When the “Writer” Isn’t: Ghost Writing for Editorial Pages


Today’s Washington Post editorial pages feature an “op-ed” column entitled Sarah Palin on the politicization of the Copenhagen climate conference. Never mind that the column is full of falsehoods; the Post and most other papers often run letters, op-ed columns and editorials that contain falsehoods. (Sometimes they correct the errors; often they don’t.)

My issue here is with the column’s tagline:

The writer was the 2008 Republican nominee for vice president and governor of Alaska from 2006 to 2009.

Does anyone who understands media and PR really buy this — the notion that Palin wrote the column in question? Of course not.

Op-ed pieces that run under the bylines of famous politicians, celebrities and business people are almost never written by those people, just as they rarely write their autobiographies, even first drafts, by themselves. They don’t have time. Their staffers and PR people research and write the pieces.

Society has a serious blind spot about this kind of thing — and applies a pernicious double standard. If we catch a student paying someone to write his or her paper for a class, we give the student an F. Or, in some cases (like a journalism school), we might even ask the student to leave.

So why do newspaper editors think it’s fine to wink at obvious deception? They could put a stop to the fiction tomorrow, but probably won’t. The continuing lure of “free content,” especially with famous names at the top, is an ingrained habit, however wrong.

Ghost-written op-eds are often compared with speechwriter-written speeches. Since we all know that most famous people don’t write their own lines for speeches, goes this logic, we should assume the same with a byline — whether on a book or an op-ed.

Call me naive, but I’d like to hold journalists to a slightly higher standard. Newspapers have given away enough of their credibility in recent times. Maybe this is a place to regain a little.

UPDATE: A Twitter commenter asked, essentially, what’s the harm if everyone knows it’s happening. First, not everyone does know. Sure, media-savvy people are well aware of the fakery. I’m not certain that everyone takes for granted that these are ghost-written, however.

Again, the point is not that celebrity politicians are going to stop doing this. It’s that newspapers, which should care about little things like credibility, should stop being complicit in the deception. Even if it turns out to be true that everyone knows, it’s still wrong.

Tabloid Journalism’s Future? Or Just an Extension of the Present?


animation woods.pngOn the front page of Sunday’s print edition and home page of the online edition, the New York Times is clucking about an animation it puts in the category of “Maybe Journalism.” The widely seen video, from a Hong Kong media company, purports to show what transpired between Tiger Woods and his wife in the recent incident that has dominated our celebrity-addled news programming lately.

Here’s the top of the Times’ story, entitled “In Animated Videos, News and Guesswork Mix”:

Welcome to the new world of Maybe Journalism — a best guess at the news as it might well have been, rendered as a video game and built on a bed of pure surmise.

A computer-generated ‘news report’ of the Tiger Woods S.U.V. crash — complete with a robotic-looking simulation of Mr. Woods’s wife chasing him with a golf club — has become a top global online video of the moment, perhaps offering a glimpse at the future of journalism, tabloid division. (No matter that the police said she was using the club to release Mr. Woods from the car.)

The minute-and-a-half-long digitally animated piece was created by Next Media, a Hong Kong-based company with gossipy newspapers in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The video is one of more than 20 the company releases a day, often depicting events that no journalist actually witnessed — and that may not have even occurred.

A glimpse at journalism’s future, tabloid division? How about journalism’s present, in a somewhat different form?

It looks more to me like the latter. Next Media is following in the footsteps of what American journalism has made a trademark, particularly in the book, magazine and tabloid-TV businesses. Modern books about politics and business, in particular, are loaded with direct quotes and minute details of events “no journalist actually witnessed.”

These techniques have a purpose. They’re designed at least as much to capture and hold the attention of print and video audiences as to enlighten them.

I acknowledge that this is a bit of a stretch. I’m emphatically not saying that fly-on-the-wall print accounts, which journalists claim are based on extensive interviews with principals, are close to the same thing as this maybe-it-happened video.

I am saying that when people ask you to trust their depictions of “events that no journalist actually witnessed — and that may not have even occurred,” you take them with a serious grain of salt.

Some of this stuff has been going on for decades. In 1965 Truman Capote called his masterwork — In Cold Blood, about the killing of a Kansas family and the killers’ path to their executions — a “nonfiction novel”. He helped create a new form of literature. He also helped spark the form of journalism that has become so standard now: the fly-on-the-wall pretense that pervades so much of what we see.

