkin's column. I just have a couple of questions to you, and they are sincere ones. Why did you get involved in this? What purpose are you serving by weighing in? Also, the idea you repeated about a conservative White House Briefer to balance Mr. Froomkin is almost so unfathomable that I am surprised you would print something like that and expect to be taken seriously. The problem journalism has today is worrying about a false "balance" instead of allowing a column that is clearly "opinion" to stand on its own as what it is. You and Mr. Harris have been very patronizing to us, the readers, by implying that we cannot understand what is written and that we cannot be discerning about it. With all due respect as one who has read the Post for more than thirty years, we readers want outstanding quality, and we are not getting it with stupid little spats like this one being aired by you and a Post editor.

Posted by: D Richardson | December 13, 2005 02:26 PM

Here are a few questions that are important for Howells to answer for her readers:

1) at a time when the Washington Post is facing some serious credibility problems with the actions of some reporters and the use of anonymous sources, why--specifically-- was it particularly important to devote nearly a full column to the title of a blog?

2) Why, Ms. Howells, do you base many of those same conjectures in that column on either vague or anonymous staff complaints or on the say-so of one Post employee, Mr. Harris? Isn't this an extension of the same kind of major problem the Post has had with vague and anonymous sources? Please explain why the ombudsman, of all people, is engaging in the very kind of shady and shabby crediting of sources that readers should expect an effective ombudsman to criticize?

3) As several readers have already pointed out, why does your last column appear to originate mostly out of inner-office concerns, rather than reader inquiries? How does this fit with the job of an ombudsman to, first and foremost, address the specific concerns and inquiries of your readers?

4) Similarly, why have so many of your recent columns given so much space to comments by "insider" Post staff, with very little critical thought or challenge of your own or at least more space given to reader comments that might act as rebuttal? While it is certainly important to hear each side of an issue, the worst impression an ombudsman can make is if he or she seems mostly a stenographer for the employees of the institution he or she represents. Can we expect to see more independent thought in your future columns and/or more representation of what actual readers have to say?

5) As an ombudsman, rather than an opinion columnist, isn't it particularly important that when you refer to a writer or columnist as "liberal," "conservative" or "moderate" in order to make your own point, you support your statement with a specific, brief example or two that helps confirm what you suggest? In other words, what, in your opinion, specifically qualifies a columnist as "liberal" or "conservative," rather than "adversarial," or actively questioning or challenging the current power structure?

6) Even more to the point, why was it necessary, in making the point that you wished in your last column-- that "White House Briefing" is a bad name for a column, as it might confuse readers that the columnist is an actual White House reporter-- to bring up whether the columnist is "liberal," "conservative" or "moderate," at all? Would the issue-- the confusing title-- not be exactly the same no matter what the political persuasion of the columnist? Could you explain, then, why it was necessary for you to insert your own conjecture about the political views of the columnist, rather than leaving that interpretation up to the readers themselves?

I do hope you will address as many of these questions as possible in next Sunday's column.

Posted by: Janet Cole | December 13, 2005 03:14 PM

Dear Nazibudman:

You and your "reporters" at the Charmin Post are way off base. The people of the United States of America want honest, transparent reporting. The Charmin Post is not living up to the standards of the people of the United States of America.

Please... Don't squeeze the Charmin!!!

Posted by: Richard | December 13, 2005 03:19 PM

My question, Ms. Howell, is what exactly is the role of the ombudsman? Is it to discuss internal conflicts and decide which side is "right"? I thought you were supposed to look at things from a reader's perspective, not from a Post employee perspective. You have been given post after post of reader perspective, real evidence. I hope you don't dismiss it as "partisan" or "ill-informed" or assume that because we're readers we can't possibly know the distinction between "news" and "opinion", even when opinion happens, as it often does, on the news pages.

The truth is, and you should be glad of it, your readers are sophisticated and savvy, and should be treated as such. Dan Froomkin treats us that way-- as if we're not too dumb to figure out the truth when presented with the facts. And he's tenacious too-- he doesn't forget what was important last week just because the White House adopted a new pet, or Scottie said something amusing.

