Michael's Dispatches

Lacuna At Washington Post

The problem, as described by Christopher Fotos in “Peter Carlson, Meet Michael Yon“—also published on July 4th at Newsbusters.org—is this:

“Many writers covering the launch of a new magazine would mention that its inaugural issue had been boycotted and removed from thousands of chain-store racks because of a copyright infringement case that continues to rage… Not Peter Carlson, though. That would be too… obvious.”

Fotos points out that Carlson’s “review” reads suspiciously like a publicist’s press release, and indeed, it goes beyond sycophantic rave and comes across strongly as an editorial advertisement. And that’s only when considering what Carlson put into the piece. It’s what he left out that really raises disturbing questions about the professional standards at the Washington Post.

The simplest test of any news organization’s research capabilities is what I call “the Google test.” This admittedly non-scientific measure is the cyberspace equivalent of the wet finger wind test but just like no one should spray pesticide or laquer without testing for wind, newspapers should perform minimal research before publishing any material, even something as trivial as a magazine review. Google “SHOCK Magazine” and the copyright controversy is there on the first page of the search results.

Some might argue that more relaxed standards apply to media criticism than to investigative reporting. Point well taken. But there is “relaxed” and then there is not mentioning the disastrously clumsy launch of a magazine that, failing to get more than a handful of advertisers, hit the stands with a copyright infringement controversy surrounding the cover photograph, news that was the focus of more than a dozen articles in industry publications, and which resulted in the magazine being pulled off the shelves of thousands of stores. When something is that relaxed, it’s time to call the code.

Does Peter Carlson keep up with the industry news? Does the Washington Post have internet access for their staff? Carlson failing to mention any of this would be like a reviewer of the latest symphony performance failing to mention that the guest violinist was accused of playing on a stolen Stradivarius and half the orchestra had walked off the stage in protest before the first note sounded.

The disturbing question for Carlson and his editors at the Washington Post is this: which evil is this the lesser of? Either Carlson didn’t bother or couldn’t find something of this importance to his topic, in which case it is incompetence; or, Carlson knew about it and chose to ignore it, in which case it is dishonesty. As an institution that prides itself on being a safe repository for the public trust, the real question for the Washington Post is an either-or. Is the Washington Post incompetent or dishonest? Or, is the Washington Post incompetent and dishonest?

Ironically, Carlson ends his piece with a gentle rib-nudging chide to SHOCK’s editor that, like his title, works equally as well when applied as advice to the Washington Post: “It’s almost as if you think your readers are stupid.” When the Washington Post can’t be trusted on the minutiae, they cannot be trusted.


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