Ombudsman: no excuse for fraudulent story

In a 12,000 world analysis of a fraudulent story about an eight-year old heroin adict written by Washington Post staff writer Janet Cooke, Post Ombudsman Bill Green writes, ". . . everybody who touched this journalistic felony -- or who should have touched it and didn't -- was wrong. It was a complete systems failure, and there's no excuse for it."

His assessment, which ran in the Sunday editions of The Post, also included the following:

* The system failed because it was not used. No one aggressively pursued doubts about the piece or asked the tough questions when doubts surfaced about it.

* Trusting a writer does not take precedent over an editor's responsibility to insist on "knowing and verifying."

* Writers and editors should beware of the myth that there is a "blockbuster" story around every corner.

* Editors' trust should extend beyond the written word to the opinions of other experienced staffers, some of whom doubted Ms. Cooke's story.

* No one should be hired without a thorough background check. Ms. Cooke had falsified vital information on her resume.

* The quest for journalistic awards is "poisonous." A publication's first obligation is to inform its readers.

* It is "overreaching" to assume that this hoax casts aspersions on the honesty of other stories in the Post or in other papers. But tightening discipline at papers may do some good.

* Confidentiality by a reporter should not bind his editor. If the reporter doesn't confide his sources to his editor, the story shouldn't be published.

* The highly competitive atmosphere at the Post provided fertile ground for what may have been Cooke's already "aberrant" behavior.

* Young, impatient reporters, even the best of them, require seasoning, and shouldn't be pushed too fast.

* Personnel problems should be handled quickly. Such problems among Post editors may have impeded the early uncovering of the hoax.

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.