Posted by: panga | December 13, 2005 03:46 PM

Ms. Howell,

In what way is Mr. Froomkin's column substantially different from the other online-only blogs? In today's Politics discussion, an 'actual' White House reporter dimsissed an assertion that 'The Fix' sometimes presents the opinions of it's author. The fact is all the bloggers sometimes use humour, even sarcasm (heaven forbid.)

The more one thinks about it, the more completely inappropriate your comments on White House Breifing seem.

I hope when you discuss this issue in a future column, you don't just clarify and defend. How about questioning why 'real' reporters continue to present Mr. Mclellans statements in their columnsm, even though he is a proven 'mis-stater' at the very least. I would note that his defence that he cannot comment on an ongoing investigation is amazingly obtuse. He was commening on an ongoing investigation when he said the very things that have been proven untrue. How should the 'real' reporters deal with this issue?

Oh right, only an opinionated liberal like Dan Froomkin would bring up something like that.

Posted by: Bullsmith | December 13, 2005 04:44 PM

I started reading the Washington Post compulsively in 1974, and the reason was simple - this paper was on top of the biggest story of the year, and Woodward and Bernstein as a team were making it happen. Since then, I have seen the paper go on something of a rollercoaster ride, and a man who was once a hero to me revealed as a fairly shallow creature with a weakened sense of journalistic responsibility. The Post has many fabulous writers - Dana Priest and Walter Pincus stand near the top of my list. But frankly, my first stop every afternoon on the website is Dan Froomkin. No, he's not one of your White House reporters. He's no Dana Milbank. In fact he's vastly better than the entire lot, including Milbank (I like Milbank, by the way, and read him with great interest, but I love Froomkin). I find the carping about Dan Froomkin to be extremely unprofessional and distressing. Let your reporters be about their work, and let them keep a moral from their recent implosion of Bob Woodward in mind: if those in high office are irritated about you, it probably means that you're doing your job well. That job, let's not forget, is serving the interests of an informed public.

Posted by: Scott Horton | December 13, 2005 04:58 PM

Editor and Publisher has this quote from Editor Downie: "We want to make sure people in the [Bush] administration know that our news coverage by White House reporters is separate from what appears in Froomkin's column because it contains opinion," Downie told E&P. "And that readers of the Web site understand that, too."

Okay, so the exec editor is saying that it's what the Bush administration thinks that's important. Notice that "readers" are just an afterthought there. So-- maybe the ombudsman should find out whether it was reader complaints or WHITE HOUSE complaints that started this imbroglio.

Personally, I think that any White House that can't tell the difference between news and opinion has a serious problem-- and it's not the job of a newspaper to twist itself into knots trying to explain there.

I really don't understand why the Post editors particularly feel the need to "make sure" that people in the White House are at peace with the not-unusual mix of news and opinion that are in every newspaper and have been for centuries. I sure hope they're underestimating the intelligence of the White House staffers as they have the intelligence of their readers. I hate to think that we're being led by people too stupid to know the difference.

Froomkin is obviously being singled out here-- why? Was there a particular complaint from the White House about his column? Hmm. "What would Kay Graham say?" I'm pretty sure the lady who stood up to the very scary John Mitchell and the extremely powerful Richard Nixon wouldn't be cowed into changing her newspaper or web site just because someone in the Bush White House complained.

We really need a straight answer here. Why on earth would Mr. Downie be so quick to assure the White House above all others that he doesn't support Dan Froomkin? Can't you see, Mr. Downie, that this only reinforces the lessons of the Woodward scandal? That is-- the Post and its "news side" care more about the White House than it does about its readers.

This is exactly what the ombudsman should be investigating-- not whether Froomkin is "too adversarial", but why the executive editor is not adversarial enough.

Posted by: plaster of paris | December 13, 2005 05:29 PM

I join the chorus of readers who have concluded Froomkin does great job at covering the White House through gathering commentary from multiple media sources.

Why you chose to publicly attack him I don't understand. Neither can I relate to calling his work opinionated and liberal.

Does questioning White House talking points make one liberal? No, I think it just indicates an intelligence characterized by healthy skepticism. Conversely, accepting White House talking points at face value doesn't make one conservative. It just indicates a person is willing to let others do their thinking for them.

Your attack exposes your biases, not Froomkin's.

