(UPDATE, 9/27/05: Still no reply by the WaPo or Getler, but Howard Kurtz at least gives us a tip of the hat in his Media Notes column today. Thanks, Howard. But if that's what passes for a correction at the Post these days, it's a sad state of affairs.)
Here are my letters to the Washington Post and its ombudsman, Michael Getler, regarding the Post's misrepresentation of a veteran, hard-left antiwar activist as a "novice protestor" last Friday. I sent the first e-mail to email@example.com on Friday night. I decided to take my complaint to Getler just a few minutes ago, after noting that the corrections page of the today's online edition contains corrections to two articles that ran on Friday but is silent regarding Dvorak's "novice protestor," and after verifying that the original article has not been "corrected" in-place on the Post's website. Honestly, though, I'm not holding my breath for a response.
UPDATE: In the meantime, thanks for all the links to the original post, which made it to BlogPulse's Number 2 slot Saturday, and was still at Number 27 yesterday.
Date: Sep 23, 2005 10:27 PM
Subject: Dvorak article on 9/23/05
The 9/23/05 edition of your paper included an article by Petula Dvorak that ran under the headline, "Antiwar Rally Will Be a First for Many; Focused Message Draws Protestors of All Stripes." In that article, Ms. Devorak paints Patrice Cuddy of Olathe, Kansas, as a "novice protestor" -- presumably representative of the "protestors of all stripes" to which the headline refers. The truth is otherwise, as the following blog posts demonstrate. In fact, Ms. Cuddy has been working with ANSWER and other anti-war groups for more than two years, including actively protesting with them "since the beginning of this war . . ." What's more, she admits to having been an activist for the anti-war movement and various left-wing causes since the 1970s. Far from being a "novice" protestor, she is a hardened veteran. And as to her "stripes," they look very much like those of the organizers of the rally, who are trying so very hard to paint it as a mainstream event with broad appeal.
All of this can be discovered through a few simple Google searches. I know this because I am one of the bloggers who uncovered Cuddy's background, using a few simple Google searches. Either Ms. Dvorak uncritically accepted the assertion that Cuddy was one of the aforementioned novice protestors "of all stripes" (an assertion that could only have been made by one of the protest's organizers, since only they could have given her Cuddy's name), or she decided that truth wasn't important in her article. In either case, this is the sort of behavior that has cost the mainstream media so dearly in terms of credibility in the past several years. I'd like to know which explanation applies to Ms. Dvorak's behavior in this instance, and I'd like to know when you'll print a correction.
My first post on this subject has attracted about 6,000 readers in the past eight hours. I plan to post your response to this e-mail (or lack thereof) as well.
Date: Sep 26, 2005 10:46 AM
Subject: Petula Dvorak article on 9/23/05
Dear Mr. Getler,
Last Friday the Post ran an article by Petula Dvorak entitled, "Antiwar Rally Will Be a First for Many; Focused Message Draws Protestors of All Stripes." The thrust of the article was that, although the rally was organized by far-left groups including the ANSWER Coalition, it was attracting mainstream Americans -- people "of all stripes" -- who had never before protested the war and who did not share the rally organizers' radical politics. Aside from statements by the rally's organizers, whose assertions on such matters cannot be considered presumptively trustworthy, Ms. Dvorak's only evidence in support of this claim was an interview with Patrice Cuddy of Olathe, Kansas, whom Dvorak described as a "novice protestor." The unmistakable implication of the article was that Cuddy was a mild-mannered, middle-aged former school teacher from conservative Middle America whose conscience finally compelled her to act out against the war.
Unfortunately, as numerous bloggers (including this author) had discovered by early Friday afternoon, Ms. Cuddy is anything but a "novice protestor": She is a self-described "Life long Labor Democrat, arms-control, peace, environmental activist since the mid 1970s" who has been organizing buses to anti-war rallies organized by radical groups, including ANSWER, since before the war began. (She has worked so closely with ANSWER that, in January of 2003, she was given the e-mail address " firstname.lastname@example.org" and was listed on the ANSWER website as one of the Kansas points of contact for an upcoming anti-war rally in D.C. that ANSWER was planning.) She has written publicly: "If you ever get an opportunity to go to one of these big rallies, DO IT! A Total rave thing without the drugs and alcohol." And most damningly, she admits on her own blog that she has "been in the streets since the beginning of this war." The following links blogs discuss these matters in more detail, and link to the relevant evidence:
It was flatly dishonest to to characterize Ms. Cuddy as a "novice protestor," and to even implicitly hold her up as an example of a protestor who did not share the radical politics of the event's organizers. By any objective standard, there is no evidence that Ms. Cuddy's political beliefs or experience as an antiwar protestor are distinguishable from those of the rally's organizers. Even if the general thrust of Dvorak's article was accurate, that doesn't excuse misrepresenting a veteran, hard-left antiwar activist in order to make the point. Any assertion that it does would be no better than the New York Times' failed "fake but accurate" defense vis-a-vis the forged Bush National Guard memos last fall.
I would add that the "novice protestors" theme was a staple of all of Ms. Dvorak's coverage of last weekend's protests.
I e-mailed the foregoing information to "email@example.com" last Friday night, and I know of at least two others who did the same. I have yet to receive any response to my e-mail. Dvorak's article has not been corrected, and no correction appears on the current corrections page of the online edition of the post, despite the fact that the page contains corrections to two other articles that ran last Friday. I am forced to conclude that the Post is ducking the issue. Therefore, I am turning to you.
I would like to see Ms. Dvorak's misrepresentation of Cuddy corrected, both in the original article and on the corrections page. Further, I would appreciate some explanation of how it came to be. Did neither Ms. Dvorak nor her editors fact-check the assertion that Cuddy was a "novice protestor" -- an assertion that I can only presume was first made by the rally's organizers (from whom Dvorak must have obtained Cuddy's name and contact information)? If not, was it because they were biased in favor of the rally and/or its organizers? Or, in the alternative, was Dvorak actively complicit in misrepresenting Cuddy's background to shore up her thesis that the protestors would be "novice" protestors and Americans "of all stripes"?
I eagerly await your response. In fairness, I should tell you that I plan to blog the results of this e-mail, whatever they may be.