Monday, December 21, 2009

WaPo Goes A1 with Gun Story -- And An Editor Boasts of the Coverage

The Washington Post went front-page Monday with a story on the plainclothes officer with a gun: "Snowball fight 'fun and games' until gun appears" by Matt Zapotosky.

The story is pretty good, and the Post deserves credit here for righting many of its earlier wrongs.

The Post story gets from MPD two bits of information that were not in MPD's Sunday press release. First, that the off duty or plainclothes officer has been placed on desk duty. And second, the MPD moves beyond its "[we're not certain if he pulled a gun]" story to basically admitting that he did, but saying the question that needs to be investigated is what the exact circumstances were. And that's fair, I think. From the article:
If the final investigation shows the officer pulled his weapon after being pelted with snowballs, D.C. Assistant Chief Pete Newsham, head of the investigative services bureau, said that "would not be a situation in which a member [of the force] would be justified."

"We have to see what the entire circumstance was," Newsham said Sunday. "But just a snowball fight, not in my mind. That doesn't seem a situation where we would pull out a service weapon."
Now here comes the twist on it all. The Post's website has a 'Story Lab' piece on this, posted 8:34 Monday morning (thanks to Miscelena, in comments to my previous, pointing this out). Long-time Postie Marc Fisher, who became Enterprise Editor earlier this year, writes the Story Lab piece, saying how great Monday's article is, and how it relied on so much true reporting (in contrast to those blogs or whatever! One of the pieces Fisher links to is Jason Cherkis' City Paper report from Saturday afternoon -- which interviewed two witnesses from the scene, in addition to the various photos, videos and links).

Fisher boasts: "..we learn that the snowball fight wasn't quite as spontaneous as it had first appeared, but rather was another little triumph of social media organizing." Huh? Yes, Monday's story does include an interview with Yousef Ali, who organized it all, who told the Post that he spent 11 hours publicizing it. Props to the Post for reporting that nugget. But did anyone who was paying the least bit of attention actually think the snowball fight was 'spontaneous' at all?

Then Fisher goes over the edge:
There are still a few missing pieces--we need to know at some point exactly who this detective is and what his record is and what was in his head as he scared the bejesus out of a big crowd of the people he's supposed to be protecting. But as a first draft of what happened, this is a story that adds value through reporting, and that's what it's all about.
First draft? Are you trying to insult our intelligence? The whole point is that the Post's earlier drafts basically got the story wrong, falling for MPD's assertions that the plainclothes officer didn't hold his gun, and later that they weren't sure if the officer had held his gun.

Update: Story was covered on this morning's Today Show (h/t @dan_hayes)



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