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Post paternalism or black blackmail? Why The Washington Post endorsed Marion Barry three times.

Why The Washington Post endorsed

Marion Barry three times.

No question about it, the guy who just stepped out of his maroon van, the guy now walking down H Street in northeast Washington, sticks out. First of all, in a neighborhood that's mostly black, he's Wonder Bread white. Then at the west corner of 4th and H as he goes by the sign for Your Pizza Home restaurant-the long-neglected one with all the missing letters that actually says YOU A Home-you notice his clothes: a worn, shiny suit and an unfashionably wide tie that both look older than he does. By the time he enters the low yellow and brown building on the other side of 4th, you realize he looks pretty unhappy too-as if instead of what he's about to do, he'd rather be having a root canal. The kicker is that the same guy shows up here every six months like clockwork. And he's been doing that for almost three years.

If you were a cop on surveillance watching all this, you might be on the radio already. The face doesn't quite fit the place. "Hey, wait a second," you can imagine the cop saying to his partner, "I've seen that guy's picture in the paper. Yeah, it's his paper. That's Donald Graham-he runs the Post. What's a guy like that doin' around here?"

Graham is here on one of his regular treks to WOL, one of the radio stations owned by black radio personality Cathy Hughes. To understand Graham's visits you have to go back to 1986 when, after months of planning, the Post unveiled its newly revamped Sunday magazine. That first issue contained a lengthy cover article on a black singer charged with murder in Washington and a column by Richard Coers who, fearing robbery, refused to admit young black men into their stores.

The stories set off an immediate outcry from black readers. Hughes, along with D.C. Congressional Delegate Walter Fauntroy, launched a strikingly effective boycott: Each Sunday, the "Take It Back" protesters collected copies of the magazine-nearly 300,000 before it was all over-and tossed them on the front steps of the Post's building. To get Hughes to call off the campaign, Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee finally agreed to publish an apology in the newspaper, and Graham consented to appear on Hughes's talk show every six months through 1996 to discuss the newspaper's local coverage.

The Post's woes are similar to those experienced by newspapers across the country trying to cover cities populated largely by minorities who can point to a long history of media neglect. In New York, Boston, Baltimore, Washington, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, newspapers are constantly fending off the criticism that neither staffing nor coverage-especially on the front page-adequately reflects the communities that read them. This criticism has increased pressure on publishers, editors, and reporters to pay more attention to local coverage.

There will be just that sort of pressure on the Boston Globe, for instance, in the wake of the Charles Stuart murder-suicide case. The paper's uncritical reporting of Stuart's false story about a black assailant demonstrated that racism and ignorance can still warp news coverage and showed why black readers' suspicions-even of apparently liberal newspapers like the Post and the Globe-are sometimes justified.

On the other hand, newspapers can go too far in yielding to community pressures. The Miami Herald has recently gone through great turmoil in trying to serve the fast-growing, prosperous, and politically influential Cuban-American population in its circulation area. Consider what happened during last summer's heated campaign to fill the House seat of Florida's late Rep. Claude Pepper. The election pitted Jewish businessman Gerald Richman, a Democrat, against Republican State Sen. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, who was vying to become the first Cuban-born member of Congress. Two days before the Herald's endorsement editorial was scheduled to run, publisher Richard Capen announced to his staff that he would not permit an endorsement of Richman. Capen's stance set off a 30-minute, heated argument in the editorial meeting, where a majority of those present backed Richman. But in the end, the publisher prevailed, as publishers usually do. Capen said he made his decision out of concern that failure to endorse Ros-Lehtinen would result in financial losses for the newspaper.

