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Post editor clarifies story on debate fete

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Post's executive editor says his paper should have told readers up front that it had helped arrange a Republican debate-watching party it covered. The newspaper paid for food for the event and carried a photograph of it that was not as spontaneous as the story suggested.

"That particular event does not live up to standards," Leonard Downie Jr. said yesterday.

Downie defended the paper's practice of initiating theme parties with readers, working with the hosts on recipes, and covering those events in the soft-news Sunday Source section. "I don't find anything wrong with it," he said, "as long as you tell readers that's what we did. In that particular case, we did not tell readers."

A "Gatherings" story published Oct. 17 reported on a Republican debate-watching barbecue and described a woman in a photograph as "pretending to make out with a poster of Dick Cheney."

In a correction published Oct. 22, the paper said the woman had been asked to pose with the picture of the vice president by a Post photographer, who had also asked the woman to pretend to blow a kiss at the poster.

The correction also said the Post should have explained that it had initiated the idea of the party, discussed the decorations and recipes with the host, and paid for recipe ingredients.

Downie commented after the Washington City Paper, a free-distribution weekly, reported Thursday that the debate party was part of a "tradition at the Sunday Source of funding parties that later end up on the 'Gatherings' page."

"We don't report on it as news," he said. But, he added, "We have to be transparent with readers with what the event is."

The City Paper said that for the Republican debate "Gathering," the section's editors sent an e-mail to a database of people saying, "We're looking for someone to act as host(ess) with the most(est) for an upcoming Gatherings piece. The gist: We need a young Republican -- preferably someone who likes to cook -- to invite over a bunch of Republican friends to watch the presidential debate on Sept. 30."

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