Deborah Howell and the Post launched a rare defensive ombudsman column this weekend, posting it two days early in the hopes of quickly settling a feud that broke out on Romenesko’s site. The feud began when Knight-Ridder folks leaked an internal memo laying out recent problems they’ve had with the Washington Post’s reporting–in one part accusing the Post of not giving credit for one scoop and in another part questioning some of the paper’s reporting from Iraq.
“Washington journalism has about it a peculiar insularity. Who gets credit for groundbreaking reporting is not important to most readers, but Washington editors often try to knock down each other’s stories and want to be credited when they think they’ve broken a story first. I know; I’ve done it,” Howell started.
In the very unconvincing and overly defensive column that follows, Howell lays out why she thinks the paper is in the right (Byron Calame, surprise, surprise, agrees with her over at the Times). First, on the question of the Post’s Iraq death toll numbers, she gets some basic questions from author Ellen Knickmeyer‘s boss, but fails to speak with Knickmeyer personally–and then throws up her hands: “Frankly, there is no way at this point that I can say anything authoritative about Knickmeyer’s story or Hoyt and Walcott’s complaint.”
Wouldn’t it seem that this is a problem that could easily by solved by asking Knickmeyer to put another reporter in contact with the mysterious Interior Ministry official no one else can find?
Then, on Knight-Ridder’s second point, she says the paper’s editors said they were wrong but it didn’t warrant any correction. Then Howell gives room for the Post to air its own complaints: “National Editor Mike Abramowitz noted that a Post story on lax enforcement of mine safety regulations appeared a day before a similar Knight-Ridder story in January and that The Post was not credited.”
Howell’s still settling into her Post post, but she certainly seems to be doing her darndest to not get too deep into anything. Her columns, even when launched defensively, at best seem superficial, and at worse are outright negligent in their thoroughness.