Same job, different uniform.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

"They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts."

White supremacist was not among them.

Ms. Sullivan replies, and there is so little that is true, commentary would be superfluous.

Ms. Barbour,

Thank you for your note. I'm sorry you did not like the article but perhaps you are not aware of how obits are written at the Washington Post.

[snip]Since there are so many ex-congressional representatives, and most of them seek an obit in the Post, we always ask what made this Representative stand out among the other 434 members of her time? For Rep. Chenoweth-Hage, it was her support of the militia after Oklahoma City, the "black helicopter" hearings, her colorful quotes about endangered species and her proposal to ban federal agents from federal land. I would also add in her comments about the racial makeup of her district, which were common sentiments expressed by some of the anti-Semitic and white supremacists in the militia movement. I didn't mention, as the New York Times did, that she supported the states rights position of the South in the Civil War. All these positions paint a picture of a woman, a member of Congress, who held beliefs far to the right of not just "middle America" but of traditional Western conservatives. I lived in western Montana for 11 years, and covered the militia movement for a significant portion of that time, so I have some familiarity with these topics.

This note may not change your mind, but I hope it gives you additional information. Thank you for writing, and reading.

Patricia Sullivan
Staff Writer
The Washington Post

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Blogger Lois E. Lane said...

Ms. Sullivan,

Thanks so much for taking the time to reply to my note. Though I must say your deliberate choice of the words "read into" was way off-target. I simply read and processed all of your words and built my criticism around them. You see, most news agencies -- Idaho and national -- included the "memorable" fact (which you said you were looking for) that Chenoweth promised to limit her congressional terms to three. And she kept that promise. Is it possible that fact was absent in your research, or was there simply not enough room after including such important details as her affair from the 1980s?

As for writing obituaries like you would a news story, it's not a concept that's either new to or lost on me. Obituaries resemble news stories in many ways: The first paragraph contains the most pertinent information (who died, when and where), then is followed by information that diminishes in importance like an inverted pyramid. In this case, your 10th paragraph about Chenoweth's birthplace and early career should have been either #2 or #3. And the words "deep suspicion" should have been absent from the lead since they are neither objective nor the most important information.

Although an interesting tidbit about you, I see no value in your time near the Montana militia as it relates to Idaho and its congressmen. It's not Idaho. What you claim was an effort to highlight the most distinctive aspects of this public figure is nothing more than a cheap and lazy nod to the items that were sensational enough to make it out of Idaho.

I defy you to find even five Idahoans out of 100 who would mention the words "militia" or "black helicopters" when asked about their impressions of Chenoweth. Which is part of what makes this article to shoddy. In 750 words, you failed to mention one quasi-positive bit of information about Helen, which
in turn puts Idaho in a very insulting light -- why on God's green earth would they re-elect this woman? What a bunch of silly, Western hillbillies.

Though nothing you included might be fabricated, you and I both know what tone is and how it should be used "conservatively" in journalism (for instance, following up her direct quote about salmon or her paranoid militia meeting with information to the contrary). We can see her "color" without you dousing in it big red letters that read "what a joke."

Furthermore, if you're going to stick to your "news story" explanation, in the future please refrain from blatantly editorialized words such as "deep" (as in "deep suspicion"), "extreme" and "alarmed."

I said it before, but it bears repeating: If you're going to take the time to write such an "in-depth" look at the congressman, you might as well make it complete so readers such as me won't have to go anywhere else to get a clear picture of her career. But they and I will go somewhere else, thankfully, and, with any luck, not have to reference the Washington Post ever again. I know journalism, Ms.
Sullivan. And that's not it.

Monday, October 09, 2006


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