City Desk

Weekend in Review

Just some recap to get you feeling centered on this Monday morning: Washington City Paper's "Best Of" issue came out last week—it was a whopper, with a readers poll that pulled in 29,000 ballots and a huge editorial hole filled with picks on everything from Best Restaurant to Best Place to Buy a TV Stand.

Weekend weather was a mixed bag, with a wet Saturday and a schizophrenic Sunday. Yeah, I know—you know that. But I am trying to break the mold here, giving weather "retrocasts" instead of forecasts.

And what a snoozer this NCAA tourney is. No parity in that league, whatsoever. Too many blowouts to make for good watching, Villanova v. Pitt notwithstanding. Can't wait for the NBA playoffs, when teams that are well matched hit the hardwood.

Does Colbert I. King like At-Large Councilmember Michael A. Brown or not? Hard to tell from this column what the Pulitzer-winning King thinks of the freshman. But, as always, it's required reading for the D.C. political class. And if King's columns speak loudly, you gotta check him out in person. We had him on a panel for our Washington City Paper "Best Of" party, and he was the only one the crowd could hear at Lotus Lounge. He also had some great "Best Of" picks, ones that no one else had. Several were old D.C. standbys that'd closed years ago.

A tale of two ombudsmen: On Sunday, the Washington Post's Andy Alexander went the blah route, telling readers about how the paper is changing—physically—by combining some sections with others. An enormous waste of space a, all told, considering that the Post itself has gone to great lengths to explain the changes to readers. I suppose that Alexander did provide one insight, namely that the changes were motivated by budgetary considerations. Yeah, not so insighty.

At the New York Times, Clark Hoyt was digging deep into the paper's newsroom, telling people why and how key stories come to rely on anonymous sources. Hoyt drilled into three examples of stories that were supported in one way or another by anonymous sources and interviewed the reporters on how they handled the sources. A good primer on how news gets packaged in Washington.

And speaking of anonymous sources, how about this piece by the Washington Post on the brutal interrogation of terrorism suspect Abu Zubaida. In this piece, reporters Peter Finn and Joby Warrick, along with researcher Julie Tate, set up something of a battle of the anonymous. At issue is whether the coercion of interrogators squeezed anything of value out of this longtime U.S. detainee. One nameless source on this question:

"It's simply wrong to suggest that Abu Zubaida wasn't intimately involved with al-Qaeda," said a U.S. counterterrorism official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because much about Abu Zubaida remains classified. "He was one of the terrorist organization's key facilitators, offered new insights into how the organization operated, provided critical information on senior al-Qaeda figures . . . and identified hundreds of al-Qaeda members. How anyone can minimize that information — some of the best we had at the time on al-Qaeda — is beyond me."

Later in the piece, another view: "'We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms,' one former intelligence official said."

The weight of the reporting in the story aligns with the latter point of view. But still: When you have one faceless bureaucrat against another, and little in the way of independent, verifiable data supporting either side, it's a frustrating ride for the reader.

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