If your job is to deal with readers' concerns, please start now with the news side of the Post. Have them question the White House spin more often and then Froomkin's work won't stand out in contrast.

Posted by: Cee | December 13, 2005 07:07 PM

How about this: Fire Ms.Howell, and assign Mr.Harris to something less strenuous. End of problem.

Posted by: Sreedhar | December 13, 2005 07:10 PM

Freedom of the press was added to the Constitution because the press is SUPPOSED to view whoever is in power with a critical eye. Your organization's function in our country was intended to be part of the political checks and balances. What on earth do you think you are doing when you attack Dan Froomkin??

He's not a radical neocon, to be sure, but holding power accountable, and holding the press accountable, are very conservative acts - there's nothing "liberal" about facts.

And it doesn't matter that he's part of the online Post, he, more than any of your other writers, works for the benefit of ordinary citizens. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Posted by: E. Carpenter | December 13, 2005 07:13 PM

Ms. Howell, I'm still waiting for your column about Woodward.

Posted by: Mary | December 13, 2005 07:44 PM

MAAAAN! Who came up with this gem?

"An interesting column by Post ombudsman Deborah Howell today on the relationship between the paper and the web site."

The same journalist who headlined the arrival of Attila as "An Exciting Equestrian Event"?

Ms Howell is adrift in stormy journalistic waters after skidding off some very thin ice with Sunday's column. She abdicates her role as ombudsman when she chooses sides in an intramural squabble, regardless of how she constructs her WaPo reality.

Dan Froomkin's column is the best the WaPo, whether print or .com, has to offer because it surveys the political news and holds the White House accountable.

Dan Froomkin, a "liberal"? Only if one seeks to obfuscate truth by partitioning the world into conservative and liberal sectors, a favorite tactic of the rightwing spinners.

A balancing "conservative" voice? I believe the print Post already provides an excruciating counterpoint but maybe you could entice Rush to dictate a column.

Rename Dan Froomkin's column because Mr. Harris has to explain that Mr. Froomkin is not a member of the WH Press Corps? Look, a lotta people bought WMDs and Al-Qaeda links, but Mr. Harris' problem is over the edge of credibility!

Nope, looks like an old-fashioned hatchet job to me.

Hang in there Dan, we're with you. You are a pearl before swine!

Posted by: | December 13, 2005 08:01 PM

John Harris:

"The confusion Dan's column unintentionally creates about the reporter's role has itself become an obstacle to our work."

Now there is the seed of a great story -- about the nature of the obstacle.

I take it that the (presumably numerous) complaints about Froomkin's association with the WP were not specifically agreed by Mr Harris and his bureau to be unattributable? If they were agreed to be unattributable, do let us know.

Posted by: AlanDownunder | December 13, 2005 08:17 PM

For months I have been telling friends that the best work seems to be coming from the Washington Post. Then I realized I have been responding solely to Mr. Froomkin! His work is a balance to those "official" lines that have exhausted us all. I thank him and those at the Post who support him.

Posted by: Nana in California | December 13, 2005 08:56 PM

Mr. Froomkin's columns are the first thing that I read at the Post's website, mostly because I am weary of the stenography that substitutes for real reporting in your other sections. There's no confusion here.I am quite aware that Mr. Froomkin is not a WH reporter. I believe that this brouhaha was instigated by a complaints from the WH.

Posted by: Jan in Moraga | December 13, 2005 10:18 PM

Nobody with an IQ larger than a small appliance bulb is confused about the provenance of Mr. Froomkin's column.
Are you, perhaps, confusing the intelligence of your readers with the intelligence of Mr. Harris?

Methinks I smell more intellectualy bankrupt, journalistic "balance".

Posted by: Bonnie | December 13, 2005 11:07 PM

You can dismiss the Washington Post's readers as ill-informed. Or stupid enough to not realize Froomkin doesn't have a seat in the White House pressroom.

But none of that can disguise the fact that you are prosecuting the White House's agenda against a man who works for the newspaper that pays you.

You have become a tool in Karl Rove's arsenal.

How on earth can you take sides with the President who lied us into war against a columnist who's just trying to present a survey of news articles and commentary (from the left and right) on White House issues of the day?

No adult person who reads Froomkin's column can imagine he's a White House reporter. All he does if offer snippets from other work, with commentary.

So it's clear you didn't read his column before cranking out your ill-advised piece.

You were wrong. As the newspaper's public scold, you should have a strong enough sense of responsibility to admit it.

Posted by: Angus Young | December 13, 2005 11:58 PM

"DANIEL UPSET THE RULERS of the kingdom and now Froomkin finds himself among the lions. Or the hyenas. Or the high and mighty political writers at the Washington Post. The writers may be high and might be mighty sorry when the reckoning is done and the wreckage reveals who has won. And who has lost.

THE HIGH AND MIGHTY political writers might be seen more as writers if they didn't suck up so much to the political high and mighty they write about. Write on, Daniel. Right on."

That makes you a hyena, at best... And a criminal mind still very possible.

Do you support crime? Crime like 18 U.S.C., Sec. 1001 ???


Posted by: Richard | December 14, 2005 12:44 AM

I can't tell you how I pleased I was to read Ms. Howell's column regarding Dan Froomkin's "White House Briefing." Like many others, I've been waiting in vain for signs of a relaxation of our country's repressive attitudes toward recreational drugs, so to see written proof that the ombudsman of a major national newspaper is clearly on drugs - well, I could hardly contain my excitement. You go, girl! May you serve as an inspiration to other "responsible" authority figures that aren't afraid to let the world know they're users!

Posted by: gk | December 14, 2005 02:00 AM

Howell's column has complete destroyed the illusion that the ombudsman is the readers' representative. By weighing in on behalf of the Post's political reporters in their turf war with Froomkin, she has proven herself to be their representative, not ours. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Howell is the White House's representative, since Downie made it clear in commentst to Editor and Publisher that the concerns of the present admnistration regarding Froomkin are the driving force in this witch hunt.

The Post's readers deserve better representation than Howell has given us. It is disgusting that she went after Froomkin's alleged sins with such vigor, yet gave Bob Woodward a free pass when examining his role in Plamegate. Howell ignored reader anger over Woodward's duplicity completely and stuck to the Post's party line, rather than responding to our concerns in any substantive way. Here, she manufactures a phony story about reader confusion in order to support the pretentious concerns of the paper's egotistical WH reporters. In the process, she has managed to both insult the readers' intelligence and to work against our interests. This is hardly the service we deserve from the person who is supposed to be our representative at the Post.

Howell should be ashamed of her performance, but I doubt she has either the dignity or common sense to feel that emotion.

Posted by: Xeno | December 14, 2005 10:09 AM

Dear Ms. Howell, Mr. Downie and Mr. Harris:

I suspect that, in a continued display of hubris and intellectual dishonesty, you will dismiss the outpouring of support shown for Mr. Froomkin and his work and ignore the overwhelming criticism of your attack against him. I further predict that you will not reflect upon the merits of our collective rejection of the WaPo and its abysmal political "reporting" nor exhibit the slightest bit of self-awareness or self-doubt. If you did, you each would resign in disgrace.

But if there is anything about this sorry episode that should give you pause, perhaps it is this: You have, for no good reason and no fault of his own, put Mr. Froomkin in what must be a very uncomfortable position. He now finds himself having to be "defended" by his readers and has become the means by which we need to make a much larger point about the ignominious state of the Washingon Post and journalism in general. Mr. Froomkin never asked for this unwarranted attention even if one hopes he takes some comfort in knowing how much we appreciate and support him.

At the very least, you each owe him a personal and public apology. I ask you: Have you no shame?


Posted by: JSR | December 14, 2005 10:58 AM

Dear Madam,

I frequently read Froomkin. I frequently read articles by WaPo political writers. I've never mistaken Froomkin for a WaPo White House correspondent. Only singularly uninformed readers would make that mistake.

Your examination of this issue was decidedly unprofessional and unrevealing in terms of which political writers or other WaPo writers had issues with Froomkin's clearly labeled opinion column. Nor did you define his liberalism through examples from his work.

Good luck with this job! The Washington Post is clearly in need of an oumbudsman. And you clearly have some growing to do before you can honestly fulfill that responsibility. The article of December 11 in which you brought up Froomkin is not a good sign of good intentions, though.

