Saturday, December 6, 2008

Letter to the Washington Post, #15

Actually, I never noted on this blog that the Post did publish letter #12. Obviously, I found that apparent success somewhat demoralizing. The evidence for that lies in the fact that I waited so long to write #s 13 & 14. Maybe they'll publish this one. It is, after all, somewhat sycophantic.

What Journalism Should Be


Colbert King’s relentless pursuit of the facts in the jailhouse death of Jonathan Magbie (“For Jonathan Magbie, a Catalogue of Injustice," Dec. 6) deserves much praise. In the column, King thanks his editors for allowing him to return to the story 14 times since October 2004. In the process, King and the editors have provided us all with an example of what journalism should be.

This matters as surely as do First Amendment protections. Without such dogged pursuit and publication of stories that illuminate recurring issues in our society newspapers would be unworthy of their constitutional protections.

In Magbie’s case, Judge Judith Retchin so badly failed any reasonable humanitarian standard it is a wonder she remains in office. Likewise, in the Magbie instance and others, the D.C. jail has failed repeatedly to balance its duties to community safety with fairness in its treatment of prisoners. Based on King’s repeated accounts, it seems equally fair to say the hospital, now know as United Medical Center, failed miserably at keeping Magbie alive, clearly UMC’s first responsibility.

And of what was Magbie, a 27-year old, ventilator-dependent, quadriplegic, guilty? A first-time offense against marijuana possession laws.

There is no question in my mind that what happened to Jonathan Magbie shames us all. But as long as journalists and their editors give such stories the attention they deserve, we will have opportunities to fix the institutions and policies that permit such tragedies. And the country will have a journalism that serves our needs.

Jeff Epton
807 Taylor St., NE
Washington, DC 20017

202 506-7470

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