Reporters and editors at the Los Angeles Times were embarrassed last summer when their much smaller (and now-defunct) rival, the Herald Examiner, broke the news of black mayor Tom Bradley's sub-rosa $18,000-a-year consulting deal with a bank doing city business. Seven months before that, the Times had discovered a different $18,000 deal Bradley had with another bank handling city deposits, but its managing editor killed the story. Although the editor defended his action by claiming that the story needed more reporting, one white Los Angeles politician told The New York Times that "there is a feeling that when you take on Bradley, the entire black population is going to be offended. They are very nervous about what happens if this guy is toppled and that causes the lid to be blown off."

These newspapers, admittedly, are in a tough bind. If they aggressively cover minority politicians, they likely will find themselves charged with racism. But if they try to soften their coverage, then they open themselves to charges of pandering. Although the right balance is obviously difficult to achieve, there's a lot to be learned from the story of how the Post is failing to attain it.

Do the Post thing

Packaging a cover story on a black suspected of murder with an essay that legitimated making racial distinctions in the first, heavily promoted issue of the Post magazine may have demonstrated insensitivity to black readers. Although it's true that blacks commit a disproportionate number of violent crimes, upright blacks become understandably frustrated with feeling that they constantly have to compete with negative images. Despite that just complaint, however, the angry boycott was an overreaction. After all, the magazine articles themselves were not defamatory or racist. The story about the singer was accurate in every detail-right down to its revelation that in an attempt to cash in on his predicament, he sang about killing people. And although there were ample grounds for reasonable disagreement with Cohen's essay, it was hardly a one-sided endorsement of antiblack bias. "All policies based on generalities have their injustices," he wrote, going on to say of storekeepers, "ask yourself what their policies would be if young white males were responsible for most urban crime."

The protesters went beyond reasonable disagreement. Hughes said that the magazine's cover story and the piece by Cohen were "an indictment of all black males in the metropolitan area between the ages of 18 and 25." That kind of exaggeration characterizes many of Hughes's criticisms of the Post. She has asserted that in many years of living in Washington, the only time she has seen a black face displayed prominently in the Post was "when there was a crime or a scandal involved."

Hughes's notions of what constitutes good coverage are also skewed. She said that when she'd heard that the inaugural Post magazine would feature a black subject, "we assumed someone like Bill Cosby, . . . Oprah Winfrey. I never dreamed they would put a black thug on the cover." Hughes's attitude about news isn't all that different from Spiro Agnew's in his "nattering nabobs" heyday: She wants it all positive. "When I give the Post a dollar and a quarter on Sunday, I want to feel good," Hughes says.

The Post's relationship with Hughes has led to some unacceptable gaps in its news coverage. One example occurred last August when Hughes was seated prominently on stage at a rally of followers of Nation of Islam leader and black separatist Lewis Farrakhan. During the evening, speakers came forward to attack black politicians who've attracted white support. Jesse Jackson got the lion's share of the abuse; he was dismissed as "a weak-kneed, cocktail-sipping Uncle Tom." But, in its coverage of the event the next day, the Post didn't mention the attacks on Jackson. Never in a million years would the Post have made that omission if a white person had characterized Jackson that way. And the existence of black antipathy towards Jackson is certainly newsworthy. The result was that the Post fell down on its duty to all its readers because of a misplaced sense of its duty to some of them.

It's significant that Graham's contact with Hughes is so structured and unnatural: 3 hours every 6 months for 10 years. Graham's forays to WOL are almost like trade meetings or summit conferences with a foreign nation.

The offending material that provoked the "Take It Back" campaign, as well as the odd resolution of it, come from the same root: Donald Graham and his mother, Katharine Graham-the Washington Post Co.'s chairman of the board-don't really know many blacks well. Although he grew up in Washington, Donald Graham was shielded from the city's blacks by wealth, class, and geography. These are the same conditions that continue to isolate most Post editors and reporters from them.

