Problems With Comment Publishing

Some of the comments posted to this blog's entries aren't appearing on the site. We're working with our blog software vendor to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

The problem may be related to the large number of comments (more than 700 so far) received over the weekend concerning Deborah Howell's Sunday, Jan. 15 column on The Post's coverage of the Jack Abramoff story.

We may also have unintentionally caused or made the problem worse by trying to remove a few comments -- about a dozen -- that failed to make a substantive point and were simply personal attacks on Howell and others.

We apologize for the problem and will post updates here.

Hal Straus Opinions Editor

By |  January 17, 2006; 7:12 AM ET  | Category:  Reader Feedback
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Sorry, Hal about assuming intentional deletion of the many earlier comments. Just read your explanation of the deletions.

It's certainly fair to give you the benefit of the doubt on this that it was unintentional, which will obviously be aided by reposting the removed items soon (sans the dozen or so offensive/nonsubstantive ones).

Posted by: | January 17, 2006 07:23 AM

Glad you guys put up an explanation. While I agree with the criticism of Howell's column, there were some comments that just engaged in name-calling and even profanity.

But if you give those comments enough weight to remove them, I hope you'll give the other well-reasoned ones enough weight to prompt a Howell correction or clarification.

Posted by: DBJ | January 17, 2006 07:48 AM

I also apologise for my comments about the *deletions* (However, my comments regarding Ms. Howell's column stand).

I hope you are able to resolve the problems with little pain. I know how difficult something like this can be. :)

Thank you.

Posted by: Paul Dobson | January 17, 2006 08:19 AM

You know, Hal, you could do a lot to restore public faith in the Post by putting up a retraction of Howell's comments online *now* and following it up in your print editions tomorrow. Put the correction on your website, and the word will go out just as fast as the original story did.

People will still watch for the print version, of course, just to keep you honest -- but getting the truth out there as soon as possible will start to undo the damage Howell has done to your paper's reputation, to say nothing of the public figures whose reputations have been damaged. As matters stand now, it's been two days since her false claims hit our doorsteps, and in light of your post here, there is now no doubt whatsoever that you and your colleagues are aware both of the problem and the depth of public outrage over it.

There are a number of possible explanations for what Howell has done, but leaving the record uncorrected simply adds to the weight of the evidence suggesting that the WaPo has no interest in publishing the truth.

Posted by: Califlander | January 17, 2006 08:54 AM

I posted one of the comments that you deleted.

You are pathetic.


Posted by: RR | January 17, 2006 09:28 AM

When will Deborah Howell be fired?

Posted by: David Ehrenstein | January 17, 2006 09:48 AM

I posted two comments which were deleted. One, I made a joke. "You're doin' a heckuva job, Deborah". Maybe not even funny. OK, delete it.

My second point, more serious: Where's the retraction or correction of Howell's incorrect assertion that Democrats took money from Abramoff?

Facts are facts. This one isn't a fact, it's a lie. When will it be corrected?

Posted by: truth | January 17, 2006 09:48 AM

pro·fane (prō-fān', prə-) pronunciation

1. Marked by contempt or irreverence for what is sacred.
2. Nonreligious in subject matter, form, or use; secular: sacred and profane music.
3. Not admitted into a body of secret knowledge or ritual; uninitiated.
4. Vulgar; coarse.


Deborah Howell, Sue Schmidt, and Derek Willis' work on the Abramoff Republican Scandal printed prominently in the Washington Post is more profane than a few dirty words posted in an obscure blog.


Posted by: jerry | January 17, 2006 09:50 AM

Good dog, Hal!
Go get your kibble for a job well done.

Posted by: tbogg | January 17, 2006 09:58 AM

Now that you're done erasing complaints from readers, are you going to actually do anything about having Howell put up a retraction of her fabricated comments? Or is it OK to make false statements if you're defending the GOP?

If you spent half the time rebuilding your paper's credibility that you've spent removing comments which got the old crone's bloomers in a twist, your paper might still be worth reading.

