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Post Editor Ends Tweets as New Guidelines Are Issued

By Andy Alexander

As tweets on Twitter, they’re pretty innocuous.

“We can incur all sorts of federal deficits for wars and what not,” read a recent one. “But we have to promise not to increase it by $1 for healthcare reform? Sad.”

Then, from this week: “Sen Byrd (91) in hospital after he falls from ‘standing up too quickly.” How about term limits. Or retirement age. Or commonsense to prevail.”

What makes these tweets significant is that they were written by Raju Narisetti, one of The Post’s top editors. As one of two managing editors, he’s responsible for The Post's features content and oversees its Web site. But he also sits in on news meetings and occasionally gets involved in “hard” news.

Narisetti said today he now realizes that his tweets, although intended for a private audience of about 90 friends and associates, were unwise.

They were “personal” observations, he said. “But I also realize that... seeing that the managing editor of The Post is weighing in on this, it’s a clear perception problem.”

He has closed his Twitter account.

In today’s hyper-sensitive political environment, Narisetti’s tweets could be seen as one of The Post’s top editors taking sides on the question of whether a health-care reform plan must be budget neutral. On Byrd, his comments could be construed as favoring term limits or mandatory retirement for aging lawmakers. Many readers already view The Post with suspicion and believe that the personal views of its reporters and editors influence the coverage. The tweets could provide ammunition.

Narisetti’s decision to stop posting coincides with today’s release of new Post newsroom guidelines for using Facebook, Twitter and other online social networks.

The guidelines had been in the works for some time. Post senior editor Milton Coleman had been working on them since May, building on guidelines that had been crafted for The Post’s Web site.

Earlier this week Peter Perl, the editor who oversees newsroom personnel, alerted Narisetti that questions about his tweets had been raised within The Post's staff. That prompted Narisetti to discuss the issue with Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli.

Prior to that meeting, Narisetti tweeted again: “For flagbearers of free speech, some newsroom execs have the weirdest double standards when it comes to censoring personal views.”

Today, Narisetti noted that this tweet was “before Marcus and I chatted” and was “me thinking aloud on the feedback of whoever had flagged it to Peter.” He stressed that it wasn’t directed at Brauchli and that he fully supports the new guidelines.

In a staff note accompanying today’s release of the guidelines, Brauchli wrote:

“A few instances recently have been brought to my attention of items posted online that are incompatible with our standards,” he wrote. “As a result, we decided to accelerate the completion of these guidelines.”

He described them as “the first of what we anticipate will be several sets of standards and principles governing newsroom practices.”

The new guidelines address the “perception problem” noted by Narisetti. A key section reads:

“When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment. We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity, the appropriate use of language and tone, and other hallmarks of our brand of journalism.”

Another section reads: “What you do on social networks should be presumed to be publicly available to anyone, even if you have created a private account. It is possible to use privacy controls online to limit access to sensitive information. But such controls are only a deterrent, not an absolute insulator. Reality is simple: If you don’t want something to be found online, don’t put it there.”

It continues: “Post journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything – including photographs or video – that could be perceived as reflecting political racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility.”

By Andy Alexander  | September 25, 2009; 6:36 PM ET
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The Post regularly runs opinion pieces as if they were reportage. The only problem here was that the opinion being expressed hadn't been properly passed through the gauntlet of internal censorship. Your reputation for impartiality is a figment of your imaginations.

Posted by: fzdybel | September 25, 2009 7:13 PM | Report abuse

"In today’s hyper-sensitive political environment, Narisetti’s tweets could be seen as one of The Post’s top editors taking sides on the question of whether a health-care reform plan must be budget neutral. On Byrd, his comments could be construed as favoring term limits or mandatory retirement for aging lawmakers. Many readers already view The Post with suspicion and believe that the personal views of its reporters and editors influence the coverage. The tweets could provide ammunition."

His tweets are PROOF of the Post's liberal bias. No ammunition, but proof.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | September 25, 2009 8:44 PM | Report abuse

"When using these networks, nothing we do must call into question the impartiality of our news judgment. We never abandon the guidelines that govern the separation of news from opinion, the importance of fact and objectivity...”