Donald Graham knows he's got an elitism problem, and he's tried to fight it. After all, he did, upon graduating magna cum laude from Harvard, volunteer for Army service in Vietnam and upon returning, did a year's stint as a D.C. cop. But for all his efforts, he still can't seem to lose his noblesse oblige. That's why although the Grahams have, through the powerful instrument of their paper, achieved a very commendable record on such social justice issues as school integration and equal access to public facilities, they can't seem to shake their well-intentioned but ultimately condescending tendency to think of blacks not as people who, like whites, run the full gamut of talent and character but rather as a group in need of special treatment. And that's why they've never really figured out how to do news reporting about blacks.

In short, despite appearances, Donald Graham's meetings with Cathy Hughes are based on real common ground-they share the idea that blacks require not just fair handling but special handling. That's not ground either should be encouraged to stand on. It makes for a newspaper that mistells stories, misses them altogether or-most unforgivable of all-chooses not to tell them. All this encourages readers in cruel misconceptions: Black readers get the idea that they should expect extra breaks and white readers get the equally mistaken notion that blacks usually need them. The newspaper has pursued this skewed course in its coverage of blacks for many decades.

Father knows best

The Graham tradition of sacrificing news coverage to advance social aims was impressed upon Ben Bradlee during his earliest days at the paper. In the summer of 1949, when Bradlee was a young reporter, a 400 person race riot broke out at a whites only "public" swimming pool. Bradlee got the assignment; he interviewed participants and police and filed a comprehensive story. But the next day he discovered that very little of his reporting had gotten into the newspaper, and what there was had been buried in the second section. On top of that, the item was inaccurate: It described the riot as an "incident."

According to an account in The Powers That Be, David Halberstam's 1979 book on the national media, Bradlee was fuming about this when he suddenly was summoned to the publisher's office-the office of Donald Graham's father, Philip. Present were two top officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior, which controlled the city's parks and swimming pools, and one of Harry Truman's closest aides, Clark Clifford. When the men asked Bradlee to describe what he'd seen, he poured out all the grim details that his publisher had kept out of the newspaper. When Bradlee had finished, Graham told the government officials that the Post would run a full account of the riots the next day unless the Truman administration agreed to close all the city's swimming pools for the season and to reopen them, fully integrated, the following year. Clifford and the Interior officials agreed to the deal.

The message was clear: At the Post, when liberal goals for blacks were at stake, paternalism would win out over honest reporting.

Nearly 17 years later, that same attitude led the Post to downplay Easter Monday riots at Glen Echo Amusement Park that sent black gangs marauding through Bethesda and northwest Washington. The crowd of 10,000 young people at the amusement park at the time rioting broke out was almost entirely black. Yet, in an editorial about "the disturbance" published shortly after the violence, the Post couldn't face just assigning blame to a bunch of thugs. According to the paper, also at fault were the rioters' parents, the amusement park's operators for "unskillful management of overflow crowds," the city for the lack of recreational facilities, the Congress for "hanging on to local powers of government that it is not equipped to exercise," and the federal government for failing to fund education and recreational programs in Washington that it finances elsewhere. That editorial was the epitome of white liberal guilt-assuring us that "blame aplenty lies about us everywhere." A few more column inches and Plessy v. Ferguson would have been cited.

"There is this sentiment that, independent of what the people of Washington, D.C. think, the Grahams know what's best," says University of the District of Columbia urban studies professor Howard Croft. "It's as though Katharine Graham is saying, You're my flock. You're my children. And I know what's best for you.

In a way, Donald Graham is like Sal, the white pizza parlor owner in Spike Lee's movie, Do the Right Thing. When it came to blacks, Sal was kindhearted, but also defensive and paternalistic. In the end, the kindhearted part didn't matter much; it was overwhelmed by his other qualities. His pizza parlor burned to the ground as completely as if he'd been a Nazi. Significantly, when the comparison to Sal was made to Graham during a recent appearance on WOL, he didn't get it. He hadn't seen the movie.

