“Media Frenzy” Explains Further Frenzied Media

Washington Post ombudswoman Deborah Howell declares her paper’s Chandra Levy series “not worth 13 days, all on page 1,” adding that “the new information wasn’t highlighted sufficiently.”

In Howell’s column about readers’ reactions to the series (“All but two of the approximately 75 readers who called or wrote to me were critical of the project”), she writes:

Readers pointed to other murder and missing-persons cases and wondered why The Post focused on Levy. I think it’s clear that it was because there was a media frenzy over her affair with Rep. Gary Condit (D-Calif.), who was driven from office…

And if there’s one thing any years-old “media frenzy” needs, it’s additional frenzied media treatment.

Howell quotes Jeff Leen, the Post’s assistant managing editor for investigations, in defense of the series:

It is a good reader and it is D.C.’s most famous unsolved murder, but more importantly it is an accountability piece about egregious District and Park Police screw-ups. It is also a tale of the tabloid and mainstream press pack journalism that helped derail the investigation. The series was conceived as both an ongoing evolution of the way we do projects and an attempt to experiment with new forms on the Web. From the beginning, the motivation and purpose was police accountability as well as trying to get to the bottom of why a famous murder remained unsolved.

How many times did he say “famous” in that paragraph? Only twice?

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.