Your paper's done nothing to make any overtures toward the audience about correcting Howell's obvious incompetence, bias, and unprofessionalism. You don't seem to have taken notice of the fact that so many people were so upset by your supposedly unbiased ombudsman's hatchet job of an article that they wrote so many angry complaints as to crash the page.

That should make the paper sit up and wonder if they should, you know, respond to the readers' concerns. Instead of just worrying about deleting angry comments.

Posted by: Flappy Bob | January 17, 2006 09:58 AM

At this point, merely restoring the deleted entries will do little for your reputation.

It doesn't matter anymore whether it was accidental or intentional.

If you think you can excuse yourselves with the thought that this firestorm is merely a barrage of lefty propaganda, you are seriously miscalculating. Because you have been caught out repeatedly for errors of fact, you have seriously compromised your paper's reputation for objectivity.
Until you apologize publicly in large headlines on Page One of your print edition, and explain just where you went wrong, carefully outlining the falsehoods and innuendo that went into such reporting and apologizing to the Democratic politicians who have been falsely accused by your reporting, your readers will continue to expose your motives and the emptiness of your claims to honesty or objectivity.

Combining truth and lies to obtain "balance" is not objectivity. Objectivity is searching for the truth and reporting it, whether it supports your ideological agenda or not.

Unless you can demonstrate otherwise (and not by reference to a factless previous article), this scandal will remain a Republican scandal. Or more accurately, a Republican scandal and a Washington Post scandal.

Posted by: notjonathon | January 17, 2006 10:03 AM

This issue is far more than just one story, but of much of the reporting across our news media. This also not just the question one reporter, but part of a much larger issue in our news media.

As "journalists" I would have hoped that you would understand a simple truth in your industry: All you have to sell is your credibility. Printing stories that make accusations without substantive facts or documentation undermines credibility. Printing stories that have demonstrable failures of fact undermines credibility. Printing stories that are little more than partisan talking-points without anything that even resembles balance undermines credibility. Acting as a house organ for one ideology and one group undermines credibility. Deleting hundreds of comments from your readers pointing out all of the above undermines credibility. All this while the newspaper industry wrings their hands over declining circulation, and cannot understand why this might happen?

These are the actions of the type of so-called news outlets one has come to identify with state sponsored media in a one party state, such as China, Syria, or the former Soviet Union. Does the Washington Post really want to become the New Pravda? I would hope not, not in this country, so I must ask: Why does The Washington Post hate America?

Posted by: Clyde | January 17, 2006 10:08 AM

Cutting the Washington Post any slack at this point regarding deleted comments in the HUNDREDS rather than DOZENS to my mind puts me in the mind of believing that Rose Mary Woods actually went through the widely photographed contortions to "accidentally" delete 18 minutes of that tape.

Posted by: elliottg | January 17, 2006 10:09 AM

Test. My comments do not appear to be being published.

Posted by: elliottg | January 17, 2006 10:11 AM

While tinkering with the blog, you apparently set comments to read backwards, with the most recent up top and oldest at the bottom.

That's not how it (and any other blog except Achenblog) has been on this site so far, and it's really, really annoying to read that way. I'd ask that you re-reverse it.

Posted by: Hey Kids | January 17, 2006 10:15 AM

Oh, here's what I'll be putting into the queue for today's Live discussions:

"Apart from deleting 700 or more reader feedback comments (at that were critical of Deborah Howell's factually challenged Sunday article (now at, what action is the Post taking to address reader concern about Ms. Howell's irresponsible article? Will Ms. Howell's poorly researched, innacurate, politically motivated article be the subject of a substantial correction? Will Ms. Howell's actions be called into question? Will the Post make even the smallest attempt to do as the NY Times did post-Jayson Blair? Will the Post make any gestures to regain the trust of readership, or should we assume from the lack of action so far that the Post is no longer interested in traditional readership/paper trust, or credibility? "

Posted by: Flappy Bob | January 17, 2006 10:17 AM

Thanks for the quick and succinct explanation regarding the disappeared comments in the previous thread.