The Post matched its tradition of condescension towards blacks with an equally well-entrenched tendency to ignore day-to-day news about them. During the 1950s and much of the sixties, even while Post editorials made clarion calls for integration, blacks could not get wedding announcements or photos into the newspaper. Events in their community went uncovered. Post reporter Juan Williams says that older city blacks tell him, "I remember when my uncle was in a fire over here. They didn't cover it. But they covered the fire in a white neighborhood." Strip joint endorsements

The Post today is either praised or blamed by city residents for doggedly dragging down Mayor Marion Barry. But there is no better example of its different standards for reporting on blacks than its failure to do just that, sooner. Barry, who first came into office in 1978 after his underdog candidacy against two more established rivals-the incumbent mayor and the city council chairman-was helped in no small part by the Post's endorsement. And you can't fault the Post for having taken that stand then-Barry had played a crucial and courageous role in the civil rights movement and had served on the city's school board and city council; there was real justification for thinking that this blend of idealism and practical politics would move the city forward. But the Post kept supporting Barry and suppressing bad news about him long after his last shred of promise had disintegrated.

The Post's double standard for Barry first became obvious in July 1979, when it covered his taxpayer financed 18-day trip to Africa. As Joseph Nocera pointed out at the time in these pages (see "How Washington's Mayor Got a Free Ride," November 1979), although the Post had long been justifiably tough on freeloading white politicians-it had recently run a story about 14 congressmen attending a meeting in Lisbon under the accurate headline, "Passage to Portugal: A Diary of a Junket"-it covered Barry's trip not with skepticism but with reverence. The series was called not "African Junket" but "African Journal."

Milton Coleman, then a city hall reporter and now the Metro section editor and the highest-ranking black at the Post, didn't think that Barry's trip had to produce concrete benefits for the District or its residents. Coleman wrote: "From a black perspective, it's important that black leadership understand, be a part of, and identify with what's happening in Africa."

Nowhere, in its more than a dozen stories about the trip did the Post press the mayor about the propriety of his taking the trip 1) at public expense and 2) while the D.C. budget bill was pending in Congress. Nor were questions raised about 3) his wife's using the travel as an opportunity to drum up business for her employer or about 4) Barry and his wife keeping gifts they received on the trip, even though this is expressly illegal. All this forbearance was somehow available although the Post criticized Jimmy Carter for taking a trip down the Mississippi while important issues were unresolved in Washington. The Post simply was not asking Barry the same tough questions it had been famous for asking white politicians like Nixon or Carter.

Since then, there's been no shortage of Post Fiddles While Barry Fiddles While Washington Burns episodes. Consider:

In December 1979, the Post breaks the story that Mary Treadwell had conspired to defraud the federal government and low-income tenants at a housing project she ran. Treadwell is later convicted and sentenced to three years in prison. No mention is made in the Post's front-page coverage that during some of the time she was committing this fraud, Treadwell was married to Barry, and that the mayor was Treadwell's partner in the housing project's umbrella organization. That information is run on page 16. There is no mention of the Mercedes Treadwell used to park in Barry's driveway, nor of the Volvo she gave him-all supposedly on her $23,000 annual salary. Later, when Treadwell is released from prison, she is immediately given a $28,000-a-year job with the city parole board. The Post runs that story on page D5.

*-In 1982 the Post learns that when one of Barry's supporters offered him several thousand dollars, the mayor responded by asking for the money in cash. The Post never publishes what it knew about the episode, even though Barry's desire to avoid a paper trail should have aroused suspicion.

*-In March 1983, the Post assigns a reporter to investigate widespread rumors that Barry had used cocaine when he stopped by a 14th Street strip joint in 1981. When the Post concludes that the cocaine allegations are unfounded, it runs an editorial denouncing their "smear quality" without addressing the payoff implications of Barry's own explanation for his attendance at the club-that he wasn't there for drugs or even for erotic delight; he was there to pick up a political contribution-even though the owners of the club were under grand jury investigation at the time.

