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Newspapers Need to Come Clean with Readers
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Newspapers Need to Come Clean with Readers

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Newspapers Need to Come Clean with Readers

Newspapers Need to Come Clean with Readers
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Famed Watergate reporter Bob Woodward was publicly criticized by his paper's ombudsman in Sunday's edition of The Washington Post — where he holds the title of assistant managing editor. Journalist and commentator Terence Smith thinks it's time for the nation's biggest newspapers to come clean with their readers.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In the pages of The Washington Post this weekend, calls for famed Watergate reporter Bob Woodward and the paper to come clean. Well, commentator and longtime journalist Terence Smith would like to see that happen.

TERENCE SMITH:

Washington is a city of bizarre relationships, and the world of Washington journalism is no exception. Case in point: the long-standing arrangement between The Washington Post and its star Bob Woodward, the superb reporter deservedly famous for his unraveling of Watergate. Woodward is an assistant managing editor at the paper, but he rarely appears in its pages or even in its office. Mostly he writes his best-selling insider books about Washington, books that have made him millions of dollars over the years.

That sweetheart deal made news itself recently when Woodward was forced to reveal that he was among the first and possibly the first reporter to whom the Bush administration leaked the identity of a covert CIA agent. Moreover, Woodward admitted that he had withheld that information from The Post for two years. He publicly apologized to the paper.

This flap followed on the heels of the embarrassment of the Judy Miller affair in which The New York Times and Miller publicly accused each other of lying about what she knew and when she knew it in the covert agent case. Miller was forced to resign.

So where do these high-profile incidents leave the readers? In the cold, that's where. They don't know what to think. If top reporters don't level with their own papers, why should readers believe what they write? This goes to the heart of the biggest issue facing American media today: credibility. And the answer to this crisis of confidence is transparency, the very same quality news organizations demand of government, industry and public officials they cover. Journalists should require no less of themselves.

The Washington Post could regain the loyalty of readers by documenting in its pages exactly how Woodward functions at the paper, when he shares the information he gathers and when he does not. The New York Times should assign a team of its best reporters to examine how Judy Miller dealt with her sources, when she met the paper's standards and when she did not. Sunshine, after all, disinfects as well as illuminates.

SIEGEL: Commentator Terence Smith is a special correspondent for "The NewsHour" on PBS.

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