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Ink, Hornets, and Spokane

complaint_department_toilet_paper.JPG These disparate topics, among others, occupy my dear Ombudsman's recent column, sadly. Reduced to calling herself "The Busy Complaints Department," Deborah Howell seems to have decided that discussion of how The Washington Post actually covers events is outside her sphere.

Never mind that the Washington Post last week covered the President's global warming recognition by saying that "some European leaders appeared impressed with Bush's proposal" without actually naming a single one; or that The Sleuth MaryAnn Akers thought that all three contestants getting a final Jeopardy question about Nancy Pelosi right was worth reporting; or that the President defamed the patriotism of lawmakers who "hadn't read the immigration bill" but the Post couldn't find one GOP lawmaker to comment.

Nope, all this journamilzm escaped Ombudsman Howell's attention. An Ombudsman must make choices about how to fill her column. Only the critical issues make it into Deb's weekly output:

· A reader wrote to say she wondered whether The Post had changed its ink recently, because she thought she had developed an allergy to the ink. Kevin Conner, printing quality assurance manager, checked with suppliers and said that he could find no change in the ink.

Well, every column needs one folksy story, right? And why stop at just one:

· Another reader complained that the paper wasn't being delivered, only to find that his wife had forgotten to pay the bill.

Or even two?

· William Friar of Burke reached into a Post vending box at the Virginia Railway Express station on Rolling Road. "I felt a sharp stab on my wrist. I bent down to look up at the ceiling of the box and was surprised to find myself staring at a small hornets' nest with some annoyed-looking residents. I had been stung . . . " He called The Post, but found the nest still there the next day and wrote to me: "While the nest is small, and there are only a few hornets around it, if someone who has a high reaction to a hornet's sting is stung, it could be dangerous." The Post circulation team got on it, and Friar wrote the next day: "I am delighted to report that the hornets have been successfully evicted."

Deb can still overlook inconvenient facts while defending The Post's editorial choices:

· Local readers usually get my attention first, but I wanted to know the answer to this query from Paul Turner of Spokane: "Why, in print editions, [does] Spokane require the state designation while cities such as Boise and Syracuse do not?" Ashley Halsey, associate Metro editor and weather map guru. said, "Because there's a Spokane in Missouri."

Hey Deb! There's a Syracuse in Indiana. And Kansas. And Missouri, Nebraska, and Ohio. Also Utah. See, I think there's a problem when the Ombudsman refers to any editorial employee as a "guru" — especially when the wikipedia is so close at hand.

Finally, Deb finishes with a rousing defense of Book World editor Marie Arana's choice of reviewer for Al Gore's book "Assault on Reason."  Having laid out the reader complaints and the editor's lengthy response, Deb provides her surprising conclusion:

I agreed with Book World Editor Marie Arana's assessment.

Trivial? Usually.

Oddly disconnected from The Post's coverage of the week's events? Reliably.
In synch with editors defending their choices against reader criticism? Unquestioningly.
UPDATE: Since I wrote this on Saturday, the first linked article has been changed to read: 

The White House said Bush's proposal has drawn positive reactions from several European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has called for more prescriptive measures for limiting global warming.

There's no mention of a change or correction, but modifying the online article to attribute the positive reactions to the White House and including Angela Merkel's name is just the kind of after-publication cleanup about which a real Ombudsman might have concerns.

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