* In October 1986, a Post city hall reporter learns that the supposedly full-time director of the D.C. Alcohol and Drug Services Administration was spending two days a week working at another job in Baltimore. Milton Coleman suppresses the story until after Barry's re-election, on the grounds that nothing illegal was involved. In protest, Post Metro reporters produce a list of nearly a dozen stories critical of the Barry administration that had been diluted, delayed, or killed.

The difficulties the Post has facing up to Barry's scandals are not the worst consequences of its confused racial idealism. Far worse than scandal is poor service. Despite sumptuous budgets, it's been years since the District's government worked. The schools are teeming with administrators who don't teach supervising teachers who can't teach. In a city with 10,000 homeless, the municipal housing authority can't seem to fill the 2,400 vacant apartments it owns. Those lucky enough to decipher the code on getting public housing sometimes have to wait years to get heat or running water. A drug dealer suspected of murder is mistakenly released from police custody; before he is recaptured, he's wanted for killing four more people. A man with prior convictions on heroin and assault charges as well as 72 previous driving suspensions is issued a D.C. driver's license anyway. Then driving drunk, he cripples a woman for life. To be sure, the Post has covered some of these stories-it's hard to ignore a drunk running over a woman downtown on a weekday afternoon-but the paper has rarely explored the larger questions of government failure that such stories raise. It was clearly the Post's responsibility to do a story like Jason DeParle's "The Worst City Government in America," which ran in this magazine. Although the Monthly is proud of such articles, the point of citing them here is not self-promotion, but rather to show what the Post could have been doing. The Post's failure to run these stories is all the more glaring because frequently it had unearthed most of the pieces of news that would support them. Yet it never put them together.) Despite the Post's immense resources, stories showing real understanding about the breakdown of D.C.'s government have usually run somewhere else.

Editorial wheeze

The most graphic example of this failing comes in connection with the Post's Juan Williams. Although widely recognized as one of the better reporters at the Metro section, Williams was not encouraged to get deeper into local stories. It was only in the pages of The Washington Monthly (see "A Dream Deferred: A Black Mayor Betrays the Faith," July-August 1986), and later in The New Republic and Regardie's, that Williams was able to confront the poor performance of Barry's administration. Since maintaining the appearance of fairness is an important goal for a newspaper, putting Williams, who is black, on the case would have been ideal. So why didn't the Post ask Williams to do that story?

The paper's demurrals on local coverage-which are in such stark contrast to the aggressive reporting and thoughtful analysis coming out of its national desk-seem driven by its wrongheaded racial attitudes. The thinking seems to be this: Since most of the city's employees are black, so are most of its incompetent employees. And criticizing blacks in print just doesn't fit well with noblesse oblige. But the Post's silence has a cruel result-most of the incompetents' victims are black too.

It's true that after revelations in late 1988 about Barry's repeated late-hours visits to the motel room of a cocaine dealer, the Post finally admitted that Barry is "an embarrassing, ineffective mayor at a moment when residents have a right to expect the leader of their government to focus squarely on drugs, murder, municipal finances, housing, and other local emergencies." But the paper was awfully late answering the wake-up call. In a real sense, it bears responsibility for those continued emergencies: After all, the Post has endorsed Barry in three elections.

"When I was working on the editorial page staff", says Juan Williams, "there was a tendency to hold Barry to a lower standard than other politicians." In 1982, the Post's readers were told on the editorial page that "on the whole, things are much better in the city and in city government than they were before Marion Barry took over," and that "Mayor Barry's achievements begin with his appointments to office. They are good."

Four years later, Barry's woeful shortcomings an administrator and his association with people conected with drugs were well known. As was the pervasiveness of corruption in the top levels of his a ministration: During Barry's first two terms, more than a dozen senior city officials were forced to quit under suspicion of wrongdoing. Among them were two of the appointees lauded by name in the Post's 1982 editorial, by now exposed as thieves. One was already in jail, the other was on his way.

