When the Washington Post published an expose a few weeks ago regarding a House Ethics Committee report that was inadvertently released by a committee employee, I wondered why the Post did not put the actual report on its website so that readers could understand the full context of the information the Post was reporting. According to this interview with one of the Post reporters, the explanation is as follows:
“[T]he Post reporters and editors are handling this document and its contents with the utmost care. We recognize, and have made clear in our discussions with the ethics committee leaders and the implicated lawmakers, that these investigations are typically handled in a significant amount of secrecy, at least until action is taken or deadlines for action by the committee are triggered. We want to be sure we do our share of fairly and evenly reporting deeper into the allegations and contact the lawmakers in question before publishing information about allegations in the document we obtained.”
In other words, the Post claims it is withholding information from its readers in order to protect the confidentiality of the ethics process in the House.
This is just not credible. If the Post were concerned about the confidentiality of the ethics process, it would not have reported broadly on the contents of the leaked report. It is difficult to imagine that publishing the full report would have any greater impact on the confidentiality of the process than the reporting that the Post has done. If there were particular passages of the report that were particularly sensitive, they could have been redacted before the document was made public.
It is far more likely that the Post’s refusal to make the document public is motivated by a desire to protect its “scoop,” not by the public interest. This is unfortunate because publishing the actual document would be more useful to its readers, and might even prompt those readers to provide valuable feedback that could advance the public’s understanding of the issues.