Critics later questioned Capote’s motives and methods, and ultimately the basic honesty of the book. But he was honest at least in the sense that he acknowledged that he was writing a novel, and more rigorous as a reporter than a lot of modern journalists even pretend to be. (Norman Mailer also called his brilliant book about a real crime, The Executioner’s Song, a novel.)

The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward is the most famous current practitioner of the nonfiction novel, though he’d undoubtedly insist that his work is pure journalism. I don’t trust a thing he writes, and haven’t for some time.

Woodward’s books are loaded with direct quotations of people he says he interviewed, and some he didn’t. How can you have faith, beyond assuming that he’s telling the truth  when he says he has it right, that it is right? Why should you?

Now everybody, or seemingly everybody, follows the Woodward lead. Novelistic journalism is the order of our times. But I’m convinced it’s one the reasons people have concluded, rationally, that they can’t really believe anything anymore.

situation room obama.pngNewspapers, too, play the fly-on-the-wall game. Consider what the Times itself did today.

The “Maybe Journalism” piece runs at the bottom of the front page, while at the top is a long story about how President Obama, after long consultations with advisors, reached his decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan. The story is based, says the reporter, on “dozens of interviews with participants as well as a review of notes some of them took during Mr. Obama’s 10 meetings with his national security team. Most of those interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, but their accounts have been matched against those of other participants wherever possible.”

We readers are still being asked to trust the word of people who violated the confidentiality of the White House Situation Room and other internal deliberations. I tend to believe the overall thrust of the story — that Obama and his team struggled mightily with this decision — but I don’t have any faith in most of the particulars, including the anonymously sourced direct quotes of the president and others in the deliberations.

Why is this not, in the words of the story about the Hong Kong animators, “depicting events that no journalist actually witnessed — and that may not have even occurred”?

This isn’t the first draft of history. It’s the first draft of someone’s nonfiction novel on the Obama presidency.

(Disclosure: I own a small number of shares in the New York Times Co. They’re worth a lot less than I paid for them. Updated to make clearer that I’m not equating in any apples-to-apples way the animations and the fly on wall journalism.)

Journalism’s Slow, Sad Suicide

Michael Gerson, former chief speechwriter for George W. Bush and now one of the Washington Post’s assemblage of conservative columnists, bemoans today what his headline writer calls “journalism’s slow, sad death.” It’s yet another paean to the demise of monopoly/oligopoly media that, at its best, did perform occasional acts of public service. (Like so many pieces of its ilk, the column complains, among other things, that all those bloggers and other Internet news sites are living off the work of actual reporters; but the column contains no actual reporting other than a visit to a museum of journalism.) He writes:

Professional journalism is not like the buggy-whip industry, outdated by economic progress, to be mourned but not missed. This profession has a social value that is currently not reflected in its market value.

It wasn’t economic progress, but technological progress, that did in the buggy-whip industry. Did anyone ever mourn it, much less miss it, other than the people it employed and the communities where they lived?

Journalism’s social value is real. But the social value of the journalism business? Of the professional class of journalists that rose to claim white-collar, insider status and abused it so royally?

I suspect that what Gerson really misses is the subservient lapdog the Washington press corps, with a few honorable institutional exceptions, became during the early part of this decade.  And what, for example, is the social value of his own newspaper’s continuing refusal to acknowledge, much less correct, an egregious error on the editorial page that employs him?

My disgust with American newspapers grows with every such woe-is-us piece. They complain and complain about what we’re losing, and howl at the moon over the flaws of what’s emerging, even as they so often fail at remotely living up to their own proclaimed standards.

In my last posting, “That Hallowed Standard of Accuracy: Oops“, I deconstructed, at perhaps tedious length, a column by a Tennessee editorial page editor, Tom Bohs, who got so many things wrong in a piece that briefly discussed me and my work. The errors included misspelling my name and the name of a university with which I was once affiliated, and those were emblematic of the pure sloppiness and incoherence of the overall piece.

My name and the university’s have been corrected in the online column. But there is not even a hint that anything was wrong before — a correction method that holds ethical transparency in contempt –and none of the other points was addressed.

What kind of standards do these news organizations have? They don’t seem close to the allegedly professional ones Bohs and Gerson claim for their craft’s traditional members.

For years I’ve argued that we need to keep the good things that newspapers and the (vanishingly few) good broadcast journalism outlets do in the course of their work. We do need good journalism, but it’s increasingly clear that we’ll have a lot of it from the new entrants in the digital media ecosystem.