Now that there's some momentum on this, how abut addressing the root problem - Deborah Howell's printing of falsehoods as news.

Posted by: polychrome | January 17, 2006 10:17 AM

How gullible do you think we are. The Froomkin and Harris threads had over 900 comments each. The volume of comments certainly was not the problem. The root cause was your attempt (so far successful) at censorship of the thread. For those who are saying "thanks for the explanation", it boggles the mind that you think that this explanation with an ongoing problem that shades the fact (i.e. volume may be a problem when clearly it has not been in the past) sufficient.

Posted by: elliottg | January 17, 2006 10:21 AM

How long does it take to restore a backup of the deleted comments?

You are a professional website, right? As a professional site, you make backups, right?

How long does it take to either print a retraction or proof backing up Howell's accusations?

We're waiting.

Posted by: Diogenes | January 17, 2006 10:23 AM

Exactly. The Froomkin threads out-commented the Lovey Howell one.

The problem wasn't the volume of the posts, but the fact that Lovey got upset that she's been slammed twice now by us poor rabble. After the woodshedding she got from the readership over her little venom spitting at Froomkin, she's sensitive to us Little People daring to speak up at her. "Why, I never," she huffs, "This never happened at the Country Club!"

Posted by: Flappy Bob | January 17, 2006 10:25 AM

I am assuming that my comment(s) from yesterday were among the hundreds "accidentally" deleted. I just reposted (from memory) at the end of the the Maryland blog (where you will find many comments that better belong here in this thread).

Once again the Washington Post's tattered credibility is at stake, unless you restore the over 700 comments you deleted soon. You DO back up, right?

Posted by: Taylor Peck | January 17, 2006 10:30 AM

I thought the idea of having an ombudsman was to improve a newspaper's coverage by responding to critics, not to make matters worse by reprinting falsehoods.

Perhaps there's another job at the parent company, like in PR, that would be better suited to Ms. Howell's skills as a factually challenged apologist.

Because having such a person as a newspaper ombudsman is a joke.

Posted by: Dev Tobin | January 17, 2006 10:34 AM

Thank you, Hal. You would have to admit that it DID look bad. Here is my post again. Now, what will you do about Howell?

Letter to the Editor

Just so you know, I was born in the District and came of political age there. I have always had deep respect for the Post based primarily on the Watergate work. Yes, I was there then to see it first hand. My mother actually worked for the Committee to Impeach Nixon. I can still remember the highly charged climate of Lies, deceit and hypocrisy in the city. The country was in trouble then. The country is in trouble now.

The Post has made a mistake with this person Howell. She has made a fundamental error in judgment. It should be corrected VERY soon. Monday (MLK Day) would be appropriate for this to happen. Of course, the remedy is entirely yours but I would like to suggest that you not allow her further statements to be printed. Do you not have some back office assignment for her? Please do the right thing and remove her from the current position.

I have moved away from the City to the West coast but still read the Post everyday by way of A change has been noticed at the Post even out here. With me, I suppose, it came when I realized Bob Woodward was in bed with the administration. This was hard for me to accept at first. But, after listening and reading his opinions it became clear that he had been corrupted by the power/money machine in DC. You would have to agree that it happens frequently. But, I thought, not Woodward. Then the fuss over the Daily Briefing on-line column. Plain nonsense. You know, we can see this guy McClellan way out here too. Everyday. CSPAN works. We know what is happening, unfortunately.

What has happened to you Washington Post? Is the paper too large for your management structure now? Are the issues to big for you.? I have been waiting for someone to come to their senses at the Post. It is past due. Please take whatever measures are needed to stop this credibility slide. In my opinion, you need Ben Bradlee back on the site. Would you be willing to give him a call please?


