News & Politics

WAMU Breaks News, Post Breaks it a Second Time

The Washington Post gave front-page play Wednesday to David Nakamura’s story about how the blueprint for DC’s public schools drafted by Mayor Adrian Fenty’s administration was a cut-and-paste job. Nearly a third of the 31-page document was “borrowed” from a North Carolina school system’s plan, according to a plagiarism expert quoted in the Post story, and parts of it were copied verbatim.

Great story, given Fenty’s move to take over the school system. But didn’t we hear it first on WAMU radio last Friday? Yes, the local public-radio affiliate scooped the Post. But did the Post credit WAMU? That’s not so clear.  

The tip about DC’s purloined language came from Carl Bergman, a former deputy auditor for the DC government. Bergman noticed the similarities between the Fenty group’s paper, put together by Deputy Mayor Victor Reinoso, and a school-reform proposal put forth by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district.

Bergman phoned WAMU two weeks ago. News director Jim Asendio passed the call to Jeanette Lenoir, a part-time freelance reporter.

“We were working on it for awhile,” Asendio says. “At first the Fenty people denied it. Then they told us to talk to Reinoso. It went from denial to admission.”

Lenoir reported the story on Friday. And the news was out.

Bergman might have tried to reach the Post two weeks ago, but if he did, he got no response. Activists who oppose Mayor Adrian Fenty’s school takeover plan heard Friday’s radio report and contacted Post reporter David Nakamura, who was finishing up a profile of Reinoso.

Nakamura’s Sunday article mentioned Reinoso’s cut-and-paste job and said the activists “cited a WAMU (88.5 FM) radio report” about the borrowed material.

Nakamura’s Wednesday story says Bergman “provided copies of his research to the Post and WAMU” deep in his article.

Nowhere does the Post say WAMU was first to report the news.

Say WAMU’s Asendio: “It doesn’t bother me. We do our thing; they do their thing. If they had it for so long, why were they sitting on it?”

Post city editor Marcia Slacum Greene says the paper cited WAMU twice. “We had already reported they had it.” Sort of.

“We make a point of crediting folks when they have things first,” she says. Sort of.