City Desk

Washington Post Editorial Board Livid Over Turque Blog Post


The Washington Post editorial board is pissed beyond words about Bill Turque's Wednesday blog post regarding the board's relationship with D.C. public schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. In the post, which the paper temporarily deleted from its site last night, Metro education reporter Turque blasted editorial writer Jo-Ann Armao for furnishing Rhee a "print version of the Larry King Show."

When reached today for reaction on Turque's strong words, Armao said, "I am not talking about it in any way, shape, or form," noting that she's not even gossiping with friends who've approached her on the matter. When asked why she's going covert on this one, Armao said she was busy with a bunch of other things. I said, "Aw, come on," and then pointed out that the journalistic thing to do is to open up.

Armao then apologized in advance for hanging up. Dial tone.

Perhaps Armao is busy counting the reasons why she's so pissed at Turque. They're right there—or were right there—in the item he posted yesterday afternoon. First he noted that Armao has more success getting Rhee on the line than he does. Then he noted that the ed. board had been "steadfast" in its support for Rhee. And then he noted one case in which that support, in his view, afforded Rhee safe harbor—a flareup in which the mayor's kids miraculously landed in a fabulous out-of-boundary school. Though Rhee has never explained how that all happened, the editorial board gave her a pass on the matter, offering an "innocent explanation" to excuse what appears to be an abuse of power.

Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt wasn't happy with Turque's scribblings when he caught wind of them around 8 p.m. He walked into the office of Post Managing Editor Liz Spayd, pointed out the item, and "expressed my unhappiness," says Hiatt. Then he left.

Spayd says she then pulled the item from the site, on the following grounds: "Where it went over is where it ascribed motive to Chancellor Rhee’s decision to speak to our editorial board and, more importantly, I don’t think that he should be challenging or seeming to assess the stances of our editorial board or questioning their integrity, and I think that that blog did that."

Asked whether Turque is going to be in trouble for such transgressions, Spayd declined to comment.

Both big shots in this drama agree that Hiatt never recommended any course of action and didn't participate in the decision to take the item down. Nor did he preside over or take part in the removal of its juiciest passages and its re-posting on the site.

Nor did Hiatt hang up when asked to comment on the post. In his trademark calm, he listed his concerns with it:

  • "It’s my own feeling—and the policy that most people at the newspaper try to follow—that when anyone has reason to be unhappy with anyone else, we try to bring it to each others' attention rather than putting it into print."
  • "To suggest that Jo-Ann Armao is in anybody’s pocket is so far from the truth that it sort of takes my breath away....I have had a lot of editorial writers work for me. None of them have been more diligent and assiduous about getting both sides of any story and being fair minded than Jo-Ann."
  • "In this case, I find it particularly strange to say that the statement landed in our laps because of our editorial views, for a couple of reasons: Tom Sherwood also seems to have come up with it, and I don't see anyone accusing him of anything other than being independent-minded reporter." Also, Hiatt claims that Rhee called a Metro reporter and apologized for the uneven distribution of her statement. An inquiry on that question to the Metro desk fetched a no-comment.

Now here's what City Desk readers should take away from the Turque crisis:

  • Hiatt's right about Armao being a fabulous editorial writer; as we've noted on this blog before, she's done great reporting and has a record of holding public officials to account. Rhee, however, is certainly not tops on that list, and Turque is on terra firma in shaming the board for its editorial on the Fenty kids' accession to Lafayette Elementary School.
  • The Post is a complicated and fascinating place. As Turque pointed out in his post—in both the original and edited versions—the fact that the editorial board had a scoop and the news side didn't speaks to the strength of the vaunted "firewall" separating the two. Yet Hiatt managed to sneak through an opening to report his displeasure to Spayd.
  • The entire episode speaks to the newspaper's inability to graduate from Web 101. A lot of news organizations—this one included—treat their blog work like the inviolate, sacred space that it has become. You don't just take down a post because it pisses someone off, especially someone within the organization. And if you edit or change or delete or remove or alter a post in any way, you make that plain to the reader. To this moment, the edited Turque post contains no alert that the original has been bowdlerized. The subtext here is that, Hey, it's just a blog post—it's not the paper. You can take it down, pass it around, whatever.
  • The transparency that Turque provided in his piece is just the sort of content that today's savvy readers crave. That he seeded it with a couple of elbows and some juicy language bolsters the case in his favor. After this spanking, you can bet that Turque's next few blog items are going to be boring as shit, custom-designed to stay off the radar of his superiors. It's time to give creative, talented reporters like Turque some space to breathe on the paper's blogs. Loosen up, Post!
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  • trulee pist

    Tom Sherwood not only allowed Rhee to respond off camera, but he took her statement down and read it for her. This was on the Monday evening news, before the egregious WaPo Op editorial appeared online, then in the Tuesday am paper. So, Mr. Hiatt, let me put my hand up to say, "I am accusing him, in this instance, of giving the appearance of being less than independent-minded."

