The WaPo's missing link

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Joe Strupp and Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher try to get to the bottom of a mystery swirling around the Washington Post's web page:

We put together the above quiz prompted by a flurry of postings all along the liberal blogosphere after someone discovered there was a Google url link to a Washington Post web story or video that seemingly went up last night -- but now led to an empty page. But since the Comments section on that page remains active, dozens of visitors have now typed in messages ripping the Post or pleading with it to restore or explain. Complicating matters, another Web detective found a separate url suggesting that the Post may have posted documents related to the same story, also now missing.

The story -- whatever it is -- swirls around one Tom Gosinski (see photo), who was a close observer of the well-known, but not often mentioned these days, episode from the 1990s involving Cindy McCain's drug addiction and a charity she and Gosinki both worked for. He re-emerged this week -- the web site Raw Story did a major piece -- but has not yet hit the mainstream media.

(via Atrios)

At this point, we don't know what's going on at the Post; maybe the story or video will appear soon. And maybe it will turn out to be an inconsequential story.

But if it turns out that the Post is spiking a story that could damage John McCain's candidacy, it's worth keeping in mind that this wouldn't be the first time the paper has killed a story that could hurt a Republican presidential candidate shortly before election day. Here's a reminder of what happened in 1996:

THE DOLE CAMPAIGN WAS PARALYZED by more than geography. In August the campaign learned that two major news organizations--The Washington Post (owned by the same company that owns NEWSWEEK) and Time--had interviewed a woman who claimed to have had an extramarital affair with Dole in the late '60s, in the waning years of his marriage to his first wife. The campaign sent a lawyer, Doug Wurth, to talk to her. At a meeting at the Willard Hotel in early September, she told Wurth that the relationship had begun in 1968, when she was 35 and Dole was 44, and had ended after Dole's divorce in 1972. Wurth made no attempt to challenge the woman's story.

[...]

Dole's advisers feared the story would wreck the campaign. ""It was a mortal threat,'' said one aide. The campaign was planning to stress the argument that Dole was more trustworthy than Clinton. ""It's the one thing we have--the fact that he is an upstanding guy with high morals.'' The woman's story, if published in the Post, ""wipes it all out,'' said this aide.

[...]

In the Post's newsroom and executive offices on 15th Street in Washington, a fierce debate raged over the ethics of printing the story. Many of the reporters, including Woodward, wanted to publish. They argued that Dole had made trust and character an issue, and thus adultery, even from the distant past, was relevant. Most of the editors, however, accepted the distinction between public trust and private actions. The Post and its owners, the Graham family, did not want to get into the business of investigating the dalliances of presidential candidates.

By Thursday, Oct. 3, the Post had decided that it would be unfair to print the story just before the first debate, scheduled for that Sunday night. Informed by Woodward, the campaign was hugely relieved. Dole's staffers believed that the closer they got to the election, the harder it would be for the Post to publish such a sensational article. According to a close friend, Dole was finally able to push the story to the back of his mind.

Much more detail can be found here.

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