Washington Post adds Editor’s Note to Romney bullying story; Ombud weighs in

DC Porcupine | Big Journalism | The Washington Post
The Washington Post has added an editor’s note to its story about Mitt Romney’s high school days. “We should have been clearer about it and we are adding an Editor’s note to the story to explain the change,” Post spokesperson Kris Coratti told me by email.

Earlier, the paper had argued it didn’t need to address the change it made to its story about Romney bullying John Lauber. Coratti told Washington media blogger DC Porcupine:

“Following an erroneous report about our story, more detail was added to address any perceived inconsistencies,” Coratti writes in an email. “Nothing in our story was inaccurate, therefore no correction was needed.”

That’s a generous reading of the change, which DC Porcupine detailed in a blog post earlier on Friday:

Here’s the original, emphasis added in both:

“I always enjoyed his pranks,” said Stu White, a popular friend of Romney’s who went on to a career as a public school teacher and has long been bothered by the Lauber incident. “But I was not the brunt of any of his pranks.”

And the update:

“I always enjoyed his pranks,” said Stu White, a popular friend of Romney’s who went on to a career as a public school teacher and said he has been “disturbed” by the Lauber incident since hearing about it several weeks ago, before being contacted by The Washington Post. “But I was not the brunt of any of his pranks.”

The new Editor’s Note reads:

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story reported that White “has long been bothered” by the Lauber incident. White later clarified in a subsequent interview that he has been disturbed by the incident since he learned of it several weeks ago from a former classmate, before being contacted by The Washington Post.

Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton told Poynter early Friday he was looking into the change. He published the results of his investigation early Friday evening:

The Post is not calling it a correction. I think it is a correction, but not germaine [sic] to the central theme of the story. …

Mitt Romney (left, shown with his father George Romney, right) graduated from Cranbrook in 1965.

Right wing blogs went bananas over this correction: “WASHINGTON POST ROMNEY HIT PIECE IMPLODES” is one of Big Journalism’s headlines on the story, which in fact provides a remarkably nuanced portrait of the presidential candidate as a young man. (So nuanced, in fact, that it really lends itself to a print re-reading, which I did this morning.)

Among the evidence for this implosion, according to Ben Shapiro: The sister of John Lauber, the victim of the incident with Romney and his school chums, “said that she didn’t know anything about the bullying incident.” Moreover, Lauber went on to live well:

But Lauber, at least according to his obituary in the South Bend Tribune, led an incredibly full life. He graduated from Vanderbilt, became a member of the British Horse Society, had his seaman papers, was a licensed mortician in three states and head chef at the Russian River Resort in California, and even served as a civilian contractor to the troops in Iraq. This does not sound like someone crippled by a supposedly crucial incident back in high school.

The mortuary business: The last place you’d ever look for anyone haunted! But seriously, Horowitz found five people who independently confirmed the incident. Shapiro’s speculating; Horowitz reported. The non-correction correction is ridiculous, but it doesn’t dent the story much. And I haven’t heard anyone objecting to the portrait of Romney, the thoughtful and altruistic natural leader. That’s also in Horowitz’s piece.

Readers also questioned the timing of the story’s publication, which Pexton addressed:

Do I think The Post took advantage of the timing? Yes. Vice President Biden had telegraphed the president’s position on gay marriage just days earlier. This story on Romney was in preparation for three weeks. It is part of a series of biographical stories on Romney being written by Horowitz and others and edited by The Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and associate editor, David Maraniss, who is known for his best- selling biographies of major U.S. political figures.

If I were an editor I might have sped it up a little, too, to take advantage of the national discussion on gay marriage. Does that mean Post editors are timing stories with the White House? I hope not, and I doubt that is the case.

Post National Editor Kevin Merida told me Thursday:

We were mindful of both the flood of news coverage yesterday surrounding President Obama’s same-sex marriage remarks and the desire to give the Romney campaign as much time as possible to respond. It’s also just a very long and involved tale, sensitive and complex, and it needed to be edited to our collective satisfaction. So that was yesterday’s decision. That said, in the competitive real-time journalism sphere we operate in, we felt it was best to publish it when it was ready.

Merida underscored that reality in a statement to Pexton, “You always run the risk that people have heard about it and someone else will publish before you.”

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  • Billy Budd

    Frankly, Gary, it’s bunk — and it depresses me that people can no longer distinguish journalism from opinion. The notion of a purely liberal  press plays nicely into an agenda to cast conservatives as victims, prisoners of conscience, but it ignores the fact that the number-one cable news channel, all of talk radio, and the overwhelming majority of newspaper op-ed columnists promote conservative politics. All of this, however, has nothing to do with journalism, which seeks to tell the truth. That’s the test of good journalism: Is it true?

  • Billy Budd

    Obama’s high school use of marijuana has been known since 1995, when he acknowledged it himself. Do you know what news is, Gary? And do you have any proof for your outrageous conspiracy theories? Of course not.

