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Roger L. Simon

The WaPo’s Ombudsman opines on Panthergate

July 17th, 2010 - 1:37 pm

I have nothing personal — I don’t know the man and wish him well — against the Washington Post’s ombudsman Andrew Alexander, when I say he shouldn’t have his job. I don’t think the Post — or any newspaper or news website, for that matter — should have an ombudsman.

Ombudsmen perform a dubious task, prolonging the pretense that such media outlets are unbiased. They are not, they cannot be and, in the final analysis, they shouldn’t be. They are written by humans, a uniformly biased group, whether they admit it to themselves or not, for whom objectivity is almost impossible. Live with it.

What the ombudsmen does is essentially a form of co-optation, defusing the wrath of readers so the media outlet can go back to business as usual — or something very close to it — pretending that it will now be objective. Bosh!

Alexander’s own post about the WaPo’s lack of coverage of the New Black Panther case is a perfect illustration. The ombudsman struggles to be critical of the Post, but not too critical. (They are his employer after all … sort of like CBS setting up its own investigation of Rathergate. Remember that?)

Meanwhile, the Post’s own defense of its behavior in Alexander’s piece is laughable: National Editor Kevin Merida, who termed the controversy “significant,” said he wished The Post had written about it sooner. The delay was a result of limited staffing and a heavy volume of other news on the Justice Department beat, he said.

Huh? What news could be more “significant” than that the US Department of Justice is biased — or should I say just plain racially prejudiced — in its treatment of voting rights? Equal voting rights for all was one of the original bases of the civil rights movement in the sixties. I remember well — I was there, in South Carolina, registering voters. Any subversion of this now, from whatever perspective, is execrable and big news indeed.

As for “limited staffing,” the average issue of the Washington Post, like almost every other newspaper, is filled with so much dross it’s impossible to take that excuse even faintly seriously. I’d like to see Merida say that one with a straight face.

No, we don’t need a ombudsman to tell us what was going on here. The Washington Post was following its narrative just as the Washington Times follows its narrative. Nothing more complicated than that, alas. And what we would expect.

Nevertheless, newspapers want to make us think they are unbiased by the use of these ombudsmen. But shouldn’t editors like Merida be answering these questions for themselves, not through a filter? He certainly has one very famous quite recent example, if he’s interested — Steve Jobs. Just the other day, as uncomfortable as it obviously was for him, the Apple chief was out front and center responding to problems with the iPhone 4. No such luck with the Washington Post.

But perhaps I am just a sorehead. There was no mention by Alexander of PJ Media, where DOJ whistleblower J. Christian Adams has written most of his comments about his former employer. There was only some vague reference to right-wing blogs. Is that all we are? I would compare the vitae of many of the writers here at PJM quite favorably with the best at the Washington Post, but, hey, I’m biased. I’m the CEO.

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