Posted by: Philip Munger | December 14, 2005 11:16 AM

I find it disconcerting that the Post appears to be taking the Bush administration's side in its incessant War on Criticism.

Posted by: bizutti | December 14, 2005 11:25 AM

Ms. Howell, you write:

"Political reporters at The Post don't like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin's 'White House Briefing,' which is highly opinionated and liberal."

What evidence do you have that Froomkin's work is highly opinionated and liberal?

Dan Froomkin's work is fair and balanced and attacking him by labeling his excellent work as highly opinionated and liberal makes the Post's readership question your objectivity.

We all deserve an explanation and I have a feeling you will not provide one. Please prove me wrong.

Posted by: Kalex | December 14, 2005 11:52 AM

I am disturbed that the Post is considering taking action in response to efforts by the Whitehouse to silence criticism as represented by Froomkin's Whitehouse Briefing. You mention that some readers may think Froomkin is a Whitehouse reporter and this may harm the credibility of the news reporting. Subsequent statements by Harris and Downie have made clear that it is not readers but the Whitehouse and the RNC that are concerned about Froomkin's column.

There is a problem in the media today but it is not that there are too many liberal opinion writers, though I think it is inaccurate to concede that Froomkin is liberal. The bigger problem is that newsrooms are bending over backwards to gain access to this Whitehouse. Have you already forgotten how Woodward betrayed his readers by hiding his role in the Plame scandal for years while incessantly talking about it on television shows. How many times a week do the reporters from Washington Post appear in he said she said debates on TV with opinion columnists. The idea that somehow Froomkin's column breaks down the barrier between news and opinion when the reporters regularly cavort with opinion writers on TV is laughable.

What the concern about Froomkin really shows is how the Whitehouse can manipulate the media by controlling access. It is not the confusion of readers you are concerned about, otherwise reporters would not be on the air with opinion writers, but is instead maintaining access to sources. If the price for access is to distort the news and hide stories that are critical of those in power, you are failing as a news agency.

This brings me back to Cilizza the balanced reporter who can hop back and forth between the news and the blog. Just last week, he noted how an editor changed a story to create a false balance in his roundup of corruption in politics. The problem at the Post seems to be more that you are terrified of offending those in power and attacking Froomkin is just one way to keep the Whitehouse and the RNC happy.

I hope you will address the problems related to how the need for access can distort the news coverage in a future article. From allowing anonymous sources to propagate lies in your paper, to failing to fact check outrageous comments by politicians in power, to creating false balance such as that in the Cillizza article the Washington Post fails its readers.

Posted by: saroach | December 14, 2005 01:41 PM

I read Froomkin every day. He is a cut above some the White House stenographers you have, such as Mr. Van de Hei. I completely disagree with recent comments by your editors that Mr. Froomkin is either biased (though he has a point of view)or that his style is somehow subpar. Do not mistake wit for flippancy.

Please do not cave in (again) to White House demands for sanitized news. The Washington Post was once a great newspaper before you became coopted by the White House. I grew up admiring your publication. Do not denigrate one of the few remaining parts of your enterprise that still inspire admiration.

Posted by: CAK | December 14, 2005 02:47 PM

Credibility? You lost that at Woodward...

You want to balance with someone on the right? Like Tony Blankley?

Posted by: Pat, Subscriber | December 14, 2005 05:36 PM

She may be newly arrived but I think the Post needs to get a new Ombusdsman The Froomkin Column is a conduit to a balanced truth, for Howell to immply that Froomkin readers don't understand his role at the Post is to insult the intelligence of his readers

Posted by: Craig | December 14, 2005 07:57 PM

Dear Ms Howell,

Thank you for airing this attempt at media manipulation which would otherwise have remained unreported (though not unsuspected). It has been a worthwhile and enlightening exercise.

Please air all further attempts by GOP dupes within yur organisation to further debase its journalism. I don't care whose side you sound like you are on. Just keep on airing it.

