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Washington Post Ombudsman: Affirmative Action for Conservatives

By Jim Meyers   |   Tuesday, 18 Nov 2008 08:49 AM

Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell concedes that some complaints from conservatives about the newspaper’s liberal tilt are justified — and says more conservatives are needed in newsrooms.

Howell disclosed on Sunday that the Post has fielded thousands of complaints that the paper is too liberal, including some from readers who have canceled their subscriptions.

Asserting that the mainstream media were not to blame for Barack Obama’s win in the presidential race, she nevertheless noted that “some of the conservatives’ complaints about the liberal tilt are valid.

“Journalism naturally draws liberals; we like to change the world. I’ll bet most Post journalists voted for Obama . . . The conservatives I know here feel so outnumbered that they don’t even want to be quoted by name in a memo.”

Howell cited several recent decisions by the Post that drew complaints from conservatives, including a Post Magazine spread about Michelle Obama, with a cover picture of the Obamas, that was timed to the release of a book by one of the magazine’s writers. There was no cover for John and Cindy McCain.

Also cited was a column pointing to the contrast between Sarah Palin’s expensive wardrobe and her hockey mom image, which ran above a positive story about Joe Biden’s wife Jill.

Howell wrote, “The opinion pages have strong conservative voices; the editorial board includes centrists and conservatives; and there were editorials critical of Obama. Yet opinion was still weighted toward Obama. It's not hard to see why conservatives feel disrespected.

“Are there ways to tackle this? More conservatives in newsrooms and rigorous editing would be two. The first is not easy: Editors hire not on the basis of beliefs but on talent in reporting, photography and editing, and hiring is at a standstill because of the economy. But newspapers have hired more minorities and women, so it can be done.”

Howell was named ombudsman of the Post in October 2005, and introduced herself to readers by saying she had two goals in mind — "to foster good journalism and to increase understanding between The Post and its readers."

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