You. Can't. Be. Serious.


Posted by: waterfrontproperty | September 25, 2009 8:55 PM | Report abuse

As a former newspaper editor, I agree with Mr. Brauchli. That's the problem with journalists who write or edit the hard news stories expressing their personal opinions, whether in columns or online forums. (Columnists are different, they are paid to express their opionions.)
Mr. Narisetti has an obligation to the credibility of his newspaper to keep his personal opinions on the news to himself.
Having said that, Mr. Narisetti's tweets are proof of his personal opinions on the issues he addressed, nothing more.

Posted by: 1MadHatter | September 25, 2009 11:27 PM | Report abuse


When you say, "His tweets are PROOF of the Post's liberal bias. No ammunition, but proof," are you referring his tweet: “We can incur all sorts of federal deficits for wars and what not,” read a recent one. “But we have to promise not to increase it by $1 for healthcare reform? Sad.”

My question is what would be the conservative point of view here?

News Commonsense

Posted by: bob16 | September 26, 2009 12:06 AM | Report abuse

"My receding hairline and weak eyes are the result of genetics. Being a shrill, loudmouthed, name calling nag is a matter of choice. And you may sit upon whatever you wish, doll, as long as it ain't the next bar stool." Mike Royko

Sit up on your twit I guess. Better off setting the bar higher eh?

Posted by: Dermitt | September 26, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

WashingtonDame, his tweets are proof of his own *personal* liberal bias, not the Post's.

Professional, journalistic objectivity is an ACTIVITY, not a state-of-being or belief - an activity that is applied to one's product, or that is employed as one goes about the job of reporting. It's not the *tweets* of its reporters that are tripping up the Post, it's the degradation of the professionalism of their work in reporting.

This policy is a band-aid for a much bigger, systemic illness.

Posted by: honeybee33 | September 26, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

So, rather than disclose an editor's biases, albeit indirectly via Twitter, the WaPo chooses to wrap them in a cloak of faux objectivity.

Every person and organization has biases. I submit that it's impossible not to have them. Experience, education, and probably genetics bring biases to one's perception of the world and its events.

I know the WaPo is biased. I know that FOX News is biased. I know that the LA Dog Trainer is biased. So are every newspaper, radio station, television channel, and blog.

And I actually have no problem with that.

But what I often don't know, without careful and sometimes exhaustive examination, is how they are biased.

Disclosure is better than keeping those biases hidden from the public.

Posted by: gailyfumducker | September 26, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

You want to know what sad is? It's watching institutions like the Post punishing its creative talent for having the courage to keep up with and participate in where assymetrical networks of participatory content are taking us. The Post's policy is cynicism dressed up as righteousness. Narisetti's tweets, based on the ones you quote, are exactly the kind of reporting and editorializing you should be encouraging. Hopefully, Mr. Narisetti will recant his recantation, embrace an open following without walling it, and strike out on his own or find another organization, one more worthy of his courage. The Post is nostalgic for a time when journalism meant delivering content to drive mass market advertising.

Posted by: wac6 | September 26, 2009 6:48 PM | Report abuse

ts always good for any company to have guidelines & also hold how to classes than what not to do. its a tough job for journalists but we always assume what they write in the Washington Post is what they believe in so both should be the same tone

Posted by: shashib | September 26, 2009 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Gailyfumducker has hit the nail on the head. Objectivity in journalism is not based on the requirement that journalists have no opinions. All journalists have opinions. But good journalists follow editorial processes designed to keep their personal opinions from getting in the way of the truth.

Of course, no journalism can be completely objective. Knowing something of the opinions and biases of journalists actually helps their audience to take those opinions and biases into account when reading their copy. By insisting that their journalists hide their opinions from the public, the Post is actually undermining the very transparency which, on the web, is the most powerful weapon the audience has to get to the truth.

Posted by: karlschneider | September 26, 2009 7:38 PM | Report abuse

Liberal bias? If the Post was liberal, how did George W Bush become President? You people really think Ceci Connolly didn't help a little? How about Kit Seelye and Frank Bruni from the NYTimes? Williams and Russert from NBC?

Liberal bias,,,,,hahahahahahahaha, good one.