Additionally, a drug-related investigation into Barry stalled only when his mistress and purported cocaine dealer, Karen Johnson, went to jail rather than cooperate with prosecutors. That news was disclosed not by the Post but by Mark Feldstein, investigative reporter for the local CBS-TV affiliate. Maybe the Grahams don't watch TV: The Post still endorsed Barry for mayor, this time citing "time-ingrade" as one reason for preferring him, and for another, that "neither the city nor its government has gone to hell in a handbasket over the Barry years."

New improved Post puffs

The Post's reaction to black hostility typical hasn't been more honest reporting. Instead, it's usually been P.R. like Donald Graham's Mission To WOL Or the puff" pieces in the Sunday magazine or the Style section on blacks that are there not because the Post management really finds them significant or interesting but because by publishing them the paper hopes to bleed off black pressure. Cathy Hughes has owned WOL since 1980, but the Post didn't really cover her much until "Take it Back"-and then only in the most deferential way. The technique often works as appeasement. Cathy Hughes was thrilled with the post-boycott Sunday magazine. "It looks like Ebony magazine," she enthused. "Almost every story is about blacks."

The Post has run many other damage-control pieces as news. There was the series "The New Black Woman" that positively sprawled-it totalled more than 240 column-inches-over the paper for three days straight in December 1986. All three installments opened on the front page. The first started "above the fold," forcing down that day's story on the then-breaking Iran-contra scandal. One of these articles opened this way: "As vice-president of one of the country's largest black advertising agencies, Caroline R. Jones, 43, of New York, a stylish and sophisticated divorcee, circles the globe on business and meets men of every nationality." Despite such lavish use of "hard news" space for a soft" feature, there was no lack of real news about blacks at the time, if only the Post knew where to look; this was the period when then-Lt. Gen. Colin Powell was being considered for promotion to second-in-command of the National Security Council. But the Post didn't get around to reporting on him for another three months, and that first Powell story ran on page A9.

In spite of repeated complaints about such myopia, the trend continues. Witness the page one story last December under the headline, "Drug Scourge Is Conspiracy by Whites, Some Blacks Say." Both the hysteria and the groundlessness of the 60 columninch story is established right in the lead: "A significant number of blacks believe that the white establishment has intentionally allowed narcotics to devastate their communities, even encouraged drug abuse as a form of genocide." Not one fact about the conspiracy-not even the name of a single conspirator-is revealed in the story. This is news? The editor of Washington's City Paper, Jack Shafer, put his finger on what's wrong with such stories by suggesting as a telling thought experiment. Imagine," Shafer wrote in his press column, "if the Post ran a news story about white proles who believe that Jews control the media and high finance and that nobody gets elected without their approval. You could even dress it up by quoting White Aryan Resistance leader Tom Metzger in the affirmative and my brother Jerry in the negative."

The problem the Post is stumbling over when it publishes these bizarre stories is no small one; it's the problem of affirmative action. Because anti-black bigotry is so monstrous, good people will find it very tempting to replace it with reverse discrimination. But the right thing to do is to be tirelessly fair to those who've been historically oppressed, right up to the point of reverse discrimination-without ever reaching that point. It's never right to confer benefits on people that they don't deserve, no matter what their race, no matter how much we'd like to. Justice requires destroying the traditional prejudices while abstaining from creating new ones. This is what you've got to keep in mind when you wonder: Should a newspaper be color blind? Or should it publish stories about blacks it wouldn't publish about whites? The answer is: neither. A newspaper should be attentive to all the differences among races, ethnic groups, and social classes and it should use what it learns in doing so to make its writing and reporting of truthful. But it should never let what it knows about race or believes about race or hopes about race influence it to write for any reason other than to communicate the truth. Playing by these rules is not easy, but doing anything else is either lobbying or lying. It's not newspapering.

In short, to make the Post a better newspaper, Donald Graham needs to do the same thing Cathy Hughes needs to do to be a better community leader: Stop seeing the world as composed of groups deserving special treatment and start seeing it the way it is.

