Ex-Washington Post Ombudsman, Who Recognized Liberal Bias, Killed in New Zealand

Deborah Howell, the Washington Post’s ombudsman from late 2005 through the end of 2008, “suffered fatal injuries when struck by a vehicle” while vacationing in New Zealand, an overnight post on WashingtonPost.com reported early Saturday morning. Howell, the top editor at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Washington bureau chief for the Newhouse newspaper chain before jumping to the Post, recognized and documented liberal media bias in some of her weekly ombudsman columns (Post’s archive).

Howell agreed with readers who saw “a tilt toward Democrat Barack Obama” in the paper's campaign coverage, as she had earlier determined “Democrat Barack Obama has had about a 3 to 1 advantage over Republican John McCain in Post Page 1 stories since Obama became his party's presumptive nominee.” Shortly after the 2008 election, she admitted she voted for Obama and “bet” that so did “most” in the Post’s newsroom:
I'll bet that most Post journalists voted for Obama. I did. There are centrists at The Post as well. But the conservatives I know here feel so outnumbered that they don't even want to be quoted by name in a memo.
And, in her final column for the Post in December of 2008, Howell urged the paper to address its lack of political diversity. Since “too many Post staff members think alike,” she advised: “Make a serious effort to cover political and social conservatives and their issues; the paper tends to shy away from those stories, leaving conservatives feeling excluded and alienated from the paper.”

A November 16, 2008 NewsBusters item, “Howell: 'Most Washington Post Journalists Voted for Obama. I Did,'” recounted:
A week after Washington Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell agreed with readers who saw "a tilt toward Democrat Barack Obama" in the paper's campaign coverage, Howell this Sunday admitted she voted for Obama and "bet" that so did "most" in the Post's newsroom: "I'll bet that most Post journalists voted for Obama. I did. There are centrists at The Post as well. But the conservatives I know here feel so outnumbered that they don't even want to be quoted by name in a memo."

In her November 16 column, "Remedying the Bias Perception," Howell, the Washington Bureau chief and editor of Newhouse News for 15 years before joining the Post as ombudsman in 2005, proposed a solution to the liberal dominance in newsrooms which biases coverage: "Are there ways to tackle this? More conservatives in newsrooms and rigorous editing would be two. The first is not easy: Editors hire not on the basis of beliefs but on talent in reporting, photography and editing, and hiring is at a standstill because of the economy. But newspapers have hired more minorities and women, so it can be done."...
An August 18, 2008 NB post, “Washington Post Ombudsman: '3 to 1' Obama Front Page Advantage,” reported:
Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell reviewed how many stories the newspaper put on the front page about John McCain and Barcak Obama over the past ten weeks and discovered a wide gap in favor of Obama, a "disparity," she declared, "so wide that it doesn't look good." Howell, the Washington Bureau chief and editor of Newhouse News from 1990 until 2005, outlined in her weekly Sunday column what she determined: "Democrat Barack Obama has had about a 3 to 1 advantage over Republican John McCain in Post Page 1 stories since Obama became his party's presumptive nominee June 4. Obama has generated a lot of news by being the first African American nominee, and he is less well known than McCain -- and therefore there's more to report on. But the disparity is so wide that it doesn't look good."

Specifically, "in overall political stories from June 4 to Friday, Obama dominated by 142 to 96. Obama has been featured in 35 stories on Page 1; McCain has been featured in 13, with three Page 1 references with photos to stories on inside pages." That "dovetails with Obama's dominance in photos, which I pointed out two weeks ago. At that time, it was 122 for Obama and 78 for McCain."...
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center