LETTERS UPDATE: ‘Wash Post’ Feels the Heat From Blog Readers

By: Jay DeFoore

Our popular letters column returns this week with several thoughts on the quite public spat between the washingtonpost.com and its readers, as well as reader analysis on why the Chicago Tribune doesn’t get it, how the Star Tribune could improve its Web site and the final word on a little-known medical condition called holoprosencephaly. As always, letters can be sent to letters@editorandpublisher.com.


All the Facts re:washingtonpost.com

Ed’s note: For the record, many of the letter-writers below argue that the comments the Washington Post took off its post.blog were neither offensive or profane. They base their (perhaps faulty) judgments on the comments that were archived on different blogs. However, the paper’s spokesman says that the comments they point to were in fact not the ones the Post had a problem with. He says the comments that led to the Post’s action were in fact never posted to the site.

Just a note of fact about all those links to web sites showing comments on post.blog before they were turned off. The comments that caused the action were never posted to the site. They went far beyond criticism of the issue, and deep into the kind of vitriol and unreasonable language better suited to locker rooms and pool halls. They were simply unfit to be printed in a forum open to people of all ages.

Eric Easter
Sr. Manager, Communications


Feeling The Heat

Re: Wash Post’ Web Editor Explains Decision to Shut Off Blog Comments

I read a majority of the comments on both blogs and although some were strong and highly critical, the ones that used profanity and were offensive were way in the minority.

My general opinion is, “If they can’t stand the heat, they should get out of the kitchen!” It is the readers and subscribers who pay the bills and keep them in business, and the public has a right to get the truth and facts correctly and objectively. If you can’t trust the people who are reporting the news, (especially the Ombudsman for Heavens’ sake,) to do that, then they deserve the criticism. To quote Ms. Schmidt, “Cowards run, Bloggers never do!”

Roberta Gaylord


Deleted Comments Saved at DU Blog

I thought it might interest you to know that the blog DU (Democratic Underground) archived the thread Deborah Howell Responds from post.com before the Washington Post took it down. Here is the link.

As you can read it is not overflowing “with profane and hateful messages about Ombudsman Deborah Howell.” Most of the comments are quite reasonable under the circumstances.

Annie Robbins
Seattle, Wash.


Where’s the Profanity?

Initially, the Post said they took the site down because they were overwhelmed with posts. And there were only “about a dozen” according to the Post that “failed to make a substantive point and were simply personal attacks on Howell and others.”

Nowhere did they say the comments were filled with “profane language.” See this link.

What’s more, The Public Eye of CBS reported that although not all comments were read, “and certainly not ones the Post may have deleted before pulling the plug for good…[w]hat [the reporter] saw was certainly aggressive criticism, some off-base, some more on-point.” In other words, in their sample, no profanity!

As they write, people “attack[ed]…Howell?s ability to be an ombudsman and on the paper for its reporting. And there were an awful lot of calls for Howell to resign or be fired over the issue.” But the CBS reporter saw no profanity. But for crying out loud, people were outraged. What did the Post expect? To be greeted with flowers? See this link.

As someone who posted an initial comment, sans profanity, I can report to you that my comment was deleted.

Mimi Schaeffer


Cause for Concern

Although strongly worded, I did not find any of the comments to the Post concerning Howell profane or over the top. I did, however, find them exceedingly thoughtful, honest, and concerned at what is happening to the Post.

Gary Van Ess
Green Bay, Wis.


Rushing to Judgment When Convenient

Re: ‘Miami Herald’ Writer Pleads Guilty to Contempt Charge

It’s interesting to note that Miami Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler has no comment at this time on Ana Veciana-Suarez’s case: “[I]t would be inappropriate … while the case remains under consideration by the judge.” Isn’t he the same guy who was all over the media condemning former Herald columnist Jim DeFede for secretly taping a phone conversation? As I recall, Mr. Fiedler was all too eager to broadcast his guilty pronouncement long before the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office reached a conclusion in Mr. DeFede’s favor.

Mary Truchelut
Wilton Manors, Fla.


One Theory on Chicago Tribune’s Declining Revenue

Re: Tribune Stock Falls on Revenue Decline

As a Chicagoan and long-time Tribune reader, my willingness to purchase the paper went into deep decline when they produced a recent multi-part series in support of the decision to go to war in Iraq, after all that has happened there.

