WashPost Ombudsman Upholds Romney Hair 'Scoop' As Paper Shamelessly Admits Pro-Obama Story Timing

Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton touted the Post’s Romney-haircut “scoop” as a “deeply reported story” that “holds up to scrutiny.” But the family of the haircut victims told ABC it was “factually inaccurate” and it shouldn’t be used as a political football. Pexton said nonsense: the Post has received “no specific complaint of inaccuracy.”

Perhaps more shocking is that the Post shamelessly admits they timed this story precisely to echo on the day after President Obama’s big pro-gay announcement. They actually waited a day longer than planned to let Obama have the front page to himself when he was being “historic.” Pexton’s only nod to the right: he panned the sneaky update that’s still not a “correction”:

Stu White was portrayed in the original story as being “disturbed” by the alleged haircut incident for decades, and then it was amended to a couple of weeks. That’s embarrassing, but not to the shameless Post:

Kevin Merida, national editor of The Post, said on Friday that “We should have updated it with a note.” I agree with Merida. I would have used strike-through text online to make it clear to readers that that part of the online story was changed. I think that’s just the better part of candor. There is now an editor’s note at the very bottom of the story. The Post is not calling it a correction. I think it is a correction, but not germane to the central theme of the story.

Here’s how Pexton dismissed the family’s complaint:

“Mr. Lauber’s family said in a statement that they were ‘aggrieved that John would be used to further a political agenda,’ Parker wrote in her story. In a tweet she also wrote that the family said “ ‘The portrayal of John is factually incorrect,’ but they would not elaborate on how it was inaccurate.”

Jason Horowitz talked to all three of John Lauber’s sisters for the story and carefully explained to them what the story was about, Merida said.

The Post has received no specific complaint of inaccuracy from the Lauber family, Merida said. “We stand by the story. It’s a full portrait. It’s the story of Mitt Romney’s years at Cranbrook.”

This is certainly not a “full portrait.” It’s a hit piece that’s helped liberal journalists, talkers, and bloggers to assault Romney as someone who “tortured gay kids” for fun. If in 2004, the Post had done a long story on how John Kerry didn’t deserve his medals, they wouldn’t be able to tell liberals with a straight face that it was a “full portrait.”

Finally, there’s the issue of timing.

Pexton said he, too, would have timed this story like the Post to build on Obama’s “historic” interview.

The other criticisms are that this story was published knowing that President Obama was going to announce his shift in favor of gay marriage. The allegation is that somehow The Post is working with the White House to time the story.

Do I think The Post took advantage of the timing? Yes. Vice President Biden had telegraphed the president’s position on gay marriage just days earlier. This story on Romney was in preparation for three weeks. It is part of a series of biographical stories on Romney being written by Horowitz and others and edited by The Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and associate editor, David Maraniss, who is known for his best- selling biographies of major U.S. political figures.

 If I were an editor I might have sped it up a little, too, to take advantage of the national discussion on gay marriage. Does that mean Post editors are timing stories with the White House? I hope not, and I doubt that is the case.

Merida said they held the printed version for a day because they didn’t want it clashing with the Thursday front page coverage of Obama changing his mind on gay marriage.

“It just happened to coincide with the time when President Obama made his statement. We factored it in and that was the decision not to run it in print on Thursday,” Merida told me.

What’s funny is that he would say “gee, I hope not” to allegations they’re working hand in glove with the White House. The real point is this: Would the Post need to make a phone call to plan this timing any better with Team Obama?

They also claimed this convenient arrangement gave the Romney camp more time to answer the Post’s attack piece. Then there was this amazing claim:

“We’re a competitive news organization,” Merida said. “In the real-time journalism environment that we operate it in, we felt it was best to publish when we had it ready. You always run the risk that people have heard about it and someone else will publish before you.”

He said this after they explained they sat on it until Obama received his front-page “history” treatment. In fact, the Post story went up online by mid-morning to gain maximum publicity almost a day ahead of the print edition.

But the real joke of “we’re a competitive news organization” is how the Post has sat for months on investigations of Democrats. With the Clinton sex scandals in particular, its timing was delayed for months both with Paula Jones claiming sexual harassment in 1994 and with Juanita Broaddrick claiming sexual assault in 1999. Back then, they needed months to "double-check" – or they needed a political event to occur. They published the Jones story when Clinton hired a defense lawyer. They published the Broaddrick story after the Clinton impeachment trial ended.

Pexton should really address how his newspaper has a serious appearance problem with politicized story timing.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis