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On Saturday, Colbert I. King took to the Washington Post opinion page in another attempt to wrest D.C. politics from the grip of modernity. This time, he lashed out at the trend of candidates and/or their supporters doing personal opposition research. The lament was brought about by the anonymous deliverance to King of a 146-page dossier on mayoral candidate Adrian Fenty. It was given to him, he writes, by “a longtime supporter of council chairman and mayoral hopeful Linda Cropp.”
While some of his ire is directed at the Cropp campaign and others that might muck up the D.C. political scene, he reserves his real scorn for members of the media that play along. And not just any media: King, it turns out, was largely referring to his own paper’s reporters.
Here’s the shot across the bow of the Metro desk:
I don’t know whether copies of the “research” have been slipped to other journalists or whether contents of the dossier have been parceled out to individual reporters as “tips.”
Between now and Election Day, other anti-Fenty stories may turn up in the media. It’s a good bet that some of them will be based on information in the dossier. The only question is whether news organizations, if they use the information, will disclose to the public that the source is a Fenty opponent. Or will they pretend they dug it up on their own? Never mind, I’m not the ombudsman or a news editor.
King wouldn’t have to wait long for his question to be answered. The same day that the column ran, the Metro section fronted a story by Yolanda Woodlee that looked like it could have come from the opposition dossier—with no explanation of where the info originated.
King, deputy editor of the Post editorial page, says he didn’t know it was coming out the same day but was aware that Metro reporters were working on the story and probably wouldn’t follow his advice. “They said they wouldn’t discuss their sources with me, and, I assume, in the paper as well,” he says. A Post source says that Woodlee’s story did not originate from the dossier, but from a tip (or is that “tip”?) that led her to search civil records in Montgomery County. Woodlee wouldn’t comment about the chastising.
Just as King knew the story was in the works, King says the reporters also knew their knuckle-rapping was around the corner. “I told them what the thrust of my column would be,” he says. “Fair warning is fair play.”