It was almost as poorly written as was their endorsement of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

Their method was to look at what the Bush administration had claimed and then compare it to what we know now.

Ridiculous. Most of what we know now was known back then, if they had listened to anyone other than the Bush administration.

This is probably one of the bluest cities in the country. Republicans are an endangered species in Chicago especially, and to some extent in Illinois (remember that Republicans had to go to outsider Alan Keyes to find someone to run against Barack Obama in 2004).

The Tribune just doesn’t get it.

Mary Townsend


Access to TimesSelect Columnists

Re: Want to e-mail a New York Times Columnist? Better Subscribe

Wow, one has to pay the Times to send an e-mail to one of their prima donnas? Hmmm, if figures. Maybe that’s why the Times refuses to print “all the news that’s fit to print”. One has to subscribe and pay the Times to get the truth. That explains so much. I’ll think that I’ll just skip paying the Times and stick to how I’ve been getting the news and truth for some time now. I’ll just keep searching the Web.

Don Nash
Murray, Utah


Stephen Baldwin Heroic Anti-Porn Stance

Thanks for the article “Movie Actor Baldwin Launches Anti-Porn Action, Promises Newspaper Ads.” God Bless Stephen Baldwin. I will go see his movies whenever they come out. I only wish more actors and actresses would stand up with him because our youth look up to them.

His reward will be in Heaven.

Brenda Brown


Response to E&P’s Web Site Redesign Contest

Re: Announcing E&P’s Web Site Redesign Contest

Much like the passing of 33LP’s, 8-Track Tapes and Cassettes, the medium may change, but the content will prevail.

It has been quite a while since I have read a physical newspaper on a regular basis, preferring to get my news online for a variety of reasons.

I live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area and the StarTribune would be a logical source for news. Unfortunately, the online version of StarTribune (www.startribune.com) has always been a poor sister to the paper version, and recently became completely irrelevant with its redesign. The front page has become a compendium of “man bites dog” stories, scant local stories, no national or international stories, insipid political stories, heavy on “he said/she said” reporting with a GOP attitude.

This Web site is beholden to the “eye candy” philosophy, and to make matters worse, it is done poorly. It is impossible to read, so even if it had fantastic content, it would be lost.

Take a look and tell me if this would be your source for news.

John Vennewitz


Educating the Public on Holoprosencephaly

Ed’s note: Last week’s stories on a so-called “cyclops kitten” received widespread attention, as many doubted the cat was real. Several readers wrote in to verify the story and even educate us about a little-known, often fatal condition called holoprosencephaly that occurs in humans as well as animals and often results in facial deformities. What follows is a letter from a “proud mom of a holoprosencephaly survivor.”

Holoprosencephaly (HPE) is a real condition, affecting children not just this cat. It is a shame that the only time the condition gets any attention is when a cat is born with it. In reality, many children and their families deal with it everyday. There are different levels of severity — alobar, semi-lobar and lobar. Every child is different and may or may not be able to do different things, i.e. walk, talk, eat, etc.

My daughter has HPE and is eleven years old. She is adopted. She came to live with us at the age of six months at which time we were told the she would not live but a few weeks and then not past one year of age. Doctors, where we lived at the time, refused to do anything for her. She needed a shunt to drain fluid from her brain but they she wasn’t going to live anyway they would not help. So we decided to move back to Baltimore (where we were originally from) and sought help there. She received a shunt within three weeks of our move and has continued to improve since. She has an amazing story, she is real and she is a joy.

She attends a special needs school where she thrives. She cannot walk unassisted, she cannot speak without a communication device, but she is dearly loved. She uses a wheelchair and she can walk in a gait trainer (a special walker for children that can not support themselves) and she communicates with her eyes, facial expressions and vocalizations. Everyone at school loves to see her — she knows everyone! My social butterfly.

Most parents who receive the diagnosis of HPE are given the “gloom and doom” from the doctors. Many are advised to abort the child. No hope is given. This is a rare condition and in reality many children do die but many live. I know of one girl with HPE that is 21 years old. Who are we to decide that there is no hope?

Belinda Brittain
Proud mom of a Holoprosencephaly survivor
Frederick, Md.

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