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Questions About 'Battle for America 2008'

By Andy Alexander

In recent days, The Post has given prominent display and ample space to a series of stories offering an inside account of last year’s presidential campaign. They are adapted from a new book, “The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election,” written by The Post’s lead political reporter, Dan Balz, and former Post reporter and editor Haynes Johnson.

Soon after the first installment appeared as the lead story in Sunday’s paper, readers started asking questions.

“I think your promotion of the new book by Balz and Johnson is completely unethical and trying to pass it off as worthy of top billing on the front page is unseemly,” e-mailed Raymond Meyer of Falls Church. “It’s also beyond the pale to devote so much space as in today’s paper to their ‘story.’ Where is the new News?”

Several readers e-mailed or called to ask whether The Post, currently losing money, was giving such prominent play as part of a revenue-sharing agreement with the book’s publisher, Viking Press.

A few others wondered whether information had been withheld from readers during the campaign and saved for the book.

The Post has a long history of featuring excerpts from books written by its reporters. And these same reader questions have been raised in the past. In the future, The Post might consider running an editor's note to briefly address them at the outset.

First, does The Post have a revenue-sharing arrangement with "Battle for America 2008"? Executive editor Marcus Brauchli offers a definitive “no.”

Next, was newsworthy information withheld during the campaign and saved for the book? It was addressed in this exchange with Balz and Johnson during a Post online chat Tuesday:

Alexandria, Va.: Mr. Balz -- "How did you distinguish between your day to day reporting of the campaign and the reporting you did for this book? Were you ever tempted to ask a source to make the information available immediately or was that never an option?"

Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson: "Good question. We did some book-only interviews along the way, which my editors were aware of. The way I tried to work was to do book interviews on events long settled, and after the Post had fully reported them. For example, we had two splendid pieces by Anne Kornblut and Peter Baker (now at the New York Times) about turmoil inside the Clinton campaign in January and March 2008. I interviewed people about those episodes much later. Beyond that, much information was obtained long after the campaign ended, which is when people are more willing to discuss past history. We always operated with the idea that if something needed to go in the paper, it would, and that the Post would also have the opportunity to publish the fruits of the book reporting before anyone else."

Post media writer Howard Kurtz got a more pointed reader question in his “online chat Monday. He offered an answer that speaks more broadly to the issue of Post reporters writing books about subjects they cover. Here’s the exchange:

Arlington, Va.: "How much is Dan Balz's publisher paying The Post for what is essentially a series of page 1 advertisements for his new book? Why did Mr. Balz not report most of what's in his book during the campaign? Isn't that what The Post and its readers pay him to do? Besides making money, what purpose is served by saving many of these issues until after the election? The next time I read a report authored by Mr. Balz, I'll wonder what he's not saying because he wants to save it for his next book. As the content of the Post continues to shrink, you're doing a good job of infuriating your remaining readers by saving your best reporting for a book."

Howard Kurtz: "This is a question that always comes up when The Post runs book excerpts; I've faced it myself. Obviously it's great exposure for the authors, but also great value for Washington Post readers. I'm frankly impressed that Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson were able to mine so much new material from a campaign that was so intensively covered and has been the subject of earlier books. As for the why-didn't-they-tell-us-sooner question, here's what you're not getting. When you tell sources in the middle of a campaign that the material won't be published until afterward, you get a far greater level of candor. Obama, Axelrod, McCain aides and others simply wouldn't have told Balz and Johnson what they did if it was for the next day's paper. Also, they obviously did more reporting after the campaign and needed time to synthesize their material. Anecdotes that might have been merely okay at the time (say, how Palin was picked in a hurry) become much richer when you can put them in a broader narrative that reflects how things turned out."

On Tuesday, I asked Brauchli how The Post handles the question of whether, or under what circumstances, a reporter covering a story should withhold information and save if for a subsequent book.

“We’re mindful of the dangers,” he said, adding that the key is discussions between the reporter and editors over the newsworthiness of information. If it’s deemed relevant, he said, “we would make every effort to get it in the paper.”

Brauchli acknowledged that “the measure of newsworthiness is a matter of interpretation.” That would also apply to whether The Post should have given so much space to the series. In the newspaper, Sunday and Monday’s installments began on the front page and each day ran on two pages inside the A section. The Post's Web site also gave the pieces prominent homepage play and created a special projects page for the series. There were no blockbuster disclosures. But the rich detail certainly provides a better understanding of what went on behind the scenes in the Obama and McCain campaigns.

Politico columnist Roger Simon, in a preface to a Q&A on Tuesday with Balz (whom he noted is a friend from college days), described the book as “a riveting account, combining big-picture analysis, important revelations and intriguing anecdotes.”

Brauchli, who said he was midway through the book, described it as “fascinating” and “very newsworthy.”

