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Double-Standards at the Washington Post

In early May The Washington Post reported that D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans had quietly set up an LLC that received $50,000 from a contractor with business before the city. That was almost seven weeks ago and, despite the seriousness of Evans’ action, the Post has yet to run a single follow up story.

Even if Evans returned the contractor’s checks, as he claims he did, that’s only “a matter of optics,” a former federal prosecutor told District Dig, which has broken much of this story. “The point is he formed this company and he took the money.”

The Post’s lackluster pursuit of Evans, who represents downtown D.C. and wealthy Georgetown, stands in contrast to the paper’s coverage of other councilmembers, particularly those whose base of support consists mostly of black voters.

Marion Barry

I first stumbled on the Post’s double standard in July 2009 when reporting for Pacifica Radio’s WPFW. At the time the Council was considering $272 million in public funding for a Marriott hotel alongside the Convention Center. But just before the vote Evans, the leading proponent of the deal, recused himself after being questioned about a conflict of interest: his second six-figure salary came from the lobby powerhouse Patton Boggs, which represented one of the major players in the hotel deal.

To me this had the makings of a big story. The Post, however, was fixated on Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry.

For many years, as both councilmember and mayor, Barry’s personal troubles filled the pages of the Post. This time around it was problems with a staffer who was also Barry’s girlfriend. After receiving a $15,000 contract, the girlfriend gave part of it back to Barry, who claimed it was repayment for an earlier loan he had made to her.

The Post’s extensive reporting on the matter led to Barry being censured, stripped of his committee chairmanship and removed from the finance and revenue committee (headed by Evans, then and to this day).

But which is the bigger story: Marion Barry getting a part of $15,000 or Jack Evans steering $272 million in public funds to a project he did in fact have a private interest in?

Trayon White

Fast forward nearly a decade and little has changed. The Postonce again let Evans off easy, this time for receiving $50,000 from a contractor he went to great lengths for. At the same time the Post focused its firepower not on Evans’ questionable dealings but on the Ward 8 councilmember, now Trayon White Sr.

In March White set off a firestorm when he said “the Rothschilds” control the climate. White quickly apologized for his ill-informed comments, saying, “I misspoke on matters that I know very little about.” To educate himself, White went on what was supposed to be a private tour of the Holocaust Museum, only he was tailed by a Post reporter.

The Post then condemned White for leaving the tour early. White says he didn’t skip out but stepped away to rid himself of the reporter.

The social justice group Jews United for Justice responded to the Post‘s coverage: “What was set up as a private and sensitive opportunity for education and dialogue, seems to have been used by an uninvited reporter to turn this into a ‘gotcha’ story.”

Meanwhile the Post kept digging into White in ways it never seems to with Evans. The Post uncovered a $500 donationWhite made from his constituent services fund to the Nation of Islam, which is “doing a lot of community, grassroots work in his ward,” said Tony Norman, a former D.C. Advisory Neighborhood Commission chairman. But the slew of Poststories focused mostly on anti-Semitic remarks made by the Nation’s leader, Louis Farrakhan.

In total, in the month following his ill-informed comments, White was the subject of no less than 17 Post news stories, three columns, three videos, two editorials and six letters to the editor (only one of which said “Enough already”).

“I think they’ve been very unfair towards Trayon,” Norman said of the Post.

Meanwhile it has been seven weeks and the Post has yet to run a single follow-up story on Evans receiving $50,000 from a contractor he went to great lengths for.

Over Facebook I asked White about the Post’s double standard. It’s “obvious,” he wrote. “I don’t expect anything different from the Washington Post.”

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Pete Tucker is a journalist based in DC. He can be reached at his website.

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