As for the old guard, I’ve just about given up caring. Their organizations are committing slow-motion suicide. Maybe the people left in the business, apart from the few serious innovators, lack the imaginations and/or talent, or are so overworked by corporate bosses that they can’t even try. But I’m not sure anymore what we’d really lose if their organizations all died tomorrow.

That Hallowed Standard of Accuracy: Oops

(UPDATE: Since I posted this on Nov. 24, the two misspellings in the newspaper column discussed below have been corrected, without a hint (in the online version, anyway) that there was ever a mistake in the first place. The other inaccuracies and questionable information remain in place.)

My heart goes out, at least a little, to Tom Bohs, editorial page editor of the Jackson Sun in Tennessee. He is undoubtedly wishing he’d spent a little more time on a column he published this week.

His piece, entitled “Citizen journalist, pick your beat.” featured some standard, boilerplate stereotypes — such as people with mobile-phone cameras who contribute what they shoot to “real” media organizations like, uh, the Sun — with just the barest effort to acknowledge the enormous variety and in some cases quality of non-traditional offerings that are diversifying the media ecosystem. Overall, the column comes off as yet another semi-informed member of the old guard wishing he could turn back the clock. No big deal.

So why am I feeling some sympathy for Bohs? It’s because of his column’s final four paragraphs, which may well have earned him a spot in the Irony Hall of Fame, or at least the Media Criticism wing.

Bohs wrote:

To give you a little perspective, however, the guy who folks say invented modern citizen journalism is former San Jose Mercury News journalist Dan Gilmour. He was a technology columnist for the newspaper which operates deep in the heart of Silicon Valley. He allegedly wrote the first newspaper online blog. Then he wrote a book about citizen journalism titled ‘We the Media.’ Then he got out of the news business.

I’m not sure what that means. Today, Gilmour runs an operation called the Center for Citizen Media at UC Berkely. I guess he figured with all these citizens running around doing his job, he needed to find a new line of work, teaching them to do his former job – for free.

As the news business continues to evolve at the mercy of technology, citizen journalism is going to play a major role. Here is a simple guideline to help you evaluate what you read on the blogs and forums, chats and tweets. It is a guideline old school journalists still live by: If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.

I hope our new era of citizen journalists adopt the standard, as well.

Oh, my, where to begin…

  • I don’t know which folks say I invented modern citizen journalism. I’m not one of them. I’ve definitely been among the many people who’ve worked to help it happen, and to make it as good as possible for everyone involved.
  • My last name is spelled Gillmor, not Gilmour.
  • I “allegedly wrote the first newspaper online blog”? (Copy editors: All blogs are online.) Not sure what the “allegedly” is all about, except possibly to suggest some faint unseemliness or false claim. Who’s alleged to have said it, anyway? Mine may well have been the first blog by a daily newspaper journalist, but that’s all I’ll claim.
  • Aha, a true fact: I did write We the Media.
  • No, I didn’t then get out of the news business. I started what turned out to be an ill-fated Bay Area news site, Bayosphere, which was definitely part of the news business. I started the Center for Citizen Media (see below for current status), one of the purposes of which was to help extend the news business. I’ve invested in and/or advised a number of enterprises — some for-profit and some not-for-profit — that have been deeply involved in the news and information sphere. I’ve been a paid speaker or consultant for several newspaper companies, and wrote occasional columns for the Financial Times (which I trust Bohs will concede is part of the real News Business) and still contribute periodically to other publications. My current position at Arizona State University is all about the news business: working with students studying journalism, business and other disciplines to help them create what we hope will be some of tomorrow’s lasting local-information enterprises. I’m more in the news business than I ever was as a columnist for a California newspaper.
  • The Center for Citizen Media still exists, but is mostly dormant at this point. It was affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley (that’s Berkeley with an “e” between the “l” and “y”), as well as Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and is now affiliated with Arizona State. I haven’t been affiliated in any way with UC Berkeley for almost two years at this point, though I’m still fond of my former colleagues and students.
  • At no point in my work on citizen journalism have I pitched it as a replacement for traditional journalism. From the beginning I’ve said it would be a great addition, in its myriad forms, to the ecosystem, and competitive only in some spaces. I’ve also said, again and again in talks and in public writing, that while I hoped citizens would help traditional news organizations by participating in community journalism, I was and remain flatly opposed to business models that assume citizens are offering nothing but free labor for others to monetize.
  • Who’s running around doing my old job as a business and technology journalist? Lots of people, including traditional journalists and online-only creative types whose work has greatly increased the amount and in many cases the quality of tech information. Some bloggers are doing it for little or no money, for lots of reasons — they may be in the business; they may be building their brands; they may just love to cover a small niche — while other online journalists are making serious money at it, building important and well-funded new media organizations. The very last thing I figured when I co-taught a course at Berkeley was that I needed the job because citizen journalists had priced me out of the market. (When Bohs says “I guess”, that’s a point I won’t argue.)
  • The news business is clearly being affected by technology. It is not at the mercy of technology. Journalists will continue to do journalism, using the evolving tools of the trade in enterprises that adapt to change, long after newspapers have faded from the scene. The only news people at the utter mercy of technology are the ones who have given up on themselves.