    At the time, even before the WaPo imbroglio, Sherwood's behavior also struck me as odd and too-cozy. Rhee has a staff of PR people who can read statements from her for Ch. 4. When Sherwood does, that comes dangerously close to looking like he's her mouthpiece.

    For Sherwood, Armao, and everyone covering DCPS, the lesson is, (1.) Rhee plays favorites, don't be played; (2.) Rhee says things that require fact checking before distribution by the press.

    Fact-checking Rhee's resume would have been a useful exercise when she blew into town July 2007 and was confirmed on a unanimous City Council vote based on her record at St. Hope in Sacramento and Teach for America (two organizations that each managed to earn the highest penalty for misappropriation of government funds) and the fable of her own little Baltimore Miracle.

    Scrutiny by these tough journalists like Armao and Sherwood at the outset would have put Rhee on notice not to shade the truth, and would have put the District on notice that we were taking a chance on a newbie to run DCPS. This fantasy of Rhee-Superman might never have been launched. That would have better served her, the city and the schools, since then we'd know what we had and what to expect, instead of believing a fantasy (on our end), or trying to live up to the fantasy (on her end), and falling short.....

  • Jeff

    The Armao/Rhee cozy relationship can be illustrated not only by the out of boundary school incident, but the following as well:

    1) When the Post got the Rhee nomination scoop prior to the Council or any other media outlet, the Post's Editors also had access to Rhee and ran a laudable editorial on the same day as Nakamura's article (which effectively was the announcement of Rhee's selection). No firewall there.

    2) When Ximena Hartsock was rejected by the Council, Washington City Paper found and published an email from Rhee to the Post editorial board which highlighted their cozy relationship.

    3) While not involving Rhee, the Post's editors rejected a proposed Op-Ed revealing that the Fenty/Reinoso education plan was largely plagiarized. When a Post editorial finally addressed the subject, more than a month later, it was largely exculpatory.

    There are probably a number of other examples of which I can't think at the moment.

  • candycane1

    The WAPO Board constantly pissses us off. They are angry? Good!!!

  • proballdc

    The WP editorial board is a Fenty Campaign organ, Warren Buffet needs to fire THEM ALL!!! And start over.

  • sigmund freud

    Thanks Turque. You are the MAN. Everyone knows the Post Ed. Board is in the pocket of Fenty and his queen (Rhee)

  • tired

    That is why I stop buying that paper.

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  • 1intheKnow

    Someone needs to investigate the possible or probable ulterior motives behind WaPo's blinders-on support of Rhee and Fenty. I strongly suspect that the Kaplan educational enterprise - the moneymaking part of the Post company - stands to make a huge profit from the privatization of DCPS that Rhee is orchestrating.

  • Longtime Post employee

    God, it's depressing to see what a clusterf**k my employer has become. Where to start?

    1. Liz Spayd should have told Fred Hiatt to get the hell out. If she wanted to chew Turque's butt in private afterwards, great. Instead she set in motion a series of events that have made us look like idiots. Did she really think that editing the blog post would make the problem go away?

    2. Fred Hiatt should stay the f**k out of the newsroom. If he had tried this shit during the Ben Bradlee era, he would have been thrown out on his ear, and I suspect Mrs. Graham would have supported Ben. I wonder what Fred would say if a reporter walked into his office and told him to retract an editorial?

    3. Jo-Ann Armao is a clueless dolt if she thinks she can "no-comment" her way out of this and maintain any credibility whatsoever.

    4. All three of the aforementioned morons have once again proved that they can dish it out but they can't take it. They are engaging in behavior that they would never allow government officials to get away with, to wit:

    a. Editing information after the fact in an attempt at a cover-up.
    b. Throwing an underling under the bus for the sake of (office) politics.
    c. Breaking clearly established reporting lines -- in this case, the firewall between the newsroom and the editorial board -- out of personal pique.
    d. Refusing to comment on what is clearly a newsworthy event.

    - Bill Turque showed some balls. That probably means he's on his way out.

  • wapo blows

    WaPo? Used to read it, but don't bother anymore. If they ever get rid of Hiatt I might go back.

  • Truth Hurts

    CP's reporting on this story and, for the most part, comments posted by readers are terrific, thoughtful, well argued, and civil. Great to see.

  • Tom Sherwood

    Hello all. I have no real dog in this Postfight, but just wanted to point out that in my TV story on Monday about Rhee's "clarification" of her remarks, I only read what she had to say because I got the information too late to have her on camera. That's it. No other reason. And, I note my story specifically said "Rhee stopped short of apologizing" for her original comment. And, again, not taking sides, I believe the Post editorial page on Tuesday morning included a comment that Rhee should apologize for what she had said to the magazine. I reported that aspect of the story on Tuesday.And finally, my Notebook column in the Northwest Current weekly (Jan. 27) noted that Rhee had basically smeared all the teachers who had been fired. Good day to all.

  • efavorite

    Thanks for weighing in, Mr. Sherwood. I don't doubt what you say about the info coming in too late to get Rhee on camera, but where has she been since?

    Have you, or anyone, tried to get her on camera since Monday? I don't recall her ever being camera-shy.

    I also haven't heard an apology yet - and other supporters, e.g. Jay Mathews, have asked her to apologize too.

    Perhaps this is an example of what she has called "leading from the front."

    “…sometimes you’ve got to lead from the front because if you’re too worried about trying to make everybody happy or get every last detail, then you’ll get bogged down and nothing will actually move…sometimes a leader can see things that other people can’t see, and has to push things that they know are the right things to push, and it takes other folks a little longer to get there.”

  • candycane1

    I saw you Tom. No need to explain. Thanks anyway. I just hope the WP isn't thinking of doing anything stupid around this one. I respect Turque's work.

  • WP watcher

    Erik: How exactly did fred hiatt hear about the original blogpost? there is no way he just came upon it while trolling the site so did rhee's people point it out to him? and why did he complain, instead of armao? since she knows everyone on metro, why didn't she just call the editor or the reporter herself?

    And while we're at it, what exactly are the blogging rules at the post for alerting readers to changes and updates in posts? How is that Liz Spayd, who spent a couple years at the website, thinks its ok to hide changes from readers, or better yet, get an editor to rewrite someones blog?

    And how about a contest to see who can identify a single good decision or demonstration of leadership by Liz since she became ME? Kissing Weymouth's butt, and protecting her friends, don't count!

  • DarrenInDC

    All the semi-literate, somewhat racist defenders of the indefensibly dysfunctional, pre-Rhee status quo within DCPS have managed to get Bill Turque's ear, and Post higher-ups were right to check his rabel-rousing.

    Seems a lot of lazy, no-good civil servants in this town are discomfited by a tough Korean American dame who now insists that they actually show up for work, demonstrate excellence before expecting raises and promotions, and refrain from beating and/or having sex with the juveniles in their charge.

  • downtown rez

    Oh, come now Darren.
    There's not a sole alive dumb enough to publicly defend the pre-Rhee status quo. That would be suicidal.

    Instead, they just attack any and all reform efforts.

  • Fred

    Yes, there are a lot of mean-spirited personal attacks on Rhee and she sometimes hands her critics ammunition. However the real issue is that Rhee is trying to change an incredibly dysfunctional, poorly performing, and wasteful status quo that serves children and taxpayers very poorly. That seems to threaten some people.

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  • Phil

    downtown rez, Fred, Darren

    According to the NAEP results Mrs. Rhee heralded at the Oct DC Council hearing on the teacher RIF, DPCS scores have been rising over the past 10 years.
    That would be 7.5 of preRhee, probably more since she has not addressed the curriculum, just kept in place the unified curriculum Janey set-up.

  • efavorite

    darreninDC - I suggest you apply for a job in the Rhee administration - you'd fit right in, as long as you add accusations of sexual misconduct to your litany of insults.

    Fred - you mention "mean-spirited personal attacks" Would accusing people of having sex with children" qualify?

    Does the fact that someone has been hired to reform the schools justify that person hurling gratuitous insults? What other indignities would be acceptable in the name of school reform and could you explain how they help the cause?

