The Interviews

The Washington Post/OP-ED
We Asked For It by Geneva Overholser

June 30, 1996

Reprinted with permission by the Washington Post.
Copyright (c) The Washington Post. All rights reserved.

Last week was full of protests against last Sunday's Post, whose front page was dominated at the top by a new book by Bob Woodward. On the left was an excerpt of the book, whose author is an assistant managing editor at The Post. On the righ t was a news story with the headline, "Dole Seeks 'a 10' for Vice President."

The readers had plenty to say. Here's a sampling:
From a District man: "I must disagree with the decision to give Bob Woodward's book two stories above the fold on the front page in last Sunday's paper. The decision represents rather questionable news judgment, I think. Perhaps more important, though, is the appearance of brazen promotion of one of its own by The Post. I cannot recall any books other than those by Post staffers that have received such star treatment."

From a Rockville man" I measured 15 column-feet of Woodward in today's paper (not counting pictures). The Post has given new meaning to a journalistic excess! Before measuring I read it all and can't remember a thing I found useful or even interest ing."

From a Maryland man: "The front page these days is full of advertisements for your reporters' books. Now we've had the fourth day, I think, that this book has been advertised on the front page of your paper. It used to be a joy to pick up The Post, but it's becoming less so."

And another caller: " I was calling about the excerpt from Bob Woodward's book, which was all about Hillary [Rodham Clinton's search for a spiritual adviser], and apparently this is just a cheap way of getting publicity for his book. Woodward says it's no t a major part of the book at all, and I think he's a really sleazy character."

From a Boston woman who read in the New York Times about The Post's treatment of the Woodward book: "It should be obvious to anyone that a mistake was made here, and a fairly serious mistake. I realize Bob Woodward is a bit of a sacred cow b ut, I mean, this is just silly."

From a reader calling on Monday: "I'm really outraged that Bob Woodward would use such sensationalism as printed in your newspaper yesterday just to try to get his book sold. A little more honesty and a little less money grubbing would go a lot further. T hank you."

And another: "I'm calling about the excerpts of Bob Woodward's book. I have a real problem with this, running this and promoting this guy's book."

Finally, this letter from David Luban of University Park, Md.: "I suppose that no amount of protest by The Post's readers can stop it from printing indigestible excerpts from Bob Woodward's each-more-dreary-than-the-last books. But Sunday [June 23] seemed over the top even by your own standards, as The Post dedicated its entire above-the-crease front page to flacking Woodward's book--not merely by excerpting it, but by publishing a phony news story based solely on its accumulated trivialitie s. Is a Woodward book really front-page news? Does the term 'conflict of interest' have no meaning at The Post?

"It's impossible to believe that out of an entire world of arts and commerce, law and science, strivings and disasters, nothing deserved the front-page slot more than a Woodward infomercial. For the record, I couldn't finish either the excerpt or the 'new s' story, both of which were the sort of personality-centered drivel that makes 'inside the Beltway' a term of abuse--even for those of us who follow politics and live inside the Beltway.

"If The Post had any sense of shame, it would have printed the caption 'Advertisement' over the 'news' story. After all, the closest counterpart is Saturday morning cartoons designed solely to make children buy the action figures the cartoons are b ased on."

My own view: Excerpting any book--certainly a Post employee's book--on Sunday above the fold is alone quite a remarkable act. To make a lead news story out of it in addition, taking over most of the top half of the front page, would be hard to defe nd even if the story were very strong. But a story whose lead is that the challenger for the presidency hopes to pick a really good vice presidential candidate, and one who won't offend an important group in his own party?

We were asking for everything the readers gave us.

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