John Solomon Gives Us Less Than Meets the Eye — Again

Another non-starter on the front page of the Post, by their resident non-starter reporter.

Like NFL coaches who always seem to land with another team no matter how many bad decisions they make, some reporters are able to churn out a steady stream of mediocrity, with little consequence.

For whatever reason, Washington Post scribe John Solomon appears to have achieved this status, and has been milking it for years. (We first flagged some of his suspect work when he was with the AP back in 2004.)

But we were hardly the only ones to notice. Solomon was raked over the coals last October for a series of articles he wrote for the AP about Democratic Leader Harry Reid, which turned out to be much ado about very little. In the stories, Solomon tried to tie Reid to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, suggest that a land deal in Nevada was shady, and made a big deal over Reid’s accepting passes to a boxing match from the Nevada Gaming Commission. These stories omitted critical details that directly affected how seriously the charges should be taken, and in the end none were serious enough for Reid to be admonished by the Senate ethics committee.

Since then, Solomon has moved on to the Post, where in January he penned a non-starter of a page 1 piece about the sale of presidential candidate John Edwards’ home, in which he tried to make it look like something was amiss. But as the paper’s ombud Deborah Howell wrote in an internal Post blog:

More than a dozen readers, both inside the newsroom and outside, were troubled by the John Edwards story on Page 1 today. So was I. Most complainers thought that the story either wasn’t worth a story or wasn’t worth fronting or both. It was interesting enough to make an item in In the Loop, but not Page 1. I kept looking for the graf that would tell me that the buyers had some history with Edwards, that they were big campaign contributors, that there was some quid pro quo. Nada.

Howell revisited the story in her weekly column, writing that, “It seemed like a ‘gotcha’ without the gotcha.” The Post’s Congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman also said in an online Post chat that, “I for one was looking for more of a connection between the Edwards and the buyers. I didn’t see it.”

On February 11, Solomon was at it again — on page 1 — this time taking John McCain to the cleaners in a piece headlined, “McCain Taps Cash He Sought To Limit: Onetime Reformer Calls on Big Donors,” that outlined McCain’s efforts to raise money for a presidential run. Like the Edwards and Reid pieces, there was no fire beneath Solomon’s smoke — no malfeasance or misdeed to expose, and no real hook that warranted its inexplicable front page placement.

The thing about the McCain story that was so galling was that after spending considerable time and effort lambasting McCain, Solomon includes a quote at the end from Mary Boyle of Common Cause, an ethics watchdog group that is a vocal advocate of campaign finance reform that essentially renders his piece pointless.

Boyle told Solomon that, “Certainly we are disappointed that he has decided not to take the lead in fixing the presidential-financing system he is competing in…But it is understandable he is opting out. It is apparent to us that to run a competitive presidential campaign inside a system that is still broken, that is what he has to do.”

In other words, if Solomon had included this quote up top, he would have had no piece, since a watchdog group founded to agitate about such things thinks that what McCain is doing is necessary for his campaign to succeed. But readers of the Post had to labor through a long story to find that out.

This morning, Solomon and Matthew Mosk did much the same thing with Hillary Clinton — yet again on page 1 — reporting that “Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former president Bill Clinton have operated a family charity since 2001, but she failed to list it on annual Senate financial disclosure reports on five occasions.”

Is there more to the story? Have the Clinton’s been hiding money? Making shady deals or investments and keeping it from the Senate? Not quite. Solomon reports that:

Clinton’s spokesman said her failure to report the existence of the family foundation and the senator’s position as an officer was an oversight. Her office immediately amended her Senate ethics reports to add that information late yesterday after receiving inquiries from The Washington Post.

And that’s that. Another John Solomon special, and another instance when the Post is made to look the fool by publishing what amounts to a back-page brief on the front page, masquerading as serious news.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.