By: Joe Strupp
Newspaper Guild leaders at The Washington Post on Monday afternoon called on the newspaper to withdraw its sponsorship of a controversial Sept. 11 memorial walk organized by the Department of Defense. The event has drawn opposition from several groups for its alleged pro-war tilt.
“Basically, the guild is calling for the Post to reconsider and drop sponsorship,” said Rick Weiss, a Post reporter and co-chair of the Washington Post unit of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild Local 32035. “As a matter of maintaining its appearance of neutrality on polarizing issues of policy.”
Weiss said eight members of the local’s leadership committee met Monday and unanimously passed a resolution asking the paper to drop its support of the event. He said the resolution would be delivered to Post Publisher Bo Jones as soon as possible.
The unit represents more than 1,400 Post employees.
The resolution reads, in part, “Post news employees are subject to disciplinary action for participating in political activities that may be perceived as revelatory of personal opinions or bias. The Washington Post itself should be held to the same high standard. Moreover, arguments that the Freedom Walk is anything other than a political activity — and indeed, a political activity in support of the war in Iraq — should be put to rest by the prominent participation of country music star Clint Black, best known of late for his war-glorifying song ‘Iraq and I Roll.’
“The Guild supports The Post’s stated intention of honoring the nation’s veterans, including those who have served in Iraq,” the resolution continues. “But the Post undermines this goal by lending its support to a political event that links the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to the war in Iraq — a link that The Post, in its reporting, has shown to be false.
“If The Post wants to encourage greater respect for veterans among its employees, it should consider giving those employees something that the Guild has repeatedly sought in bargaining: A day off on November 11, Veterans Day, to honor the patriots who have served our nation.”
In a related move, Post media writer Howard Kurtz noted his opposition to the Post sponsorship in an online chat with readers today. “I wish The Washington Post were not co-sponsoring this event. It is an operation by the Pentagon — a place that we devote substantial resources to covering — and therefore subject to all kinds of interpretations,” he said in response to a reader question. “It is not the same, in my view, as the corporate side of The Post handing out awards to the best teachers or other kinds of nonpartisan civic activities.”
Jones did not return calls seeking comment on the resolution Monday, but told E&P on Friday that he would remove the Post as a sponsor of the “Freedom Walk” if the event turned out to be “partisan. “
The march, which also is receiving sponsorship help from two Washington D.C. radio stations and a television station, has drawn opposition from some anti-war groups that contend it amounts to a pro-war demonstration. Others have specifically pointed to the Post’s involvement, claiming that the newspaper should not be part of a potentially political walk.
Country singer Clint Black, who has written a pro-war song, is listed as the star attraction for the Walk.
Groups such as United for Peace and Justice and American Friends Service Committee have come out not only against the walk, but against the Post’s part in it. AFSC has even placed a form letter of protest on its Web site to be e-mailed to the Post, along with e-mail addresses for Jones, Executive Editor Leonard Downie, Jr. and Managing Editor Phil Bennett. “The Washington Post has no place sponsoring an event that clearly smacks of propaganda,” the form letter states.
Jones said the paper is not donating money to the event, but is providing free advertising space for public service messages promoting the walk.
Post spokesman Eric Grant also did not return calls for comment Monday, but said last week that “the walk was never presented to us as a rally to support the war and we would be very disappointed if it took that approach.”