Wednesday, January 25, 2006

At Least SOMEBODY at the WaPo Gets it!: (but the Editor STILL doesn't)

Dan "the Man" Froomkin, Wapo.com's blogger extraordinaire is back from paternity leave and  he came back swinging.  His brilliant comments today
in his weekly online chat prove there is at least ONE person at the Post who really GETS it when it comes to the Howell controversy.


Asked about the Controversy, Froomkin, who had himself been the target of Howell's poison pen (sparking a Post Blog explosion all its own) Pulled no punches:




I think washingtonpost.com's comment cutoff was a mistake. It's a big paradigm shift for people used to controlling every word that appears in their newspapers -- but online, a little loss of control pays off big time.


We should glory in the passion of our readers. We should listen to what they have to say, respond to their concerns, and if necessary correct their misimpressions. In short, we should empower the reader, not shut the reader up -- even temporarily.



Dan also lays the wood to Howell in no uncertain terms:



On the specific underlying issue, it's worth pointing out that the flashpoint for all this was a flatly inaccurate statement by the ombudsman -- that was then left uncorrected and unaddressed for several days


So much for Debbie's "poor me, I was just misunderstood" fig leaf.


Then he cuts the legs out from under Jim Brady's excuse about getting the vapors from all the naughty words and unkind things the readers were saying:




Furthermore, the fact is that the over-the-top abusive comments were in a tiny minority. From what I can tell, the vast majority of posts were passionate, articulate, reasoned, interesting.


In fact, the quality of the discourse in washingtonpost.com blog comments and Live Onlines (and in my e-mails) is extraordinary. It enriches our site enormously.


Well imagine that, a reporter who actually values the opinions of readers.   And then almost a coup de grace he actually praises the readers for being PO'ed about Howell's column.  As far as he's concerned, getting Angry when the Post prints BS is a good thing.  


Preach it Brother!:



The Web offers great newspapers the opportunity to correct their mistakes quickly and effectively. When we don't, I'm actually quite happy to see people getting angry.


Can I get an Amen?


It's almost as if he values accuracy, and is concerned with the Post's credibility  or something.  Strange.  Also a Pity the editor couldn't find it in himself to care about such things. (too preoccupied with the potty-mouths in the peanut gallery apparently)


Well its about Damn Time.   It's refreshing to see somebody  at the Wapo.com finally stand up and speak the truth to power, even if the power is his own boss.


In fact, I think Froomkin's one mistake today, was a misplaced faith that his boss Jim Brady, editor of the Washington Post.com and the man responsible for shutting down the blogs, actually GOT it.


 In his Chat Froomkin (The Post.com's former #2 editor BTW) said of his boss :




The good news is that my understanding is that comments will be back soon. I think Jim Brady understands better than most that when you're lucky enough to matter so much to people that they want to engage with you, let them!



Perhaps.  But as it happened Brady was at the very same time  having his own online  Chat today (on a panel with the writers of Buzz Machine, firedoglake;  PressThink and Instapundit).  And I must say he  was showing precious few signs of the enlightenment Froomkin ascribed to him.


During the Chat, both  panelists and chatters made good  points which framed the controversy excellently:




Seattle, Wash.: The Post's dramatic over-reaction to some critics has, in effect, broadly painted all Democrats on the left as vulgar. Last night, one of the sillier TV pundits characterized blog reaction to Howell's column as "organized terrorism." What can The Post do to tamp down this sort of dangerous mischaracterization, and how can readers who care enough to participate in the dialogue trust that they won't again all be treated as barbarians when they disagree?


Jay Rosen: I think it would have been wise if Deborah Howell, in her latest piece, "The Firestorm Over My Column," had elected to share with readers not only the rude, crude and disgusting things sent her way, but some of brilliant and inspired ones that made her think, caused her to question herself, or introduced problems she had never considered before....


Jane Hamsher: The post.com should be thrilled by the passion and intelligence and civility exhibited by the vast, vast majority of commenters.


