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PostWatch: An irregular correction to the Washington Post

Brought to you by Christopher Rake


Wednesday, December 18, 2002
9:51 PM

Len Shapiro update.... The Washington Post sportswriter recently ran a long story in the sports section on Augusta; I did not treat it kindly when I blogged it Dec. 12. Now I have a copy of a letter from Jim McCarthy, a public relations consultant who is working for Augusta and has written a long letter to ombudsman Michael Getler identifying a number of problems with the story. I don't think I can use all of it simply for reasons of space, but here are some excerpts:

...Before raising the specifics, it's worth pointing out that while he was developing this piece, Mr. Shapiro wrote an open letter in the official newsletter of
the Golf Writers Association describing the Club's effort to publicly voice its position as "disturbing," "distasteful," and "odious."...

To the specifics:

The total omission of any view contrary to Ms. Burk's or in support of the Club is a running problem throughout the story. Could no one be found who believes, variously, that single-gender clubs are a beneficial part of American life, that Augusta National is being unfairly attacked, that the Club's record of charitable giving is laudable? For one such source, Mr.Shapiro need have looked no further than his colleague Sally Jenkins, a longtime women's advocate who has first-hand knowledge of the Club. Or, he might have quoted the head of the CSRA Foundation, an independent organization that distributes the contributions that the Club makes to charities each year.

Lee Smith, the president of CSRA, provided Mr. Shapiro with a detailed breakdown of those donations which totaled $7.25 million just since 1997....

Why was none of this information included in the story? Perhaps it's because, as Mr. Smith recounted to us, Mr. Shapiro told him "I can tell which side you are on."

By my count, eight paragraphs -- 85 lines in all -- were given over to quotes critical of the Club's policy. How many paragraphs and lines to quotes supporting the policy? I encountered none, after several readings. Yet the article cites two polls saying that "the public seems evenly divided." Similarly, no mention was made that women regularly play the course. Could none be found for their views? ...

The article states that the Club "gets other breaks" in its state tax assessment. Mr. Shapiro quotes only an unnamed source to support that view ­ a "city employee" who simply speculates "that's all it's worth? That's a joke." Following up on the story, a local reporter, Joshua Quinn from WAGT-TV, went to the assessor's office and actually looked at the equation used to make state tax assessments. ...He reported that the Club's assessment is, in fact, entirely accurate and consistent with those other businesses in the area....WAGT-TV attempted several times, they reported, to reach Mr. Shapiro for comment but those calls were unreturned. The Post's misrepresentation of these facts demands a correction at the least, it seems to me....

There's more--really! And finally, McCarthy points to a Christian Science Monitor story as an example of balance. Take a look--he's right. New Postwatch readers may not know that the Shapiro story is the kind of work that drove me, several years ago, to read the Washington Times. On certain issues the Post made it very hard to find out what was going on in the world.

Now we await the Post's response.

And welcome to all the Insta-guided readers today. Nice to see you.

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