On June 17, FAIR issued an action alert about the Washington Post’s reporting of President Bush’s June 14 commencement address at Ohio State University. Specifically, FAIR pointed out that the paper failed to note an announcement issued over the public address system warning that visible signs of protest would not be tolerated. This was not the first time students were warned about showing signs of dissent, either; according to the Columbus Dispatch (6/15/02), graduates had been warned at a rehearsal that they faced possible arrest for any such action.
FAIR activists sent emails to Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler, and he responded in his June 23 column: “A media watch group known as FAIR, for Fairness & Accuracy in Media, took off after Milbank and The Post, resulting in some 1,000 similar sounding e-mails from its subscribers, asking why The Post was covering up dissent against Bush.”
Although he got FAIR’s name wrong, Getler did seem to agree with some of the criticism. “It would have been good to have had something on this,” he wrote. But he added that “the FAIR bombardment seems, frankly, unfair. Milbank, part of the press corps traveling with Bush, could not have seen the Dispatch story beforehand.”
FAIR agrees that it would have been good for the Post to include some of this background, though we’re not sure it would have been as difficult as Getler claims. The threats to arrest protesters were made not only at rehearsal, where they were reported by the Dispatch, but in the stadium itself, when presumably Milbank was present. Such a warning should have been a clue to an alert reporter that there was more to the (relative) absence of protests than “adulation” for Bush.
According to protest organizers, at least 14 people inside the stadium took part in the “Turn Your Back on Bush” demonstration. Contrary to Milbank’s report that “if there was a protest in the stadium, it was not visible to reporters,” a student journalist from OSU’s paper did report on this action (Lantern, 6/14/02).
FAIR is encouraged that Getler took the concerns of so many media activists seriously enough to write about them. We hope the ombudsman will continue to respond to substantive criticism in the future.