Posted by: california_reality_check | January 17, 2006 11:02 AM

As I wrote yesterday, I have been a subscriber to the Post for seventeen years. I read it daily and Sunday at the breakfast table. I was shocked to read Deborah Howell's false and flippant comments, and I expect to see a correction.

Posted by: Joseph L. Ruby | January 17, 2006 11:09 AM

STILL no correction? STILL no retraction? STILL no apology? Why? Are you guys STILL researching if Abramhoff gave campaign contributions to Democrats?

Shame... shame.. on what was ONCE a great newspaper.

Posted by: Joe Albanese | January 17, 2006 11:10 AM

Two points...

One, if I am parsing your message correctly, it sounds like someone unfamiliar with your comments software submitted a "delete 1-n" command instead of "delete 1, x", or something to that effect...

Occam's razor...

However, why not just be up front instead of parsing? The truth will set you free. This is a new blog and people are willing to accept mistakes. What they are unwilling to accept are misleading attempts at candor...

Which is a great segue to my second point...

I though the ombudsman is supposed to be independent. From what I have read in comments and postings on other blogs, Derek Willis was sent out to protect Deborah Howell.

I thought Mr. Willis was a Washington Post reporter? This seems to be a conflict of interest. How can the Ombudsman remain independent if she is going to be protected by the very supporters she is supposed to critique? Shouldn't there be a wall between the newsroom -> editorial page -> ombudsman?

It is a shame what Len Downie has allowed to occur at this paper. A downright shame.

Posted by: justmy2 | January 17, 2006 11:10 AM

Dear Mr. Straus:
The Ministry of Truth thanks you for your service to Big Brother.

Posted by: Winston Smith | January 17, 2006 11:17 AM

Your readership is speaking. They sound very intelligent and, frankly, knowledgeable about journalism, sources and biases, Are you listening? Where's your response?

Posted by: Bob | January 17, 2006 11:20 AM

Deborah Howell's negative impact on the credibility of the Washington Post requires her immediate termination from the Ombudsman position. Those with fiduciary oversight must immediately take action or risk legal action by the stockholders.

Posted by: A Stockholder | January 17, 2006 11:21 AM

If the Washington Post has any integrity, it will publish a correction of Ms. Howell's incorrect statement. Democrats did not take campaign money from Abramoff. Either she was mistaken, or she delibertately lied. In either case, the Post needs to set the record straight.

Posted by: kweldon | January 17, 2006 11:24 AM

I was just over in the other thread and it looks like there are even fewer comments than had been earlier this AM. Is this problem getting worse? It could just be my old eyes?

Posted by: polychrome | January 17, 2006 11:24 AM

Mr Strauss,
Respectfully, I call bulls**t. I believe the proper reply is, I prefer to believe in conspiracy theory over coincidence theory, and the Post seems to be conspiring to suppress comments about its horrendous and alarming lack of journalistic integrity.

Please have your "blog software vendor" retrieve those seven hundred comments and repost them forthwith. If you need to delete the dirty dozen, be my guest.

Posted by: seeya | January 17, 2006 11:49 AM

My perfectly polite comment posted this morning at about 9:45 am in response to Mr. Willis's missing defense of Ms. Howell is now missing.

To repeat my two comments(paraphrased since I did not keep a copy):
1) If there are documents showing Abramoff directed his clients to donate to Democrats, we want to see them. (See, that's what newspapers are supposed to do--report facts--who, what, where, when, why).
2) Mr. Willis still fails to address the false statement by Ms. Howell that Democrats took money from Abramoff. Where's the retraction?

Posted by: Michelle | January 17, 2006 12:03 PM

Thank you for restoring the deleted comments. Now how about that retraction?

Posted by: Diogenes | January 17, 2006 12:09 PM

I have to agree with the poster who commented that taking the trouble to delete a dozen or so "inappropriate comments" buried in a thread that contained over 700 is a bit of a waste of time, no? Except that, oops, you managed to delete all 700.

And the question bears repeating: When will the post issue a correction to Deborah Howell's false statements?

