By: Joe Strupp
Jim Brady, executive editor of The Washington Post’s Web site, who took down a popular reader blog Thursday after it overflowed with harsh messages about Ombudsman Deborah Howell, said the blog would likely return in the future. But, he said the Web site would have to find some better screening technology to filter out obscenities.
“We got about 1,000 posts and at least 150 to 200 were using either profanity, hate speech or personal attacks,” Brady said about the responses to Howell’s controversial column last Sunday, in which she stated that indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff gave money to both political parties, when most research shows he only gave directly to Republicans.
Brady said the comments forced his staff to spend hours time reviewing the responses and tossing out those that were unusable for the blog. “We don’t allow profanity or name-calling and we need to figure out a way to keep it clean,” he told E&P late Thursday. “It was a real burden.
“I don?t think there was much dialogue going and it is a little frustrating to be accused of not taking criticism when I think we did a good job of that,” he said.
When Howell posted a follow-up note on the site today, saying she should have written that Abramoff “directed? money to both parties (in the Democrats’ case, via Indian tribes), Brady said the responses to the blog returned at an even faster rate, with about 300 in a span of three to four hours. “We were taking a lot of them out again today, and it starts to wear on you,” Brady said without noting how many pf the posts were deemed unfit. “The feeling is that until we get a more effective way to manage it, we wanted to shut it down.”
The blog, post.blog, is one of about 25 such posting sites the paper has for readers. It was launched in November as a way for them to comment on Post-related issues, and sometimes for controversial subjects, such as the recent dispute over the name of Dan Froomkin’s “White House Briefing” blog. “When we had the Froomkin stuff, we had to clean up a lot of stuff, too,” Brady recalled. “But not to this level.”
While Brady confirmed the blog was taken down because of the Howell responses, he did not point to the ombudsman for the problems. “It fueled all of these comments, but she responded to it and I don’t blame her at all,” Brady said. “She has been great about it.”
When asked what the future of the blog is, Brady said, “I believe it will return, and it will not be too long [of a wait],” he added, without estimating when the return might occur. “We need to come up with a way to keep it clean.”
Brady speculated that a tighter filter able to block profanity or comments penned anonymously might be utilized. “Maybe a more creative block list,” he said. “To block certain words.”
In response to the removal of the blog comments, some bloggers critical of Howell directed readers to other Post blogs where they could still post their views on this subject. Others re-posted the original (deleted) comments on their blogs. Here is a sampling of those comments:
–Ms. Howell hasn’t quite yet mastered the art of ‘truthiness’ because the essence of that is avoiding the appearance of ‘wronginess’. She’s being called out by the readers by her inartfulness. We need an ombudperson for the ombudsperson!
–Why did you not report the fact (available from Bloomberg) that while tribes continued to give to democrats the level of giving to democrats DECLINED after their relationships with Abramoff began? Is it really that hard for you to get the picture of what was going on there?
–As a longtime reader of the Washington Post, I am appalled at Deborah Howell’s performance as the paper’s ombudsman. I am a former reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and I can not imagine an editor at my former paper allowing such poorly researched material to get into print–whether as a news story, opinion column, or God forbid, an ombudsman’s essay.