And now we come to Bohs’ stern advice — preceded, to be fair, by an acknowledgment that citizen journalism is here to stay — to all those who need to decide what to make of what they find online. Follow the lead of the pros, he says: Don’t trust it unless you’ve checked it out.

Bohs could have checked out everything he said about me and got so absurdly wrong, even without picking up the phone and calling. He could have used that new-fangled Google thing, where typing in “Dan Gillmor” — or even “Dan Gilmour” — returns links to dangillmor.com (the top one with the correct spelling, third on the list for the one Bohs used), where I lay out in some detail exactly what I’ve been doing for the past few years and am doing now, with links to the blogs where I’ve been saying what I actually believe about journalism and its future, not what other people may claim (or imagine) I’ve said. Even my Wikipedia entry, which has some small inaccuracies, has my current gig listed correctly.

This is why Bohs, who clearly cares about journalism, surely must have had a sinking feeling in his gut last night or this morning when he discovered his mistakes. I hope he’ll turn that into a renewed dedication to the principles in which he says he believes.

Toward a Slow-News Movement


candlesIn the minutes and hours after an Army officer opened fire on his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, last week, the media floodgates opened in a now-standard way. A torrent of news reports and commentary poured from the scene, the immediate community and the Pentagon, amplified by corollary data, informed commentary and rank speculation from journalists, bloggers, podcasters, Tweeters, texters and more.

Also standard in this age of fast news was the quality of the early information: utterly unreliable, and mostly wrong. The shooter was dead; no he wasn’t. There were two accomplices; no there weren’t. And so on. (See Greg Marx’s “Jumping to Confusion” at CJR, and Glenn Greenwald’s “media orgy” post at Salon.)

This was not, as several critics have claimed, a failure of citizen journalism. (That the most prominent such accusation came from a web-news operation that is notorious for its rumor-mongering and fact-challenged ways is too rich for words, and definitely not going to draw a link from me.) There was plenty of bullshit to go around that day, at all levels of media. Lots of people quoted President Obama’s admonition (watch the video) to wait for the facts, but almost no one followed it. And almost no one will heed Army Gen. George William Casey Jr.’s advice on Sunday, to not jump to conclusions “based on little snippets of information that come out.”

Like many other people who’ve been burned by believing too quickly, I’ve learned to put almost all of what journalists call “breaking news” into the categories of gossip or, in the words of a scientist friend, “interesting if true.” That is, even though I gobble up “the latest” from a variety of sources, the closer the information is in time to the actual event, the more I assume it’s unreliable if not false.

SnailIt’s my own version of “slow news” — an expression I first heard on Friday, coined by my friend Ethan Zuckerman in a wonderful riff off the slow-food movement. We were at a Berkman Center for Internet & Society retreat in suburban Boston, in a group discussion of ways to improve the quality of what we know when we have so many sources from which to choose at every minute of the day.

One of society’s recently adopted cliches is the “24-hour news cycle” — the recognition that the once-a-day, manufacturing-based version of journalism has essentially passed into history for those who consume and create news via digital systems. Now, it’s said, we get news every hour of every day, and media creators work tirelessly to fill those hours with new stuff.

(UPDATE: Yes, I am aware that some print publications can, though few do, provide actual perspective. As several commenters have noted, meanwhile, the notion of slowing things down to achieve more perspective has been in the wild for a while now, though aimed more at the journalists; note Paul Bradshaw’s “slow journalism” observation; Kirk Ross’ ideas and this from Matt Thompson. What I’m suggesting, as noted, is much more about audiences. See update at end.)

That 24-hour news cycle needs further adjustment. The first is that an hourly news cycle is itself too long. The latest can come at any minute in an era of TV police chases, Twitter and twitchy audiences. Call it the 1,440 minute news cycle.

