Following Up With The Washington Post On Their Fast And Furious Coverage

Why is it so hard to answer such a simple question? I’m having the same problem with The Washington Post. Their ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, emailed me a short note:

Hi Mary:

I actually am not a spokesman for The Post, although I do monitor everything it does. I speak out on issues as they come up and as I think they need raising. As I have pointed out in my last e-mail to you, I have addressed Fast and Furious in my column and in my blog, and have urged that it be covered thoroughly and that the coverage continue. I have also raised this issue internally.

I don’t think the fact that a Post story raised an earlier, similar operation under President Bush’s administration, makes that story partisan. It makes it contextual.

The Post is doing an excellent job on the Solyndra scandal, and in fact has led on that story. It is doing reasonably well on Fast and Furious. But these stories take time, digging, and resources. The Post is not unlimited in any of those.

Thanks for reading The Post.

I’m glad Mr. Pexton is keeping pressure on to keep Operation Fast & Furious a priority and is telling those that readers have been wanting more coverage. However, we still haven’t received an answer as to why readers have to search and comb the website to find articles on Fast & Furious. I repeated my questions to him in my response.

Dear Mr. Pexton:

(Before we start I know you pointed out I write on conservative site Big Journalism. However, I’m NOT a conservative. I’m a Libertarian.)

Thank you for your response. I’m thankful you’re staying on top of this and urging to keep this story going. I just wish the people would listen to you because they had no problem putting in a lot of effort making sure America was kept up to date on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s firing of 7 US attorneys.

I decided to compare the two more thoroughly and I’ll share with you guys the results. Now, since the subpoenas for Eric Holder were just now issued I’ll only compare the coverage from when the story broke to the issuing of the subpoenas.

The US attorney’s scandal first appeared in the Post on January 19, 2007 and the actual subpoenas were issued on March 8, 2007. Between those dates 20 articles, blogs, editorials, discussions were published. Another thing to note: All were written by Post writers, not taken from other news sources like AP. Those pieces weren’t just developments either. Some were about different people in Congress calling for Gonzales to resign.

The first piece I saw at the Post was January 30, 2011 and I admit the pieces from January to about June/July were great. But once it was revealed that the scandal went deeper than the ATF the articles started to dampen. I also cannot find an article about Issa questioning Holder on May 4.

I noticed when there were talks of sending Gonzales a subpoena the Post actually had a Post writer write an authentic article. However, when there were talks of sending Holder a subpoena the Post published the AP article. When Gonzales was sent a subpoena the Post wrote another authentic article. Yet when Holder was sent a subpoena the Post used the AP again. I’ve also noticed recently you guys have been using the AP and CBS articles a lot more for Fast & Furious coverage.

Plus, like I said before, us readers should not have to search and comb your website to find any information on Operation Fast & Furious. We shouldn’t have to write to you Mr. Pexton about where we can find Fast & Furious information on the website. A scandal like this should be on the front page or at least the front page of the US or Politics page. Instead when the memos were released and talks of subpoenas were going on we had articles about Mr. Perry’s rock or Romney’s faith on those front pages.

Again, why does the Post deem Fast and Furious not important? If you can’t give me the answer please point me to the person who can. Readers like myself need to know. Should I contact Ms. Horwitz?

Thank you,

Mary

Instead of concentrating on their coverage of the rock on Rick Perry’s vacation home I decided to compare their coverage of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Attorney General Eric Holder. I did find the first article about Operation Fast & Furious very well done. The coverage until about June was decent, but after that I noticed it went downhill. Could it be because of Mr. Holder’s testimony in May? I couldn’t find an article in the Post that talked about those hearings. Ms. Horwitz did write a long article on July 26, 2011 about the whole operation, but a few commenters noticed that she lacked some vital information. Commenter SageThrasher pointed out:

“The WaPo also left out the documented fact that many of the gun salesmen who called the FBI NICS hotline were told to let the sales proceed–yet more evidence that the operation, which spanned multiple agencies, was Justice Department project from the beginning.”

It appears that when evidence started mounting that this operation went deeper than the ATF (to the DOJ and quite possibly the WH) Ms. Horwitz and others at the Post stopped writing so well about it and went to AP & CBS more often.

There’s also the fact that when Congressman Issa brought up subpoenas the Post used the AP article instead of writing one of their own. When there was talk of subpoenas for Mr. Gonzales the Post wrote their own article. When the House Oversight Committee did issue the subpoenas once again the Post used the AP article, but wrote their own when Mr. Gonzales was issued his subpoena.

I hope to receive a response soon. As soon as I do I’ll update you here at Big Journalism. Stay tuned!

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