Posted by: renska | January 17, 2006 12:14 PM

Thanks again to the Wash Post for alll your good work for the cause. See you guys at the weekly party. (Is Deb bringing a casserole again?)

Posted by: Ken Mehlman | January 17, 2006 12:48 PM

Time's a-wastin', credibility's a-vanishin'.

Let's hear a real retraction from the Post, a public apology (for bias and incompetence) from Lovey Howell, and then let's see the Post have the maturity and integrity to tell the old dear to go find work writing for Fox News instead, where she belongs.

Posted by: Flappy Bob | January 17, 2006 12:54 PM

Oh so now Howie Kurtz says Howell's howler was "inartfully worded."

Obviously this is the RNC version of "It depends on what 'is' is."

Nice try, Howie.

And how's the wife?

Posted by: David Ehrenstein | January 17, 2006 01:02 PM

I'd sure like to hear how "artful wording" can better describe $127,000 in Republican donations vs. $0 in Democratic donations as a "bipartisan scandal". (Source: FEC)

Or a 217% increase in Republican donations by the Abramoff client Saginaw Chippewas combined with almost no change (<1% decrease) in donations to democrats. (Source: Dwight L. Morris & Associates) Compares 1997-2000 with 2001-2004.

Posted by: Tony Kiszewski | January 17, 2006 01:39 PM

Re: "We may also have unintentionally caused or made the problem worse by trying to remove a few comments -- about a dozen -- that failed to make a substantive point and were simply personal attacks on Howell and others. We apologize for the problem and will post updates here. Hal Straus Opinions Editor"

And where is Derek Willis's *very interesting* (and mendacious) comment? It made substantive points.

Posted by: Brad DeLong | January 17, 2006 02:04 PM

Derek Willis said

"Abramoff did direct donations to Democratic candidates and committees. Our reporters have documents showing this to be the case"

Question for you. Does he work for the Post?

Posted by: california_reality_check | January 17, 2006 02:44 PM

Boys and girls, let's recap.

1) Abramoff is a life-long Republican operative, former head of the College Republicans, with close personal ties to about every senior Republican in Congress and in the White House.

2) Abramoff has been found to have engaged in extortion and corruption on a scale of mind-blowing proportions. There is well-substantiated speculation that this may yet land over a dozen Republican representatives in jail.

3) The avowed goal of the Republican operation of which Abramoff was a part (the K-Street project) was to starve the Democratic Party of funding in order to establish a de facto one-party rule. This was done by using Congress to not only illegally reward donors to Republican candidates, but also illegally punish donors to Democratic candidates. This is not politics as usual, it threatens the very foundations and viability of our democracy.

This is the 'facty' version. The media's 'truthy' narrative? Let's find one Democrat with any kind of remote, indirect ties to Abramoff and make *that* the story!

It is frightening to me that Washington-insider journalists cannot even begin to understand how obscene and noxious to the country their attitude on this critical story is.

The Republic is in danger. The fourth estate has been either bought and sold or cowed into submission by the corrupt Bush Republicans. The Imperial Administration advances unchecked.

Posted by: Mike Wolf | January 17, 2006 07:43 PM


Posted by: dfgdf | January 18, 2006 06:26 AM

When are you going to get Ms. Howell to correct herself? The statements she made about Senators Reid and Dorgan taking money from Abramoff are ABSOLUTELY FALSE!
Why is your paper continuing with these misleading statements? Jack Abramoff did NOT give ANY money to ANY Democrats, and anyone who makes that assertion is LYING!
This is a Republican scandal PERIOD!
It's pretty bad when an Ombudsman, the person in charge of fact-checking, gets it wrong or intentionally lies.
What a rag your paper has turned into!

Posted by: Arliss | January 18, 2006 10:17 AM

We may also have unintentionally caused or made the problem worse by trying to remove a few comments -- about a dozen -- that failed to make a substantive point and were simply personal attacks on Howell and others.