Rapid-fire news is about speed, which has two main purposes for the provider. The first is human competitiveness, the desire to be first. In journalism newsrooms, scoops are a coin of the realm.

The second imperative is audience. Being first draws a crowd. Crowds can be turned into influence, money or both. Witness cable news channels’ desperate hunt for “the latest” when big events are under way, even though the latest is so often the rankest garbage.

This applies not just to raw information (often wrong, remember) that’s the basis for breaking news. It’s also the case, for example, for the blogger who offers up the first sensible-sounding commentary that puts the “news” into perspective. The winners in the online commentary derby — which is just as competitive, though for lower financial stakes, as — are the quick and deft writers who tell us what it means. That they’re often basing these perspectives on lies or well-meaning falsehoods seems to matter less than being early to comment.

I’m not arguing here against human nature. We all want to know what’s going on, and the bigger the calamity the more we want to know. Nothing is going to change that, and nothing should.

Nor is this a new phenomenon. Speculation has passed for journalism in all media eras. Every commercial plane crash, for example, is followed by days (now more like minutes and hours) of brazen guessing by so-called experts who, to be sure, are occasionally proved correct after months of actual investigation by the real experts. Sometimes we never know the truth.

But the advent of 1,440 minute news cycle (should we call it the 86,400 second news cycle?), which brings with it an insatiable appetite for something new to talk about, should literally give us pause. Again and again, we’ve seen that initial assumptions can be grossly untrustworthy.

We all know that the Texas shooter wasn’t killed during his rampage, as was first reported. That’s because the story was still fresh enough, and the saturation coverage was ongoing, when it emerged that he hadn’t been shot dead by law enforcement.

But we all “know” things that were subsequently found to be untrue, in part because journalists typically don’t report outcomes with the same passion and play that they report the initial news. We’ve all seen videos of people who’ve been arrested but who were later acquitted; yet the inherent bias in crime reporting has left reputations of innocent people shattered. And how many of us hear a report that such-and-such product or behavior has been found to raise cancer risk, but never hear the follow up that the report is either false or misleading?

The rapid-fire news system’s abundance of falsehoods has other causes than simple speed, including the decline of what’s supposed to be a staple of journalism: fact checking before running with a story.

Citing the grotesque “balloon boy” stunt, Clay Shirky (also a friend) observed recently — in a Tweet, no less — that “fact-checking is way down, and after-the-fact checking is way WAY up.”

I’m not entirely sure the balloon-boy situation is the best example of this phenomenon, because there weren’t all that many facts journalists could check during the time the balloon was in the air. The family’s publicly weird ways should have prompted much more skepticism, earlier than it did, but journalists went with the story in front of them.

Clay’s point is absolutely right in a general sense, however. It lends weight to slow news, to the idea that we all might be wise to think before we react, just as most of us failed to do during the early hours and days of the “#amazonfail” situation last April. As he wrote then, a lot of us were wrong and believed things that turned out not to be true — and we reacted with fury to something that was a mistake, not evil design. (I am one of those people.)

I rely in large part on gut instincts when I make big decisions, but my gut only gives me good advice when I’ve immersed myself in the facts about things that are important. This applies, more than ever, to news, where we need to be skeptical of just about everything we read, listen to and watch, though not equally skeptical.

A corollary to that is increasingly clear: to wait a bit, for evidence that is persuasive, before deciding what’s true and what’s not.

It comes down to this: The faster the news accelerates, the slower I’m inclined to believe anything I hear — and the harder I look for the coverage that pulls together the most facts with the most clarity about what’s known and what’s speculation.

Call it slow news. Call it critical thinking. Call it anything you want. Give some thought to adopting it for at least some of your media consumption, and creation.

UPDATE (and welcome to the BoingBoing crew): I shouldn’t have to say this, but several tweets have suggested that the answer is, uh, print and quality broadcasting. Newspapers and magazines and network news.

Of course this is true, in part. I cherish the New Yorker magazine (among others), and the dwindling number of daily newspapers and broadcasters that try to do this part of their jobs properly. To the extent that audiences decide this matters to them, maybe they’ll pick up some old habits.

But this isn’t about saving the old guard, and it really isn’t even about fixing (some of) what’s wrong with journalism. It’s mostly about persuading audiences to, among other things, “take a deep breath” before leaping to conclusions, as PaidContent’s Staci Kramer tweeted. (I don’t trust journalists to do this anymore, with too few exceptions.)