Posted by: koolhand21 | September 26, 2009 7:43 PM | Report abuse

Interesting the editor's tweets we did see were of a liberal slant.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | September 26, 2009 9:00 PM | Report abuse

Love to see those guidelines. Can't believe that the only way to hold onto the appearance of objectivity is to give up on social media.
Best guidelines for journalists on any media or at any public event or in any gathering of more than one other person is to be professional and DON'T BE STUPID.

Posted by: bizednj | September 26, 2009 9:20 PM | Report abuse

Well, god forbid an editor express an opinion that hasn't been thoroughly vetted by his/her boss.

Brauchli, levity is a virtue, not a vice. Come on, bend before you break!

Posted by: LeftCoastOracle | September 26, 2009 9:25 PM | Report abuse

I just hope NewsCorp, et. al., is being equally judicious/stiflingly PC, depending on one's viewpoint.

Still, with the newspaper business presumably trying to avoid the fate of the dodo, won't this in general cast a pall and possibly bring about the very fate you're trying to avoid?

Would this enforced blandness have allowed Al Franken, had he worked for WaPo, to write a book entitled 'Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot'?

My real questions--addressed to INTELLIGENT ADULTS WHO KNOW HOW TO KEEP THEIR MOUTHS SHUT (when necessary)--is: Where does this corporate interference end? When does restraint become muzzling?

Where's the 'free' in Free Speech?

Posted by: sverigegrabb | September 26, 2009 11:44 PM | Report abuse

"Many readers already view The Post with suspicion and believe that the personal views of its reporters and editors influence the coverage."

Personal views of the reporters and editors _do_ influence the coverage!


The Post has contorted itself into a pretzel in the name of preserving "objectivity", which is something no human being can achieve in any deeply meaningful fashion. Only the insularity of the Post elite allows you to imagine that you are maintaining "objectivity". The Post constantly filters a range of opinions about stories and only publishes those kinds of stories it deems acceptable, from a reportorial angle deemed acceptable.

Case in point: at no time during the lead up to the war in Iraq was the question of the suitability of invasion seriously questioned. When the Post could have taken steps to interview Iraqis and/or experts in WMDs and/or experts in wars of aggression, the Post simply sat back and passed on propaganda.

Want another example? How about the TARP bailout? The bailout of Wall Street back taxpayers was viewed in many circles as ridiculous and ultimately damaging to our economy, but at no point did the Post publish any kind of analysis that seriously examined this question. Instead, it appeared that the Post conspired with the elite powers that be to help them rush throw a bill to ensure that our money-drunk bankers can continue to play in a world without real risk.

Please stop pretending that you are without bias or can achieve objectivity. Your choice of reporting is itself evidence of bias - and story selection is a necessary evil in any kind of publishing.

Sadly, Narisetti's tweets may be the most interesting thing I've seen in years by any Post editor. So of course he must be shut down! Wouldn't want any editor veering from the neocon path of Fred Hiatt!

Posted by: rick_desper | September 27, 2009 1:47 AM | Report abuse


It's worth noting that Alexander and the Post are not interested in fighting bias or maintaining objectivity, but merely in preventing the possibility of being accused of bias. They know that their editors and reporters have biases, but it's embarrassing when that fact is revealed publicly. (As if we didn't already know!)

There is no underlying existential reality with people like this. They think that if they can get people to not talk about a problem, then the problem doesn't exist.

Posted by: rick_desper | September 27, 2009 1:53 AM | Report abuse

Bias? On a relative scale of 1 - 10. NYT = 10; WaPo = 8. WaPo really needs to get a conservative Editor, because they apparently saw nothing wrong with Fears & Leonnig's ACORN piece. Forget for a moment what resulted in a correction. That article was so biased, the French skating judge would have blushed.

Fears & Leonnig deliberately put words in O'Keefe's mouth to "paint" him in an very unfavorable light. They out did Maureen Dowd's "boy". Tell how what they did isn't outright lying? Oh that's right, Howard Kurtz said lying would be a firing offense, but they're still there.

