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December 13, 2012

Post, Politico veer far apart on Allbritton obit

#Politico and the Washington Post took diametrically opposed approaches toward their coverage of the late millionaire businessman Joe L. Allbritton.

Now, guess which newspaper used to compete against the Allbritton-owned Washington Star? And guess which newspaper has as its publisher Allbritton's only son, Robert?

The Post clenched its hand into a fist on Page A1 with a prominent reference, in the first paragraph, to the "massive money-laundering scheme" that embroiled the "once venerable" Riggs National Bank during Allbritton's tenure. Inside the paper, some 16 full paragraphs are devoted to the legal and financia travails of Riggs, from its cultivation of "dictators with long records of human rights abuses" and "scandal-plagued decline" to its pleading guilty to a federal criminal charge and the denunciations of a federal judge who called it "a greedy corporate henchman of dictators and their corrupt regimes."

Politico, on the other hand, buried the only specific reference to Rigg's problems under Allbritton to two sentences in the 14th paragraph of the story. In the second paragraph, Politico allowed an oblique reference to "high-profile business controversies." All told, Politico devoted some 46 otherwise laudatory paragraphs across two open pages to the Allbritton obit. The toughest it got was to say that "the loss of the historic Riggs name....remained a source of regret for Allbritton, associates said."

The contrasts covered more than Riggs.

In its coverage of Allbritton's ownership of the Star, the Post devotes two paragraphs to the resignation of a Star editor unhappy over Allbritton's political meddling. That episode is nowhere to be found in Politico. Instead, Politico devotes a paragraph to a gushing quote from the late Katharine Graham about Allbritton's "brains and great charm" and such.

Surprise: the Katharine Graham quote is nowhere to be found in the Post's story.

Politico's story was co-authored by the paper's editor-in-chief, John F. Harris, along with James Hohman. The Post's story was written by Emma Brown.



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"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

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