Loose Lips

Yikes! Post Botches Story, Sort of Covers It Up

Yesterday the Washington Post, along with several other local media outlets, covered D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe's "state of the department" speech.

If you read the Post's paper version this morning, you would have learned that Ellerbe is pushing ahead with his plan to change his department's shifts from 24-hours to 12-hours and that the fire union and some firefighters aren't too keen on that proposal.

What you would not have learned: the actual news of yesterday's events. After Ellerbe's speech, about 100 firefighters got up in unison, turned their backs on the chief, and walked out. They did so while wearing gear emblazoned with "D.C.F.D.," gear that Ellerbe has tried to outlaw.

The open insubordination of dozens and dozens of firefighters appropriately found its way to the top of non-Post outlets that covered the speech. But it was oddly absent in the Post. Until today. The District's paper of record updated the story online shortly after noon with all the salient details about the walkout, but without any type of note explaining the massive rewrite.

Now, LL does not mean to disparage the Post intern who wrote the piece. Mistakes happen to reporters young and old.

But doesn't this kind of drastic overhaul of a story deserve some type of editor's note explaining to readers what happened?

Apparently not, according to the Post's Metro editor, Vernon Loeb. Since there were no errors in the first story, there's no need for an explanation to readers, he says.

"There's nothing wrong in what we had in print. It was a matter of emphasis," says Loeb. "Yeah, I think, a matter of emphasis."

What?! No, it's not a matter of emphasis. The stuff that was added in the update wasn't underemphasized originally, it was left out altogether. So this is a matter of being straight with your readers when you omit important facts. A sample note:  "Dear readers: We totally botched the first version of this story. Here's what we we should have written." Boom! End of story.

But the Post just can't seem to figure out how this whole transparency thing works when it comes to its own inner workings. After all, this isn't the first time they've shat that particular bed.

  • Holdadice

    Daaanggg LL!

  • styrax

    Vernon Loeb is kidding himself.

  • Commenter

    If you compare the stories, you'll note that the WP downplays and uses a biased point of view: "perhaps a hundred" vs. "roughly a hundred" vs. "more than a hundred".

    The WP also doesn't mention that it's own editorial board opined against the existing shift. http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-shift-for-the-better-new-hours-for-dc-firefighters/2011/12/20/gIQAxfETJP_story.html

    These are all opinions. The peer-reviewed evidence based science on the topic supports, perhaps counter-intuitively, the use of 24 hour shifts for firefighters. The fact that the shift is cheaper (less leave use, fewer shift changes) and that the firefighters like it is just icing on the cake.

  • Black Smoke

    Ellerbe is doing a great job. The racist white firemen will never support a black at the helm. The white firemen in PG County are some racist pricks just like those that are DC.

  • Peter Rosenstein

    It is sad that people like Black Smoke, want to bring up racism at every turn. This good story is about the Wash Post poor reporting, so why not comment on that. I think it is sad to see the Post go downhill like it has but that has nothing to do with racism it is poor editors and no one minding the store.

  • Drez

    Dosnt the FEMS née DCFD staff bucking orders and walking out fall under the reported "aren't too keen" part? Or is the symbolic walkout so significant in it's degree of "aren't too keen-ness" that it creates a difference of kind?
    Seems to me that calling it a matter of emphasis is a fair and legitimate interpretation.

  • carefulreader

    "It was a matter of emphasis. Yeah, I think, a matter of emphasis." This weak explanation is like Saturday Night Live skit from the 80s ... emphasis, yeah, that's the ticket!

  • http://washingtoncitypaper.com southeast lady

    My eyesight is diminishing but it seems like to me most of those that walked out were caucasian.

    I don't know what is going on with all of these uniform changes (I will read up on that later; it does not seem to make sense to me now; it appears to be expensive.) But, anyway the display of turnig their backs to their chief seems over the top. Also, I run into some of these firemen at the Giant Food Store on Alabama Ave. and "there is an air there" of ...smugness.

  • Holdadice

    @selady: I think you're correct on several counts in your comment #9. I, too will have to read up on whether or not it makes sense to change the uniform lettering and the hours on duty. But to walk out on your Commander in Chief is an egregious affront which should not be tolerated in any way shape or form. Quite few of our firefighters commute to and from North Carolina, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. (Drive by and look at the license plates in the firehouse parking lots some time.) A shift in work hours would severely dampen their ability to easily commute. The DCFD employees I have spoken with seem to believe the 12 hour 2 day/12 hour 2 night shift with 4 days off is the best for providing proper rest between the stressful grueling work they do. We owe them the time to recoup. Their's is a job few of us can do.