Posted by: MaDr | September 28, 2009 12:49 AM | Report abuse

Top Washington Post Editor Forced Off Twitter After Urging More Spending on Health Care

Posted by: StewartIII | September 28, 2009 12:52 AM | Report abuse

The really frightening part here is that a guy who thinks that this kind of behavior is OK is in a senior editorial leadership position at The Post.

When I was a reporter & editor -- at the far end of the food chain from The Post -- I didn't even vote in primaries.


Posted by: TheProFromDover | September 28, 2009 10:44 AM | Report abuse

What is truly funny is how anybody is supposed to take as serious a newspaper who employs as the LEAD editor such a biased left wing nut.

He is so obsessed with promoting his communist idea that he tweets like one of the loons at the Daily Kos but everyone is supposed to better about the Pravda Post now that YOU placed guidelines on employees like him notifying the reading public about his huge biases. That must be kept a secret otherwise how can we act as the Commu-crats media wing if everyone knows that we are staffed by leftist ideologue idiots.

Posted by: LogicalSC | September 28, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

Why does everyone believe that a reporter should hide his biases instead of making them clear up front? Journalism (indeed, any communication) is inevitably filtered through the beliefs and judgments of the human beings who report it. This is just the way of the world - what's important is to be aware of those beliefs and judgments when assessing the work of a particular journalist. By hiding them, or pretending they don't exist, the Post does a disservice to its readers.

Posted by: Tailor | September 28, 2009 12:25 PM | Report abuse

How does this affect Gene Weingarten and his turd icon? It's definitely offensive.

Posted by: yellojkt | September 28, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Nobody ever said "I read, therefore I think." Some of us readers are prepared to do both, and no amount of bias in any direction will blur our ability to pick and choose either what to read or what to think. Let the Tweets continue as much as anyone cares to. I hope that I can filter out the chaff from the Twheat

Posted by: Geezer4 | September 28, 2009 6:18 PM | Report abuse

Now that the Post is officially checking Tweets and I hope the blogs of your own staff, including M. Gerson, please check Gerson's ad hominem and baseless attack on one of the Post's own bloggers, Ezra Klein.

Klein politely and succinctly critiqued Gerson's column and Gerson came back flailing, implying that Klein, a Jew, is an anti-Semite and accusing him of excusing the Holocaust Museum killer. He even gets "Nazi" in there. Oh, and the Obama Administration.

Gerson's blog was not only overly defensive but ironic since in the column he complained about crude, incendiary comments on the Internet.

Posted by: tallfl | September 29, 2009 7:21 AM | Report abuse

I'm surprised not to see more posters stressing the distinction between what's appropriate for Narisetti to do as WaPo Managing Editor, versus what's appropriate for him to do as a free, private individual.

He ought to be perfectly free to blog, use Twitter, etc. as a private individual. This is a First Amendment right which his bosses can't revoke or limit. But they, conversely, have the right to insist that his private and professional opinions must be completely firewalled off from one another.

In other words, he'd be a "man with two faces" who will have to conceal his true identity in his ad hoc internet postings --a nom de plume, no authorial recognition, no public ego tripping. That's the choice he'll have to make: anonymity vs. a new profession.

But if he can remain successfully anonymous, his bosses should butt out.

Posted by: laboo | September 30, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

This highlights a problem being faced by journalists everywhere -- as media outfits embrace 'convergence' the boundaries for professional writers are disappearing. It used to be simpler. If you were a business writer, for example, whatever else you wrote on other topics -- whether it was a music review for your paper's magazine section, or a scholarly treatise on the Indus Valley civilization for an archaeology journal -- was treated as 'personal stuff' -- and provided you had let your editor know that you were doing something 'outside', nobody bothered. And yes, I don't think 'objectivity' and 'credibility' of the masthead one worked for were sacrificed in the process.
But now, news organisations have blogs (like this one!), twitter accounts, facebook profiles, the works.
Where are the borders? Do I sign off my right to express my views when I sign for the paycheck?
What price sponsored blogs, which are terminated with the mail id when a staffer quits/retires/leaves/is fired?
How does a tweet by somebody who happens to work for a news organisation become that organisation's property, and therefore, open to control and checks?
When did media owners stop trusting their journalists?

Posted by: delhibelly | October 2, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

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