Washington Post Publishes Smear Obituary for Conservative Member of Congress

The Washington Post, an altogether shameless publication on many levels, is running this inexcusable excuse for an obituary by Patricia Sullivan for the late Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage, a great defender of freedom who died in a car accident Monday.

The obituary, which maintains the Post’s tradition of including factual errors, is, in a word, b*tchy. (Go read it, if you question my use of that particular word.)

Helen Chenoweth-Hage was a very gracious and kind lady who believed strongly in liberty and fought for it in Congress and out. Although the undeservedly smug mainstream press unfairly parodied her beliefs during her six years on Capitol Hill (95-00 — unfortunately, before the advent of blogs that could help balance the reporting), she was undeterred.

If anyone doubts the shamefulness of this Washington Post “obituary,” compare it to this one, by the same Patricia Sullivan, in the same newspaper, written about a spy for the Viet Cong who also — surprise surprise — was a full-time journalist for the mainstream American press. The dead spy was, according to the Post obituary, a “successful spy and a good journalist,” “the best Vietnamese reporter in the press corps,” an “extremely sophisticated understander of not only Vietnamese culture but its politics,” “such a professional journalist and professional spy,” and “so smart.”

In case you are wondering, the mainstream journalist spy “never expressed regret about his role,” the Post tells us, though the Post does not appear to be critical of this.

It is shameful that the Washington Post bends over backwards to be kind to a spy who probably got young Americans killed yet refuses to be evenhanded — and that’s all I ask — when publishing the obituary of a patriot who was loved by many.

Tramping on those who fought for liberty, and admiring those who opposed it.

Just another day at the office for the Washington Post.

Addendum, 10/31/06: Tom Graham of Newsbusters suggests we compare the Washington Post’s obituary of Helen Chenoweth-Hage to the one the Post published for retired liberal Congressman Gerry Studds. In Congress for 24 years, Studds is most famous for turning his back on the House of Representatives as that body voted to censure him for having had sexual relations with an underage page. His obituary was far kinder than Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage’s.

Speaking of Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage’s obituary, in early October I received an e-mail from the Washington Post author of the Chenoweth-Hage obituary. She asked me not to publish it, so I won’t, but see no reason why I shouldn’t post my reply:

Dear Ms. Sullivan,

I appreciate your note and the opportunity to learn your perspective. I read the obituary for Mr. Appleand re-read Helen Chenoweth-Hage’s after receiving your note. I understand that the Post’s policy is to treat obituaries as news stories, and have no problem with that.

Unfortunately, I still see the Chenoweth-Hage obituary as I described it in my blog post. The obituary for Mr. Apple describes a rounded man (no pun intended) with, as you say, foibles and accomplishments. If I were to believe the obituary, very few foibles. He was brusque and had a tendency to be a blowhard, we are told; he ate more than was good for his waistline. To some readers the criticism by Johnson and Westmoreland would be a negative, but to just as many, it would be a compliment (and no doubt a source of pride to him). Much of the obit describes him through the fond words of people who, it appears, are sorry he’s gone. The overall picture is a positive one.

Then there is the obituary for Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage.

If I had chosen perhaps for the exercise to write a parody obituary of how liberals see conservatives, I doubt I could have done better than you. We can set aside whether you call yourself a liberal; if not, you certainly have mastered the art of imitation. You did not just present Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage’s views, you parodied them, and rebutted the parody. Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage’s obituary less an obituary than a series of mini-editorials.

Nothing favorable was said about Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage, the person. No quotes or anecdotes were included from anyone who remembers her fondly. Mr. Apple got several, and was quoted himself several times in ways that made him seem interesting. Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage was quoted only in ways that made her seem like — what was the term? — an “arch” conservative . Like Mr. Apple, she was much more than the sum of her professional interests. You show that with him but not with her.

To read Mr. Apple’s obituary, he had no controversial political views, and an awesome professional skill. No mention of running joke about the predictive value of his news-cum-editorials (‘if Johnny Apple predicts defeat, victory must be imminent’) or much else that is critical (and not from a lack of material); yet for Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage there is room to discuss, for example, her abortion views as if what she regarded as concern for pre-born life was actually nothing more than antipathy for poor rape victims. She loved babies, you know.

For Mr. Apple, you and Mr. Bernstein drew a portrait of a full human being. You nodded at his weaknesses but did not let them define the man. Coming from the Post, it was a generous portrait of a man who could have been drawn with a coarser brush. I agree with your apparent conclusion that his obituary was not the place for it.

I am sorry, however, that the Post did not see fit to extend even a portion of the generosity it extended to a key figure at rival paper to a Congressman from the rival party.

Mrs. Chenoweth-Hage was an exceptionally nice lady. There is no politics in that.

Too bad there wasn’t room to print it, either.

Thank you for sharing your views with me.

Amy Ridenour

I did not hear from Ms. Sullivan again.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.