Posted by: AlanDownunder | December 14, 2005 09:10 PM

Ms. Howell-
This is what happens when you lie down with liars. By lying to your readership about the reasons for your comments bashing Dan Froomkin and his blog, you and your editors had to respond when we objeced to the suggestion that it may be renamed or discontinued because reporters were whining. In that response, your lie became crystal clear; it was not reporters who "didn't like" Dan's perspective and links, it was the White House and the Bush administration which, as we in the public well know, cannot tolerate the slightest criticism and have not qualms about quashing it. Aside from insulting the readers you supposedly represent by implying we have no facility for critical thinking, you have made yourself irrelevant, unless you are employed by the Federal Government. It is obvious from reading the more than 1,000 comments from your readership that 1) Dan's blog is understood to be a blog and is extremely popular, 2)your readers are far more intelligent and savvy than you give them credit for 3) the Woodward story should have been addressed with action, not by sending him roses, 4)you are all in Bush's pocket.

Dan's blog is about the facts and the truth of what is happening in Washington and not a series of anonymous quotes from questionable sources that your high and mighty White House Reporters feed us daily. Dan actually knows the difference between Lewis Libby and Stephen Hadley and why, when you're on a major television news program, it's really a good thing to keep the players straight in the one of the biggest scandals in Washington, iminently reaching into the Oval office. When blogs are scooping your reporters on stories they should be up to thier hips in, are we supposed to feel sorry because they don't like Dan speaking truth to power? I don't think I feel too sorry for reporters or a paper who have a direct witness to a crime right under thier noses for 2 years and are too awestruck to dig deep enough to find them.

We are disgusted with the Washington Post not simply because of Woodward or the weak reporting by Vandehai and his crew. We are disgusted because you might as well all be Bush appointees or relatives given your obvious lack of objectivity when it comes to the truth about this criminal administration. Dan may be a liberal and he may not be, that's not the issue. For all the blablabla about the First Amendment, your press ends up costing too much to be considered free.

Bad week, I know, but you brought it on yourself, and I have little sympathy.

Posted by: Tanny Martin | December 14, 2005 09:22 PM

Howell, Harris, Downie et al.-

Ditto for me on very nearly all of the above.

Consider yourselves well and truly rebuked. I don't know whether you feel ashamed, but I for one am ashamed of you.

My biggest surprise is that your lame competitors have not yet made mincemeat of you over this. Probably tomorrow.

Posted by: Stephen E. | December 14, 2005 10:01 PM

What has become apparent is that the White House has been pressuring the Post to rein in Froomkin, so the Post has been emphasizing that the on-line edition of the Post is independent of the hard copy edition. This is news to me, but so what? The problem is that the big news is not about the corporate structure of the Post and its on-line edition. The news is that the White House has been extorting the Post. What is gravely disturbing is that instead of reporting this news of White House extortion, as White House reporters ought to, the Post editor and reporters are caving in to the pressure and trying to marginalize Froomkin. It reminds me of Russert; Russert got a call from Libby complaining about coverage and passed the complaint along to one of Russert his higher ups. The only reason we out-of-the-loop Americans know about this call is that Libby tried to use Russert as an alibi in the investigation of the outing of Valerie Plame and Russert had to testify. All Russert has deigned to reveal, however, is that Libby complained in words not fit to be repeated. What Russert has not told the American people is what and whom Libby was complaining about. Why is that? Did Libby complain on "deep background," ala Deep Throat who GAVE information? We don't know what Libby complained about and we don't know who complained to the Post about Froomkin's column. What we do know is that the "White House beat" at the Post doesn't give us the news. What a shame.

Posted by: Terry | December 14, 2005 10:34 PM

Ms. Howell: I thought your job was to represent the concerns of the paper's readers and to address inaccuracies and mistakes in reporting. Sadly, you have instead decided to represent the white house and their operatives. Perhaps you would find your career path more fulfilling if you simply applied for a position with Karen Hughes and her disinformation campaigns. Clearly you have no understanding of the professional integrity required for a position as ombudsman. Shame.

Posted by: CSO | December 14, 2005 10:40 PM

I agree with most everyone here. I expect the response by Downie will be to dismiss all these comments, though, because the relationship between the Post and the current administration apparently matters more to him than the relationship between the Post and its readers. They must all go to the same parties.

Posted by: S Alyce | December 14, 2005 11:19 PM

Ms. Howell, you investigate issues raised by READERS and not only by jealous reporters in the newsroom, right?

