Latest ‘Wash Post’ Ombud Column Draws Over 1,000 E-mails

By: Joe Strupp

Interest in Washington Post Ombudsman Deborah Howell’s recent flap over indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff has apparently not died down as Howell received more than 1,000 e-mails Sunday after her latest column addressed the issue again.

She said the profanity and offensive comments in the e-mails have gotten so bad she recently turned on an obscenity filter in her e-mail software to block them out. “It really got bad on Thursday, so the obscenity filter went up Thursday or Friday,” she told E&P Monday. “I jacked it up to the aggressive level. It screens out obscenities. I didn’t even know it was there–one of the techies told me about it.”

But the software defense mechanism didn’t keep the hundreds of e-mails from getting through Sunday after Howell sought to respond again to reaction from her Jan. 15 column, which said Abramoff gave money to both political parties. She previously sought to clarify her comments in a Web posting on Jan. 19 that said she should have stated Abramoff “directed” contributions to both parties. That posting drew hundreds of angry or obscene comments to a Post blog, prompting Web editors to shut it down.

Sunday, Howell followed with another column in the newspaper that assured readers she had no plans to quit and stated her distress at the name-calling and offensive remarks her writing had received. Today, she said she might address the issue again internally or in another public way, but had no specific plans yet.

“I might write about it again, but I am not planning on dragging this out,” she said. “I’ve got lots of issues here to write about, lots of other issues.”

Howell, who joined the paper just last year after a long career as Washington bureau chief for Newhouse Newspapers, said she has three or four other topics from which to choose for her next column, but declined to reveal them. “I’ve got a job to do and I am moving on,” she said. “‘I’ve got a column to do next week and I’m getting on with my job.”

But she acknowledged surprise at the response to the Abramoff issue, noting that she has also received a lot of support from friends and colleagues. “I have heard from a lot of people I hadn’t heard from in years,” she said.

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