    The attitude of the firefighters you encountered in the Giant is not the norm from my experience.

    Don't DC Police Officers get some sort of incentive to live in the District? If so, maybe that should be the case for Fire Department personnel also. I remember I was denied a job in Arlington, Va (for which I was perfectly suited and qualified) because I didn't speak Spanish. Eventually I found humor in asking if I could get a job in Mexico because I speak English. I feel the out of area personnel should get jobs closer to home and learn some manners while they're at it.

  • Calvin H. Gurley

    Mr. Rubenstein, please comment on matters and issues that you have a “full” understanding on. Or you will give example to the same irrelevant and curious disease that this city has – believing what their lying eyes are telling them. To borrow a joke from Mr. Richard Pryor.

    Former Fire Chief Dennis Rubin is White and the current Fire Chief Ellerbe is Black. Is that not racial? Yes/No – Mr. Rubenstein.

    Did You Know?

    Fire Chief D. Rubin – and his 3 days [72 stay overnight hours] with the 4 remaining days of the pay week off for White Fire Fighters who live in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware and New York to spend with their families.

    Now, Black Fire Chief Ellerbe – uses his management prerogative and authority to set work hours, establish lunch periods, establish the goals and mission of the “department” that he is ultimately responsible for; now changes the work shift.

    White fire fighters are now upset. Said their last good-bye when they disrespected Chief Elerbe at that meeting. Elerbe and I know no matter how much the Wash. Post supports these fire fighters or their Union fight...they will lose against management's responsibility to manage workforce.

    New coach – new game plays, new teacher – new learning methods, new boss – no more 2 hours lunch periods.

    What we have here, is a clear illustration of other races having difficulty in accepting a new boss/leader who so happens to be Black. Sounds similar to what’s happening in this Country.

    Did you Know?
    Ps. Dennis Rubin took/stole $10 million dollars that the Council appropriated for the Chief to establish Fire Cadet Program in D.C. schools to recruit our high school graduates. Chief Rubin re-directed the $10 million to give his favorites “overtime pay”. Mind you, the Council always adds a little extra funding for overtime in the annual budget for both the Fire and Police Depts.
    A great missed (job) opportunity to be hired as a Fire Fighter for our Black children in the District of Columbia.

    Shoe on the other foot awakening.

    Would Chief Rubin re-directed the $10 million from the Fired Cadet Program if he [Rubin] served a white school district?

  • Me

    I am a DCFD member and to all the the people that have posted deragatory reteric on here about racism lets go, For all to know at that meeting there were white,black,male,female,hispanic and asian DCFD members at that meeting.There is a almost unnanimous feeling from the members that this Administrator is tearing our beloved dept to pieces.He is regressing the Dept by a min of 20 years.People post comments without researching things properly to SE LADY would you be happy to know that more than half the ALS ambulances are down graded to basic units daily witch means to you if you call 911 there is a good chance you will not get advanced care as soon as possible.And thats just one of many problems we are combating as a Dept he is a is a magician full of tricks and he uses smoke and mirrors to make himself look good but he is really putting the lives of the citizens and the members at risk. Please before you judge us find all the facts and then make an informed decision.PS no I will not post wether I am white,black,male or female it is irrelavent in this context I am mearly concerned about our beloved city and Dept.

  • Truth hurts

    Calvin Gurley would fit in nicely with DC's current crop of elected pols.

  • seDCdude

    And Truth Hurts

    You'ld fit even nicer in that lump of dog poo over in that dog park!

    Calvin Gurley is on point, Chief Ellerbe saved, that's right SAVED the city of Sarasota, Fl MILLIONS of $$$$s unlike RUBIN, who is white, COST and continues to cost this city and its citizenry MILLIONS of $$s while Rubin had the audacity to sue for more $$.....you appeasists and hypocrites are pathetic!

  • http://wcp dc resident

    Alot of the comments here from the residents seem that are black seems like their the race problem.Stop impliing everything is because of race stop and talk to firefighters get the facts and then make a common sense decission this effects black and white and asian and latino members of the department this isnt the 50s and 60s anymore,and yes im white and i did vote for obama who i think is a good leader,the chief is not.

  • Teri

    I think it's very sad that we live in a world that calls you racist if you are white and disagree with a black man :(