Harris has lied to his READERS. Will his resignation be on the desk of the Executive Editor by Thursday or Friday?

December 14, 2005
Astroturf vs Grassroots (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?)
Grassroots vs. Astroturf

I talked to John Harris, national political editor of the print Washington Post this morning. It didn't go very well:

Wednesday December 14, 2005. 9:07 PST

Q: Thanks for calling. My name is Brad DeLong. I'm a professor of economics at U.C. Berkeley. You've actually been on my to-call list since last August, when Gene Sperling, the New York Fed's Tim Geithner, and I had a very good long conversation about your very interesting Clinton book while playing hooky from a Fed conference session. You see, Orville Schell and Susan Rasky have been persuading me to co-teach a course at Berkeley's Journalism School next semester--where I get to be the ivory tower intellectual explaining how you should cover the economy, and she gets to be the practical nuts-and-bolts person on how you can cover the economy without getting fired. And I'm trying to put together a syllabus. But the impetus for this call is different: yesterday, I read you telling Jay Rosen that Dan Froomkin critic Patrick Ruffini was a grassroots conservative weblogger. And my jaw dropped because he is eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee. A matter not of conservative grassroots complaints about liberal bias but rather Bush-can-do-no-wrong paid Republican operatives working the ref. So why did you characterize Ruffini in this way?

A: He wasn't at the time working for the Republicans, he wasn't when he wrote that piece [about Froomkin last March]...

Q: So you knew [Ruffini] had been a Republican operative in 2004, and didn't tell that to Jay Rosen?

A: [Ramble of which I caught only scattered phrases] But assuming you aren't posting this at least immediately... A good relationship between the print Washington Post and WPNI... Happy to answer privately... Really don't want to be quoted on the record... If you want to call me an idiot without my response, that's fine...

Posted by: Prof | December 15, 2005 12:41 AM

The rest of DeLong's column:

Really don't want to be quoted on the record... If you want to call me an idiot without my response, that's fine...

A: No I want your response.

A; [stream continues] But I shouldn't respond... I've promised people I won't respond... We need to cool this down... It's a really a very narrow issue: are there people confused about Froomkin's role...

[We go off the record for a while]

[We go back on the record]

Q: Can you give any examples--other than Republican National Committee eCampaign Director Patrick Ruffini people who are seriously confused about Dan Froomkin's role at WPNI?

A: I cannot comment for the record because I've promised I won't comment on this.

Q: Did you, when you sent your answers to Jay Rosen yesterday, know that your "grassroots conservative weblogger" Patrickk Ruffini had been a Republican campaign operative in 2004?

A: I cannot comment for the record because I've promised that I won't comment on this.

Q: Did you, when you sent your answers to Jay Rosen yesterday, know that your "grassroots conservative weblogger" Patrick Ruffini was now eCampaign Director for the Republican National Committee?

A: I cannot comment for the record because I've promised that I won't comment on this.

My belief--but since he won't answer the questions, I do not know--is that John Harris knew full well that Patrick Ruffini was a onetime Republican operative when he characterized him as a "conservative weblogger" to Jay Rosen, but was trying to pull a fast one. That John Harris had not done his homework and did not know that Ruffini is going back to work as eCampaign Director for the RNC. And that he doesn't have evidence of serious confusion about the purpose of Dan Froomkin's column--that Harris has just been pounded on by a bunch of Bush-loyalist Republicans working the ref.

I do wonder how Harris found Mr. Ruffini's website. It's not that easy to do. It ranks 498th or so in the TTLB weblog ecosystem directories. I don't see how it is possible to wind up there if one is looking on the web to sound out grassroots conservative opinion.

I remember Lloyd Bentsen once cursing that American journalists had no ability to distinguish between "grassroots" and "astroturf." I think this is a point of data that many of them, at least, know full well the difference: the problem is not one of lack of ability to distinguish.