  • Anonymous

    Speaking of misspent youth, when will the WaPo call for Obama to release his college transcripts?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/4ATHLWOWRAOQDHVXC2VRZRFWLI Bubba Yak

    Wash Post is a spineless tool of the Obama admisistartion. You screwed up, now grow up and admit it. Time for this ppaper to go out of print…oh wait there is an Obama bailout on the way to save his patsies at the Post.

  • Anonymous

    Jesus. Does it occur to you that you people all sound exactly the same as each other, and that there might be a reason for this? You don’t really wonder why nonconservatives tend to think you’re all a bunch of emotion-driven, cliche-spewing, propaganda-charged, uneducated, automaton ignoramuses, do you?

    Because it’s not your conservatism. There used to be a lot of smart conservatives around. Now, they’re all gone, or shamed into acting like enraged dumbasses. Because of crap like this and people like you. You’re killing the very thing you think you’re defending – to everybody’s loss, including liberals.

    Go read a book.

  • Anonymous

    Ah, yes. Good point, normal adult Gary.  And also, Sandra Fluke is still a slut!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • http://twitter.com/HotCornerBlues Gary

    Not so subtle Obama-rooting in the media

    By Jennifer Rubin

    The flood-the-zone coverage of President Obama’s fake
    evolution on gay marriage and the obsession with Mitt Romney’s high
    school years have revived the “media are in the tank for Obama”
    complaints from conservatives. To that there are two responses: 1 ) Duh
    and 2) It is important to differentiate. To assist in the latter,
    distinguishing the laughable bias from the well-what-do-you-expect
    variety I’ve come up with 10 clues (other suggestions are welcomed) for
    assessing how deep in the tank for Obama is a given news organization:

    1. Multiple front-page stories run on Romney’s high school bullying, while the administration’s bullying of industry and his campaign’s current snooping and harassing of Republican donors are ignored.
    ———————————–

    more – > http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/post/not-so-subtle-obama-rooting-in-the-media/2012/05/12/gIQAZMTpKU_blog.html?wprss=rss_right-turn

  • http://twitter.com/HotCornerBlues Gary

    So when are we going to see Horowitz’s 5000 word article on Obama’s high school drug use?

  • http://twitter.com/HotCornerBlues Gary

    So when are we going to see Horowitz’s 5000 word article on Obama’s high school drug use?

  • http://twitter.com/HotCornerBlues Gary

    When this story is reported by other outlets, they only report the “Romney as bully” part. Axelrod got exactly what he wanted from Horowitz.

  • http://twitter.com/HotCornerBlues Gary

    When this story is reported by other outlets, they only report the “Romney as bully” part. Axelrod got exactly what he wanted from Horowitz.

  • Anonymous

    And yet, both of those things are true.  So, your theory is that the thousands of words that weren’t about the gay-bashing were just done for cover?. “Hey Horowitz,” says the editor, “The word has come down from Axelrod — better add a whole lot of stuff about how great Romney is, so nobody sees through us.”

    Do you ever feel embarrassed by the fact that all you ever do is spit out stuff., almost verbatim, that you heard on Rush and Fox, and various other allied propaganda mills, as if you were a robot? Also, you’re not embarrassed by the ballcap icon? Because unless you are an 8-year-old boy, you probably should be.

  • Billy Budd

    Nonsense. Make the correction, by all means, but did the incident happen? Romney won’t deny it, and you still have four eyewitnesses. Stu White even refused the campaign’s request to come to Romney’s defense. The amount of deflection here is understandable, but it’s unseemly. Romney can’t remember the gang assault, even though he had the scissors and his co-conspirators still feel guilty about it  – well, then, how about  the time he walked a blind teacher into a door? He didn’t know what a homosexual was — well, how about a “sissy”? We have already seen Romney do an impersonation of someone with a lisp. I remember high school. Romney could express remorse, and most people would forgive him, but he basically doesn’t get it.  He needs to show us that he’s not a complete jerk, not the person who likes to fire people, not the guy who changes positions whenever expedient, not someone who lacks sympathy for the little guy. It’s all about him and how he reacts to it. “I played a lot of pranks in high school.” On Fox Radio, he laughed about the student being homosexual. Hazing is a crime. This is weak, to say the least. You can’t bully your way out of this, Gary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1401559265 Jason Wermers

    Reading the original and the edited versions, it appears that a clarification would have been in order in the print paper.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1401559265 Jason Wermers

    Reading the original and the edited versions, it appears that a clarification would have been in order in the print paper.

  • http://twitter.com/HotCornerBlues Gary

    By the way, Andrew, the general public isn’t going to focus on the “nuance”. All they’re going to know is that Romney “bullied” a gay kid while Obama thinks gay people should be allowed to get married. Total hit piece. 

  • http://twitter.com/HotCornerBlues Gary

    This was obviously a joint operation by Horowitz and David Axelrod.

  • lop2bwp

    Even the Post’s undisclosed “correction” is erroneous.  Mr. White told ABC News that he didn’t have any knowledge of the incident until told about it by the Post reporter.