Saturday, August 24, 2013

How the Washington Post blew the story of the March on Washington

Posted By on Sat, Aug 24, 2013 at 11:52 AM


WHAT DREAM: Martin Luther King's famous speech merited only a brief mention on page A15 in the next day's Washington Post.
  • WHAT DREAM: Martin Luther King's famous speech merited only a brief mention on page A15 in the next day's Washington Post.

Before we all get too misty-eyed about the demise of the legacy media, remember that sometimes the glory days weren't so glorious.

Amazing story in the Washington Post today by Robert Kaiser, who was a reporting beginner when thousands marched on Washington to demonstrate for civil rights in 1963.

The Post mustered 60 reporters — SIXTY — to cover the story like the dew covers Georgia. To the Post, the big news was activist John Lewis, the then-student activist who toned down a fiery speech. That other guy? The preacher?

The Post, however, got embarrassed. The main event that day was what we now call the “I Have a Dream” speech of Martin Luther King Jr., one of the most important speeches in U.S. history. But on the day it was given, The Post didn’t think so. We nearly failed to mention it at all.

We were poised and ready for a riot, for trouble, for unexpected events — but not for history to be made. Baker’s 1,300-word lead story, which began under a banner headline on the front page and summarized the events of the day, did not mention King’s name or his speech. It did note that the crowd easily exceeded 200,000, the biggest assemblage in Washington “within memory” — and they all remained “orderly.”

In that paper of Aug. 29, 1963, The Post published two dozen stories about the march. Every one missed the importance of King’s address. The words “I have a dream” appeared in only one, a wrap-up of the day’s rhetoric on Page A15 — in the fifth paragraph. We also printed brief excerpts from the speeches, but the three paragraphs chosen from King’s speech did not include “I have a dream.”

I’ve never seen anyone call us on this bit of journalistic malpractice. Perhaps this anniversary provides a good moment to cop a plea. We blew it.


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