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Is the Washington Post's coverage of a man accused of spraying semen unnecessary graphic and worthy of page one position in the Metro section? Terry Michael, seen in this detail of a screen shot from a Russia Today YouTube interview, sarcastically wondered "if there are any adults" at the famed newspaper. (Credit: YouTube, Russia Today)

Terry Michael, the director of the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism, sarcastically wondered Aug 19 on his personal blog if “there are any adults” at the Washington Post.  The Washington Center for Politics & Journalism is a non-profit organization “to teach future political reporters about politics from the perspective of political practitioners and political journalists.”

Michael’s concerns stemmed from a Washington Post headline and story reporting about a man accused of spraying semen from a water bottle on five women in separate incidents.  The story, “Man Accused of Spraying Semen Led a Normal Life, Suspect Never Had Any Issues. Showed no Indication of Bizarre Behavior,” ran on the front page of the Washington Post’s Aug 15 Metro section and online. Michael labeled The Post’s ongoing coverage of the story as “hype”

The 615-word article by Dan Morse, described the accused man — 28-year-old Michael Edwards from Montgomery County, Maryland.  The fleshed out reporting included interviews with his mother, his former employer, and his defense attorney.

His mother, Diane Edwards, for example, is quoted as saying “He’s never had any issues. He grew up in the church.” His defense attorney, David Martella, is quoted as saying Edwards won’t be found guilty because he has “an explanation.”

Also, unnamed “authorities” and “detectives” are cited with saying that Edwards had confessed.

Morse also reported that Edwards is “implicated’ because of evidence. He apparently took videos of at least three of the spraying incidents on his cell phone, according to an affidavit signed by detective Patrick Word. Word is also quoted as saying “We’re examining sources and sites to see if there was a subculture he was involved with.” Hmmm.

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The “Green Machine”

Morse’s article isn’t the first time The Post has given space and resources to the Edwards story.  The Washington Post has published at least five other articles about the case.  A search of The Post’s website reveals that the newspapers reported:

  • That Edwards had been charged for the spraying – published July 30, by Washington Post editors
  • That he was arrested – published Aug. 4, by Dan Morse
  • That the police identified three more cases of semen spraying – published Aug. 11, by Dan Morse
  • That he had been linked to the three other cases – published Aug. 12, by The Associated Press
  • That he was still being held – published Aug. 13, by Dan Morse

In total, StinkyJournalism tallied more than 2,000 words in six stories published by The Post on this case. Does the “semen spraying” case justify the ongoing coverage?

In Michael’s opinion, The Post’s standards of reporting interesting investigations starting going downhill with The Post’s 12-part series on Chandra Levy, the D.C.-area intern found murdered in 2001. The July 2008 investigative reports — “Who Killed Chandra Levy?” was an example of The Post using “its limited investigative resources to exploit the baser interests of a dwindling number of customers,” according to Michael.

At the time, Michael blogged critically of the paper for devoting so much time and resources to the Levy series.

Michael wrote that he does like The Post, “but leadership has to come from the owners, sending signals to top managers that pandering is no substitute for quality journalism. And they need to lay down the law that flouting journalistic ethics will not be tolerated.”

iMediaEthics is writing the Post for comment and will update this story with any response.

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