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Wash Post ombudsman slaps reporter John Solomon for John Edwards hit piece

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You'll recall that we wrote last week about how embattled former Associated Press reporter, who is now working at the Washington Post, just wrote his first front page story at the Post about Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

It was a story about how Edwards sold his house to someone John Solomon and his editors at the Post don't like. That's it. The story implied in its first two paragraphs that Edwards' spokeswoman lied to reporters about the sale - but in the 9th paragraph of the story you find out that Edwards' spokeswoman actually told the truth. As we wrote before, this is a classic Solomon trick - imply something nefarious in the first few paragraphs, then disprove it buried way down in the story where the reader likely won't even see it. And sometimes, he's even less sneaky - he simply reports an outright lie, something the source never even said.

Anyway, in today's Washington Post, the ombudsman weighs in on John Solomon's first big story at the Post, and she isn't pleased.

Accurate stories can be misleading. Two recent Page 1 stories -- one on the Fairfax County libraries and the other on the sale of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards's Georgetown house -- brought complaints that there was less there than met the reader's eye.
And then she lets loose the real zinger. Apparently, Solomon's story wasn't just controversial with us, the Washington Post's own reporters weren't very happy with their new facts-challenged colleague:
The Edwards story, by John Solomon and Lois Romano, was controversial even in the Post newsroom and was attacked by Edwards, his staff, liberal-leaning blogs and about 50 readers.
The ombudsman, Deborah Howell, goes on to agree with the main criticism we all had with the story - where's the beef? What exactly did Edwards did wrong? The story never tells you, because he didn't do anything wrong.
I kept waiting to read about the connection between the Klaassens and Edwards that would make this sale unseemly; it wasn't there. Edwards spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said Edwards "has never met or spoken with them; nor have they contributed to his campaign."

The story was interesting, but it was more of an item for the Reliable Source or In the Loop -- and not worth Page 1. It seemed like a "gotcha" without the gotcha.
There is nothing wrong with the Washington Post getting a tip about Edwards selling his house to someone the unions don't like, someone who created a limited liability company to buy the house. There is nothing wrong with the Post telling a reporter, "hey, check this story out and see if there's anything there." There is something wrong with the Washington Post's reporter and editors not killing this story once it became clear there was no there there. There is something even worse about the Post's editors putting this story on the front page as some kind of act of kindness to a new reporter when they know the story doesn't merit being published at all, let alone appearing in the most prominent spot of the newspaper. This is one of the nation's leading newspapers, not a charity.

John Solomon had a history of writing misleading hit pieces about Democrats when he was at the AP (and of reportedly taking tips from partisan sources and publishing them as-is, unquestioned), and now his first big front page piece with the Washington Post pulls out the same bag of misleading tricks. I hope the Washington Post editors used their American Express Gold Card when buying Solomon, because they just bought a lemon.

PS As an aside, the Post ombudsman, Deborah Howell, did a good job here. The blogs, including us, have criticized Howell before. In this case, she did her job, and did it well. And for that she gets our thanks. If the spirit moves you, send her a note of thanks - we've criticized her when we haven't liked the job she's done, in all fairness she deserves to hear some praise when she does her job well.

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