‘Wash Post’ Online Editor Takes Questions on Erasing Blog Comments

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By: E&P Staff

Jim Brady, executive editor of Washingtonpost.com, took questions from angry or mystified readers this afternoon in an online chat at his Web site, the day after he shut down the comments section at one of his most popular blogs.

The action came after hundreds of readers submitted harsh or profane comments about a recent column and posting by Deborah Howell, the Post ombudsman, relating to her description of indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff “directing” that money be sent to Democrats as well as Republicans.

Brady opened the chat with a question he used to illustrate what he saw as the problem he faced. Other questions follow. The entire chat can be found at the Post site.

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Cache Valley, Utah: if ya can’t stand the heat…Publish partisan lies and not expect a backlash? Get real pal!!! Fire that f***ing b**** forthwith and all’s well that ends well, no? Otherwise, batten down the hatches, pal, ’cause there’s a storm a brewin’ and it’s gonna be nasty.

Jim Brady: Afternoon, thanks for all your questions (well, maybe not this one). But I wanted to start with it to make a point that this was the kind of stuff we spent all week cleaning out of our message boards (except there were no asterisks). And when the amount of time it took to ferret these kind of posts out exceeded the bandwidth we could devote to it, we decided to close commenting on post.blog down. Now, on to some intelligent questions, of which thre were many.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Brady, I can understand why you would want to temporarily shut down reader comments (re: the Howell matter) if your staff could not handle filtering out a large quantity of profanity and hate speech. However, that doesn’t explain why you deleted all of the reader comments that had been posted and therefore had presumably passed your staff’s scrutiny. Many comments were well-reasoned and supported by facts — why not leave them up?

Jim Brady: Good question. The reason was that shutting them all off together was just that it was the quickest way to remove the problematic ones that were starting to overwhelm our ability to get rid of them. But, you’re right, there were lots of good posts, and over the next few days, we’ll go back through them and restore the ones that did not violate our rules, though we’re still going to leave comments off on that blog for the time being.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Mr. Brady,

Does The Post believe that Ms. Howell’s reporting on the Abramoff scandal as involving Democrats is fair and accurate? If so, based on what facts?

Jim Brady: Just to be clear on the issue of the column itself, that’s not my domain. I am the executive editor of the web site, not the newspaper, so that’s a question that you’d need to take up with them. What I’m looking to do here is to answer your questions on the decision made to shut off comments on post.blog, and make sure the people reading this discussion can see some of your takes on the decision.

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