Tuesday’s final installment was available only on washingtonpost.com, and that didn’t sit well with a few readers. A caller from Potomac, who would not allow her name to be used here, told me this morning that the decision to hold it out of the print product was “not only unsatisfying, but also unbelievable. This isn’t the way to keep loyal subscribers.”

By Andy Alexander  | August 5, 2009; 11:57 AM ET
 
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Comments


The Post has become a shoddy, sometimes shordid piece of work.

Perhaps because most people know now it's less important. You factor it in.

A good example is the absolute lack of anuy story or follow through after the 5 rabbis in Jersey were arrested.

The
"money laundering through Israel" early in the story swiftly disappeared...what other money is laundered there?

The organ selling, the FIRST known trafficing of such in the United States turned out to be unimportant, apparently.

Does anybody there hold his/ her head up?

Posted by: kindfrazier | August 5, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse


What a sorry, sordid strangled newspaper the Post has become. And so quickly.

Lots of ballyhoo for your reporters so-so book.

But nothing what-so-ever follow up on the five Rabbis arrested in Jersey...even the crooked maoyors got mostly a pass so you didn't have to do the Rabbi followup, not even the arraignments!

And the organ trafficing, the FIRST such in the United States, because the subject was Jewish, got nary a nod either.

The Post is all too obvious.
But most are now aware, the damage is less.

Posted by: kindfrazier | August 5, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

If the Post would really like to do something for it's 'READERS'. "Print your FINAL EDITION, and send it to all your 'SUBSCRIBERS', as a COLLECTORS ITEM."

Posted by: austininc4 | August 6, 2009 4:21 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, off topic, but this sure falls into your domain: There's news that "Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli killed the satirical video series ["mouthpiece theatre"] Wednesday after harsh criticism of a joke about Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, which prompted him to pull the latest episode from the paper's Web site Friday night."

Did you play a part in this decision? And, while I don't doubt Cilizza's statement that "Ultimately it wasn't funny.", where also concerns raised about the questionable dual role of allegedly "neutral" reporters engaging in controversial political satire? Kudos to Marcus Brauchli for doing the right thing and showing the Post's new emphasis on holding up ethical standards, but curious readers would like to know more about this!

Posted by: Gray62 | August 6, 2009 7:22 AM | Report abuse

You can bet your last nickel that if the New Jersey people arrested for money laundering and selling body organs had been Muslim the Post would have given the story considerable and frequent attention.

So what else is new?

Posted by: Lazarus40 | August 6, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse


Where's the story here? This is no different than the WaPo slobbering all over one of Bob Woodward's books.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | August 6, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Post Music Saloon Notes
“One of the peculiarities of Irish music is the plaintive minor that runs through it, tinging even the jolly jigs, rollicking reels, and heel-compelling strathspeys. Many of the most popular of our modern airs are adaptations of these melodies; appropriated without credit, transformed and modified; oftentimes mutilated, for it is hard to improve on the originals, and almost any change is a disfigurement.” James at sea.
The appropriations without credit are transformational, the national budget being the thing mutilated. The originals are still original, just as love is original and a blessing. The cursed are seeking salvation and finding themselves disfigured and the result will be what it has always been. I often wonder what is like for the children, to have such a fair and beautiful Princess for a mother. How their happy faces look at hers and see their beauty reflected in her beautiful eyes, sparkling with delight and the joy of knowing such a grand love. What a blessing is her Highness and her children. The fortunate are filled with joy. The unfortunate are mutilated, disfigured and discredited. The same as it ever was, it will forever will be love that conquers all and I am in the mud.
There's a land that is fairer than day:
Dear is her grace to me
Dearest is all her laughter free
Dearest will always be her constancy
What when the play was o'er and done
What made my heart so sore well
Oh it was parting with thee for
What made my heart so glad
A fair and beautiful Princess is she
Beauty in childhood grows
The love that never grows old
In golden years always cherished
My original love and true Princess
The course of true love never runs smooth
We are forced to now part
She must have a Prince and that's not me
She will always remain dearest to me
It's unbearable without thee
I believed time would never end
It was enough for me
That Princess would forever be
Happy and free
Beautiful and beloved
Princess, what have I done
Anything for the happiness and security of thee
Written for a true Princess and a beautiful spirit, knowing that all her dreams will forever come true. I could never doubt you. It's the bittersweet time again to say goodbye. For me this is the end of something old and for you it is the start of everything new. If trouble comes again your way, I will find a way and the words to say go away. Until then I must do the same as before and again go away. May your beautiful heart never be in crisis fair Princess. That's my dream for you and now I must go. Some things can never be and that is why they are safe. I will always love you faithfully. I'm just a frogman and you deserve somebody much more charming than me and you and he should be together eternally. It's always back to the mud for me and that's no place for a gracious Princess such as you to be.

Posted by: Dermitt | August 6, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

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