Over at Kos, someone compared an archived version of the original comments on the "Maryland Moment" blog with the ones that were restored and found only ten that were deemed so "offensive" that they had to be deleted. That's a 99% civility rate. I think most people who run a public board would think that was remarkable.


Sadly though, Brady  responded to all this thoughtfulness by pulling a Scotty McC and clinging to his now thoroughly discredited original story with a death grip.




Jim Brady: I have made this point countless times, but to no avail. The cached posts you see don't include any of the posts we removed. Simple as that. When we saw them, we took them down, which means they weren't live and thus not on that cached page. So analyzing that page and drawing conclusions is faulty.


however  mere minutes later that lie is put to rest once and for all :



[ in response to another query on the same subject]

Jame Hamsher:..

Are you saying that these messages, which you are saying you pulled, never appeared on the blog?


Jim Brady: Not at all. They were there and we removed them. And thus they would not appear in a cached page, which is essentially a snapshot in time. If they weren't live at the moment the page was cached, you wouldn't see them.


Ahh but if they WERE then We WOULD have now wouldn't we?


Then a panelist cut to the chase and asked the million dollar question:



Jane Hamsher: Jim, Jane here. I'm just wondering, did you filter messages before they were seen publicly or after? We know that posts were removed and then restored at various times over the last week. But what is puzzling is that some messages with profanity were restored while others with strictly appropriate political content were not. Can you explain?



Apparently not, because he never even attempted to respond to that question, instead he ignored it completely  even after Hamsher asked it again and included a Link to the specific comments (the KOS diary natch.)


After Jim Ducked that question  Hamsher tried another, this time asking for an answer to the  simple factual question of precisely HOW MANY nasty posts there were (an issue it's fair to say, was central to justifying the action) .


This time Brady doesn't ignore her but instead  turns on her with a nasty personal attack (ironically the very thing he complained about readers doing)




Jane Hamsher: There is a big difference between "several" and "hundreds." Is it a "dozen" as Strauss said, or "hundreds" as Brady said in the Hugh Hewett interview?


I think Jim Brady owes us some specifics.


Jim Brady: I don't know the exact number, but I can assure you it was more than dozen. I removed about 50 myself.


And, Jane, since you obviously don't want to discuss the topic at hand and would instead prefer to play Columbo, let me pose a question to you: I looked at your blog last night in preparation for this, and in addition to all the nice things you had to say about me, I noticed that you often link to "WaPo" articles that are critical of the Bush Administration and give them your implied endorsement. But then when we publish something that doesn't fit into your worldview, we're called "shills of the GOP." Which is it? You can't have it both ways, but you seem to want to.


Can it really be so that the editor of the largest online newspaper in the country is so clueless about blog culture as to believe that linking to an article means you are giving it an "implied endorsement"?


Brady then continued his forthcoming ways by brushing off questions about why Howell, who had started the feces-storm with her lazy reporting,  wasn't participating in the Chat:




Jim Brady: Deborah has chosen for the time being not to any live discussions, but we've talked about it, and you'll see her on here at some point.



ah well. there it is then.  The Post lets Howell publish a poor poor pitiful me Column  but then lets her hide under the desk rather than face the people she insulted in it.  So much for that whole "valuing interactivity thing


Well Since Jim Never did get off his talking points and into a real discussion, I think I'll let this participant speak for me:



Artesia, N.M.: Jim Brady, you're trying to define the primary issue as civility -- as if it's a shock that people use bad language. But the primary issue is credibility. The Post's ombudsman relayed a blatantly false Republican talking point, offered a late and grudging limited "apology", and then you shut down a forum that showed your customers were angry about it. Stop acting like you never heard bad language before and start addressing the actual issue.





Update [2006-1-25 17:6:13 by Magorn]:
Be sure to also Read this Diary which contains some interesting inside information from Hamsher about how Brady manipulated the Chat

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