WaPo’s Standard for Publication of Salacious Stories is Anyone’s Guess

FILE – In this Feb. 27, 2008 file photo, The Washington Post building in Washington is shown. The Washington Post Co. reported a 69 percent jump in third-quarter profit Friday, Oct. 30, 2009, as its newspapers trimmed their losses and its cable TV and education divisions held steady.(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, file)

The Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post can’t seem to keep its own standards straight when it comes to publication of stories about unwanted romantic advances.

Monday, the paper published the story of Alva Johnson, a former campaign staffer, who said that President Donald J. Trump grabbed her hand and kissed her cheek without her consent, citing five corroborating witnesses, including a boyfriend, two family members, a lawyer and a therapist.

The Post’s standard for publishing such stories centers around corroborating witnesses, or so the paper said when explaining why it did not publish the rape allegations brought to it by Dr. Vanessa Tyson against Virginia’s Democrat Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. In the context of explaining why the paper published the Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanugh, but not the allegations against Fairfax, Executive Editor Marty Baron said:

Our reporting on Dr. Blasey Ford documented that in 2012 she told others of the alleged incident. Her husband learned of it during a couples therapy session, and he said he was told the name of Brett Kavanaugh at that time. Moreover, notes from therapy sessions that we reviewed showed that Dr. Blasey Ford spoke of a sexual assault by students “from an elitist boys’ school.” With that corroborating evidence, we proceeded to publish her account because it met our standards for publication. We had no such corroborating accounts or evidence in the case of Dr. Tyson. She said she had told no one what happened.

From this it would appear that a corroborating witness – defined as another person who knew of the allegations – is the standard for publication.

Baron claimed that Tyson brought forth no corroborating witnesses, but that is false, based on a Feb 6. New York Times story. Aides to Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) confirmed for The Times that Tyson had identified him as a corroborating witness when she brought her story to The Post. 

“Late Wednesday night, aides to Mr. Scott confirmed that in late December 2017 or early January 2018, Dr. Tyson told him that she had made an allegation of sexual assault against Mr. Fairfax, in the course of giving Mr. Scott notice that she had given his name as a character reference to The Washington Post, which was investigating the allegation,” The Times wrote.

“The congressman received ‘limited information’ about the assault from The Post, but did not learn the full details until Dr. Tyson released her statement on Wednesday, the aides said,” the paper continued.

So what, then, is the real standard for publishing salacious claims at The Post? 

BLP reached out to Baron and a senior level communications official to clarify. Neither returned our request for comment.


Follow Peter D’Abrosca on Twitter: @pdabrosca

Like Peter D’Abrosca on Facebook: facebook.com/peterdabrosca