Or maybe you tried to just turn off comments on Howell's article to save yourself some embarrassment (or a well deserved taking to the woodshed in any case).

I'm just sayin'...

Posted by: DH | January 18, 2006 11:00 AM

"Oh so now Howie Kurtz says Howell's howler was 'inartfully worded.'"

Oh good grief.

Howie Kurtz hisself has been the WaPo's Artless Dodger and a$$coverer in chief for this administration for YEARS now. Sounds like he's employing the same ineptitude in his "defense" of Howell now.

Posted by: DH | January 18, 2006 11:03 AM

You have the benefit of the doubt on the 'comments' issue - But your Fact Checker makes patently false statements on a major story with no clarification or retraction ???

It makes this long time reader wonder

What would you people have done with the Pentagon Papers ?!? Would you have stopped at a "third rate burglary" ? Would Mr. Kurtz typify "Jimmy's World" as "inartfully worded" ?

Your Chairman has commented about the future of the Post being online - apparently a more fundamental question of the Paper's future needs to be asked

Is this the Paper of Katherine Graham


Janet Cooke ??

Posted by: clare boothe lucid | January 18, 2006 11:36 AM

Charles Babington now Leen and/or the Post are refusing to comment on-line about Howell/Kurtz/Willis.

Posted by: california_reality_check | January 18, 2006 12:26 PM

Dear Ms. Howell, Howie Kurtz, WaPo et al:

CNN says you're full of it-

"White House spokesman Scott McClellan tried to portray the lobbyist as an equal-opportunity giver Tuesday.

But a search of Federal Election Commission records since 1998 found no personal donations from Abramoff to Democrats, and about two-thirds of the more than $4.4 million in donations from Abramoff, his clients and associates in the same period went to Republicans, according to records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign-finance watchdog group."

I suggest you issue a retraction before more egg winds up on your face.

Posted by: DH | January 18, 2006 12:38 PM

Why pay for a product designed to harm you?

Why buy a paper that lies to you?

Posted by: DaveGood | January 18, 2006 12:50 PM

Jeff Leen made a stab at some answers here.

Posted by: california_reality_check | January 18, 2006 01:21 PM

Gee, I really do have better things to do than to keep checking over here to see if you have printed a retraction yet to the blatant falsehoods of Ms. Howell and the feeble and mendacious ("I've got secret papers that show Democrats were involved, too, but I can't show 'em to you cuz they're secret") Mr. Willis or an apology for Mr. Kurtz's irresponsible behavior, first in trying to give credibility to the swiftboating of John Murtha, then trying to provide cover for Ms. Howell.

Not yet, I see. I sure hope hell freezes over soon, so we can get that retraction.

Posted by: notjonathon | January 19, 2006 08:37 AM

Today, Thursday, 011906 @ 1100 EST

Washington Post White House Reporter Michael Fletcher discusses on-line the latest in political news.

Come on down.

Posted by: california_reality_check | January 19, 2006 10:52 AM

First question on-line today.

Michael Fletcher: Hello,everyone. As always, there is a lot going on. So let's get started.


Ohio: All excuses about "inartful statement" aside, when will The Post print a correction for the Ombudsman's factually innaccurate claim that Jack Abramoff -directly- gave money to Democrats? It's one thing to claim that Abramoff's clients gave money to Dems. It's another thing entirely to say that the influence peddler bought Dems as well as GOP.

So print that retraction!

Michael Fletcher: Geez, I was hoping for an easier start. That's something you have to take up with the ombudsman.

Posted by: california_reality_check | January 19, 2006 11:45 AM

I posted a comment to Ms. Howell's column and have not seen it in the comments section. I made an additional point to those offered before and it was not offensive so....I'm hoping it does get posted. I spent time writing it because I would like it to be seen.
Thank you.

Posted by: Jill Bryant | January 19, 2006 03:29 PM

What happened to the new Howell comments?

Posted by: | January 19, 2006 04:00 PM

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