Posted by Brad DeLong on December 14, 2005 at 09:49 AM in Better Press Corps | Permalink

Posted by: Prof | December 15, 2005 12:42 AM

Dear Ombudsperson,

After some reflection, I understand that your recent and surprisingly controversial article was, in fact, far more informative and appropriate than most of us credit. Obviously, the fact is that there are two Washington Posts and I think, overall, this is an enormous benefit to the paper's online readers. It is hard to miss that WPNI is vastly superiour to

However, I can only feel that you were somewhat misused by Mr. Harris. In his frank discussion with Jay Rosen, Harris does something Froomkin often does: link to an opinion blogger with a loose endorsement and a cautionary disclaimer.

But Mr. Harris links to a blogger with direct and continuing connections to the Administration and the RNC, without any identification. This is precisely the kind of journalistic due diligence that Mr. Froomkin meticulously observes and Mr. Harris' news desk, occasionaly, lets slide.

I fully understand that Mr. Harris' slip occured in an informal setting, absent the sort of meticulous editing Mr. Harris himself provides. I also recognize that the White House reporters provide work that is second to none, and is in no way represented by Mr. Froomkin's column.

But come on, Harris was asked about this link today online, decided to post it, and then completely ignored answering it. That's insulting. The man is right that his reporters provide honest, insightful and non-partisan reporting. He is wrong that his own words have not created a sense that he is as politically inclined as those he criticizes. The webmaster for Bush/Cheney is not 'this conservative blogger' any more than Froomkin is a "White House Reporter" or, for that matter, a "DNC blogger."

The reason the whole thing blew up is largely because of the Ombudsman's decision to Ombud herself into it. We all know Froomkin and Harris are both honest men. But it's becoming impossible to notice that Scott Mclellan is not, and Dan Froomkin is the leading voice in pointing this out.

Not like the reporters don't notice. Jim Vanderhei made this abundantly clear, once again, in his coverage today. This time he notes that the White House can make categorical statments that prove to be absolutly false, (Karl and Scooter are not involved in this ongoing criminal investigation) and then, when exposed, claim there is a policy of not talking about it. Of course that policy only applies to THIS trial for THIS convenient moment. And the Prestident is not obliged to follow Presidential policy. He can take a question about DeLay. That's different. Mr. Bush decided he WANTS to talk about him.

I believe there is an important issue here for the Ombudsman. How does one find neutrality when the game is rigged? The official spokesman for the White House demands that he be allowed to spread falsehoods without explanation and that the Washington Post's reporters still treat him as credible?

By the same token, great respect is paid to whether this politician or that has been consistent in their position on the Iraq war. Fair enough. But pretty much everyone notices that things haven't exactly been consistent 'on the ground' in Iraq. In fact those generally accepted to have been most consistent, like the Vice-President, have also been the most consistently wrong.

The Post is a great paper, the Ombudsman should stay out of internal turf wars.

Posted by: B.M. Smith | December 15, 2005 11:58 PM

RE: Robert D. Lenhard

Get _YOUR_ news at FireDogLake. You will find the truth there. I can tell you that you will not find the truth at the Washington Post. The Washington Post is surely aware of the facts, they just don't print them.

And in an uncharacteristic moment of cheerful bipartisanship, Bush is also appointing a Democrat, Robert D. Lenhard, who was quite helpful to the 1600 Crew as part of the legal team that challenged the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

But there is perhaps another reason why Mr. Lenhard is being rewarded by BushCo. at just this moment. He's the husband of Viveca Novak, whose testimony now provides the foundation for Karl Rove's defense in the CIA leak case.

A small but rather key fact that both the Washington Post and the White House Press Release manages to leave out, wouldn't you say? They WaPo is having quite a stint in the GOP stenography department this week, it would seem.

Richard Quick
Valley Park MO

Posted by: Richard Quick | December 17, 2005 04:57 PM

American or Fascist?

Which side is your news organization on?

Does fascism deserve "balanced coverage" - Look at this historically.

Posted by: Spare Us All | December 17, 2005 10:51 PM

I guess I won't bother complaining about the Post's right wing bias to this new ombudsman--I already know who she's working for, and it's not the reader.

By the way, if Froomkin has to change his column's name, does Howard Kurtz have to change his column from "media notes" to "right wing propaganda"?

Besides headlines and a few columns, Froomkin is the only thing I read in the Post anymore. The paper has become a laughable apologist for the Bush Administration.

Posted by: CD | December 22, 2005 05:34 AM

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