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.

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