In a practical sense, we can help it along if we find ways to preserve a happy by-product of the manufacturing process. Or, as Clay puts it in an email, “the idea — that we have to get back, by design, the kinds of things we used to get as side-effects of the environment — is so important right now, and especially for news.”

Ethan Zuckerman also replied on his blog in a post called “Why we fall for fast news” — as always, great insight. Excerpt:

Why do we persistently refresh news, looking for updates? (See my comments on AP’s ethnography of news consumption, which suggests that this is a common pattern.) It makes sense for certain types of news – if you’re directly impacted by an event, tracking a storm enroute to your town, for instance. But that’s not why we refresh most news – it’s rare that having the most timely (and, as Dan suggests, the least careful) information has a direct impact on our well-being.

Here are a couple of possibilities:

– The media made us do it. We don’t want to eat fast food, but that’s all we’re fed, due to the newsroom factors Dan suggests.

– We’re bored. AP’s “deep dive” suggests that relentless refreshing is something we do mostly when we’ve got nothing better to do.

– We’re building social capital. If we’ve got the most up-to-date information on the breaking news, we can use it to open conversations with friends and position ourselves as in the know, raising our stature.

– We’re narrative junkies. A breaking news story is like a novel that ends after a few chapters – we keep reloading in the hopes that someone will tell us the rest of the story.

I suspect there’s some truth to each of those explanations… and I suspect that each is badly incomplete. I also suspect that figuring out what drives our patterns of news consumption, and our susceptibility to fast, often-wrong news is critical for Dan’s slow-news movement to gain momentum.

Washington Post Media Critic Gives Opinion Writers a Truthiness License

From yesterday’s Washington Post online chat featuring media critic Howard Kurtz:

Fairfax County, Va.: Hi Howard, This Sunday, I read the editorials in The Post and The New York Times about the surprise Peace Prize. I liked the NYT editorial (which was pro), but like most of us, including Obama, I could certainly have handled an editorial that was anti this choice.

When I read The Washington Post editorial, I felt so sad for what this paper has become. Their whole idea was that the prize should have gone to Neda, the woman who was murdered by the Iranian police. Nobel Peace Prizes can’t be given posthumously. It’s a basic, easy factcheck. There are other fact problems, too (the protests hadn’t happened by the nomination date, Neda may not have been a protester).

So the idea that the committee made a careless or inappropriate choice is refuted by a slapdash editorial “choice” that nobody bothered to check? It just screamed out to me “we laid off almost all the copy editors.” I feel so sad for The Post I grew up with. It’s great to have an opinion. It’s bad to look dumb.

Howard Kurtz: I take your point about no posthumous awards, though by that standard Martin Luther King couldn’t have won after being assassinated (yes, I know he won the prize earlier). My reading of the piece was that Neda was being used more as a symbol (though the rule should have been mentioned). But it’s an editorial. It is by definition opinion. Of course some readers are going to disagree.

Unpack Kurtz’s reply and your jaw will drop. He acknowledges the reader’s point but then and amplifies his newspaper’s negligence.

This isn’t a trivial point. As the Atlantic’s James Fallows has noted in painful detail (here, here), the Post editorial page made a rookie error. The Nobel Peace Prize rules are clear: The only time it can be awarded after death is when the honoree had already been named “but who had died before he/she could receive the Prize on December 10.”

As Jim Fallows noted, allowing posthumous awards could spark “a debate every year on whether Abraham Lincoln, St. Francis of Assisi, or Gandhi was the most deserving choice.”

Kurtz, coming to his colleagues’ defense in a way that utterly dismisses the reader’s serious chiding of a paper he or she has long cared about, says Neda was a symbol, but that the rule “should have been mentioned” in the editorial. Come on. Had the Post editorial writer or his/her editors known of the rule, they would never have run that piece in the first place without a different spin.

The media critic runs totally off the rails when he says the editorial page gets a pass in any case. “It is by definition opinion,” he said, as if opinion journalists have less obligation to being factual than other journalists.

I infer from the still-uncorrected editorial (at least on the Post website) that the editorial page editors believe the same thing. In their world, and Kurtz’s, writing opinions means you have license to make it up as long as it has a certain truthiness.

Then again, this is the same media critic, after all, who had a glaring error in an online column last month that the paper didn’t budge on for several days despite having known about the mistake early on. When the paper did address it, the error was replaced with words that were only partially correct, and that half-truth remains intact almost a month later.