Washington Post, Blogger Cross Swords

    December 14, 2005
    WebProNews Staff

Confusion and politics figure in the dust-up between the newspaper, its website, and bloggers who have blasted the paper’s ombudsman and its political editor over their views on a column appearing on the Post’s website.

So what’s in a name? An accurate description of a column that collects information and stories relevant to the title? A gross defamation of the work of real journalists?

It depends on who you ask. To Washington Post political editor John Harris, the ‘White House Briefing’ blog written by Dan Froomkin and linked from the WashingtonPost.com Columns & Blogs page could confuse people by its title:

If I worked outside the paper, I might presume myself that a feature titled “White House Briefing” was written by one of the newspaper’s White House reporters.

Given that there is such confusion, the question is whether this is a problem. For me it is a problem. I perceive a good bit of his commentary on the news as coming through a liberal prism–or at least not trying very hard to avoid such perceptions. Dan, as I understand his position, says that his commentary is not ideologically based, but he acknowledges it is written with a certain irreverence and adversarial purpose.

Harris likely sees passages like the one in Froomkin’s most recent column as part of the problem:

President Bush briefly emerged from his protective bubble yesterday, took a few thorny questions from an unscreened audience and a network anchor, and was more forthcoming than he has been in months.

Commentors responding to Harris’ remarks overwhelmingly supported Froomkin’s work and criticized Harris in a variety of ways. However, neither Froomkin nor Harris started this Beltway Blowup; it was the new ombudsman, Deborah Howell who got the ball rolling:

Political reporters at The Post don’t like WPNI columnist Dan Froomkin’s “White House Briefing,” which is highly opinionated and liberal. They’re afraid that some readers think that Froomkin is a Post White House reporter.

John Harris, national political editor at the print Post, said, “The title invites confusion. It dilutes our only asset — our credibility” as objective news reporters. Froomkin writes the kind of column “that we would never allow a White House reporter to write. I wish it could be done with a different title and display.”

Harris is right; some readers do think Froomkin is a White House reporter. But Froomkin works only for the Web site and is very popular — and (executive editor Jim) Brady is not going to fool with that, though he is considering changing the column title and supplementing it with a conservative blogger.

Froomkin wrote a response to Howell’s piece, and said: “Regular readers know that my column is first and foremost a daily anthology of works by other journalists and bloggers.”

Doc Searls said it best during the announcement of the Structured Blogging Initiative: “If anyone doubts the grassroots exist, take a look at what’s happening here.”

Yep, the venerable Washington Post rocked by accusations of pandering to the White House, all because of an opinionated blogger. Grassroots indeed.

David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.