Shying away from this difficult task and instead spending so much time and page space on public relations piffle keeps the Post bonded to very unrepresentative blacks whose concerns are not those of most of Washington's citizens. Cathy Hughes is worried about her ratings. Walter Fauntroy is worried about ... well, when he came to the Post a few years ago for a meeting set up to cover city problems, his uppermost concern was the newspaper's refusal to call him "Congressman" in print. (The paper uses Fauntroy's actual title: "D.C. congressional delegate.") If you're a white journalist-and the overwhelming majority of Post staffers are-and don't know many blacks well to begin with, and you spend too much time with blacks like that, you're going to get some very weird ideas about their concerns.

Instead of producing agitprop like the cocaine genocide fantasy, Post reporters and editors should be aggressively covering the city's institutions, elected officials, and neighborhoods. Such a grassroots effort would help the paper's staff learn that a lot of blacks in the city, unlike Hughes and Fauntroy, are not asking for soft coverage. Just real coverage.

Many voices

Donald Graham was challenged recently to produce real coverage in a letter he received from Sam Smith, a longtime community newspaperman and political essayist in the city.

Imagine," Smith wrote, ". . . a Post that found Style in people who earned less than six figures, or in people we could emulate rather than scorn. . . . A Post that did not wait for the downfall of the mayor to report the other voices and other ideas in the city. A Post in which one could expect to find both the joy and danger that awaited when one left the house in the morning."

The Post could begin improving in this direction by substantially increasing the size of its Metro section. The Metro desk has by far the largest number Of reporters but typically gets the least amount of daily space. News about the District vies for only a few pages with items from Virginia and Maryland. As a result the section usually only has space for nonanalytical articles about officialdom.

Since last summer, however, the Post has been showing some hopeful signs of change. More local stories have been creeping onto the front page, and the Metro section has been sprinkled occasionally with articles about interesting people and places in the community. A signal event was the paper's coverage of the Rev. George Stallings. Stallings is the priest who broke with the Vatican last summer, alleging racism, in order to set up his own brand of black Catholicism. The Stallings stories were extensive and by no means one-sided; along with attempts to identify the frustrations of black Catholics, there was the revelation of an incident in which Stallings allegedly had sex with an altar boy and the report that shortly before Stallings made his break, his church superior had asked him to undergo psychological counseling for a sexual disorder. These improvements in reporting may have already yielded a benefit for the Post. When Stallings attempted to launch an advertising boycott of the paper, his campaign fizzled.

Real news

But the most important sign that the Post may be making some progress through the minefield of reporting and race came last July, when the paper ran a story about Dooney Waters, a six-year-old black boy living with his crack-addicted mother. Even in a world too ready to make horrors like crack a statistic and a cliche, who wouldn't be wrenched by this narrative?

"While he was living in the crack house, Dooney was burned when a woman tossed boiling water at his mother's face in a drug dispute, and his right palm was singed when his 13-year-old half-brother handed him a soft drink can that had been used to heat crack cocaine on the stove.

"Teachers said that Dooney often begged to be taken to their homes, once asking if he could stay overnight in his classroom. 'I'll sleep on the floor,' Dooney told an instructor .... Please don't make me go home. I don't want to go back there.'

"Dooney was painfully shy or exhaustively outgoing, depending largely upon whether he was at home or in school-the one place where he could relax. In class, he played practical jokes on friends and passed out kisses and hugs to teachers. But his mood darkened when he boarded a bus for home."

Cathy Hughes hated that story. But really there's a great deal of love in it-love of the truth and love of the sad and innocent children of drugs. Those kids don't get much from Cathy Hughes or Walter Fauntroy or Marion Barry. But a story like that could be the beginning of the salvation of Dooney, other kids like him, and a generation of Dooneys-of whatever color-as yet unborn.

If a newspaper can do a story that great, it deserves to be prodded to do more like it.
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Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Shuger, Scott
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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