  • Mt Pleasant

    I read the WaPo stories and I see some of the same names posting here and there. Guys, either you're getting paid to do this or you need to find jobs or you're homeless and reading the web in a library. Wait, what's that outside? A Life? Guys, get one because the one you have now is not working for you.

  • Phil

    "I read the WaPo stories and I see some of the same names posting here and there. Guys, either you're getting paid to do this "

    I AM.
    WTU pays me $245,000 to haunt the Post, the City Paper and Spice Express to make Bill Turque look good.
    I hang out at 15th Street NW, then head over to 825 to put a spell on Rhee and make her say wacky things.
    I was there when Roderick Paige had his moment of doubt and pain.
    I'm also working on Duncan .
    I'm a man of wealth and fame.

  • efavorite

    Speaking for myself, I'm so dumb that I use the same name on the 100's of message boards I frequent to facilitate being outed by the many amateur Sherlock Holmes's who have nothing better to do than follow the trail of sorry, threatened people lke me.

  • Phil

    AndI'm not on this site to post lies/gossip like you do, mount Joy.

    (I remember back in the 70's when I was downtown at The Post early in the AM waiting for the papers to take back to the carriers, I'd see interestingly dressed ladies. Now, if I was of your mindset Mt. Pleasant, I could take your admission to being down around 15th Street and make an insinuation about your style of dressing and your reason for being there.
    But I'm not nasty.
    So I won't.)

  • Alice Thornton

    I never figured out what all the excitement was about regarding Hizzoner putting his kids in an out-of-boundary school. When my oldest was at Roosevelt and they placed my DC-born, native English-speaking daughter in ESL (she's African-American) and refused to move her out (not to mention other issues I had with the school), I wrote a letter to the principal at another HS asking if we could meet and discuss transferring my daughter there. We met, I was impressed with the way things were being run, and she transferred. This has always been the case. Like my mother used to say, all you have to do is ask. DCPS just uses the lottery because it's more orderly, which is understandable. But, schools are not jails where the children are sentanced to stay until graduation. Anybody can transfer their child at any time, if they're willing to make a little effort.

  • Jennell

    Alice Thornton,

    I don't know how long ago your child attended a DCPS, but it had to have been many years ago. In the new OOB process, principals are no longer given the discretion to accept a child whose number did not come up in the lottery. I tried with four of the top performing ES in DCPS, but I had no political connections. Therefore, I was SOL. I was fortunate to get a lottery slot in a very good charter school. So, your theory about all you have to do is ask is a fallacy. BTW--After not getting accepted into the OOB process, I did call repeatedly to OSSE to no avail. They did offer to allow my child OOB in an underperforming school. My response to them verbally was that would be child neglect. Like I said, you must have connections. So, if your child was accepted into one of the performing HS, very few in this city, outside of the OOB process, it was a million years ago or you had connections.

  • Jennell

    Mt Pleasant,

    How can you accuse people who posted on the WaPo board of
    being homeless, without a life, or getting paid for posting. If you were there and are now here, by your own words, which camp do you fall in. I would venture that you are a Rhee stooge and thus getting paid for your idiotic comments.

  • Mt Pleasant

    I would venture that you are paranoid.

  • Mt Pleasant

    You all are a touchy touchy bunch who clearly feel you're doing the wrong thing with your lives. Hope you enjoyed the weekend.

  • trulee pist

    Mt.Pleasant, when I saw those nasty new WaPo poll resuts for Fenty and Rhee, my weekend got MUCH better. Yours?

  • Zingdhao

    Wow! You mean newspapers' editorial staff and board aren't required to be "objective" but newspapers' reporting staff are expected not only to be objective but neutral and/or deferential to the opinions of the editors?

    Well blow me down... ( ! )

    What happened to the idealized version of the 4th Estate?

    Rhee sounds like a real piece of work. With leadership like that, it's no wonder so many of America's youth grow up feeling disaffected and apathetic. I'm glad I don't have children growing up in that school system.

  • Zingdhao

    Way to go Turque!!

    I like the way you brought day-lighted these issues and torqued the bosom of the beast at the same time. That is truly an economical use of words.

  • lafsar

    see what is in the major newspapers

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  • kayak fishing

    Washington Post Editorial Board Livid Over Turque Blog Post is nice title.