WashPost Caught Attempting to Edit Out ‘Prison’ Gaffe by Kamala Harris

Eric Boehm at Reason caused some trouble at The Washington Post for pointing out they had stealth-edited a July 23, 2019 profile (published on the front of the July 24 Style section) to remove an “incredibly cringeworthy” passage about how campaigns were like prisons – which is insensitive to incarcerated Americans.

The humanizing profile by Ben Terris was headlined “The one who knows her best: Sisters Kamala and Maya Harris have been through it all together. A presidential campaign is no different.” 

Terris began: “It was the Fourth of July, Independence Day, and Kamala Harris was explaining to her sister, Maya, that campaigns are like prisons.”

Then she explained that with some down time, “I actually got sleep” and she was able to take a morning SoulCycle class. 

“That kind of stuff,” Kamala said between sips of iced tea, “which was about bringing a little normal to the days, that was a treat for me.”

“I mean, in some ways it was a treat,” Maya said. “But not really.”

“It’s a treat that a prisoner gets when they ask for, ‘A morsel of food please,’ ” Kamala said shoving her hands forward as if clutching a metal plate, her voice now trembling like an old British man locked in a Dickensian jail cell. “‘And water! I just want wahtahhh….’Your standards really go out the f—ing window.”

Kamala burst into laughter.

[Italics in the original.]

Obviously, Terris and his Style section editors didn’t see that passage as offensive at the time. But the Post repurposed the piece on Inauguration Day for its 24-page “Madam Vice President” special section all about Kamala. The new headline was “The unbreakable bond of sisterhood is at the heart of Harris’s rise to VP.”

That prison anecdote was scrubbed, and they added Chelsea Janes to the byline, who perhaps wrote the new lede comparing Kamala and her sister Maya to JFK and Bobby Kennedy. What happened to the old version? Boehm explained: 

The headline for that 18-month-old article still appears on Terris’ page on the Post website with the original date it was published, but clicking the link redirects users to the new version published this month—the version that omits Harris’ awful commentary about campaigns and prisons.

Other links to the original piece also now redirect to the sanitized version. 

Molly Gannon Conway, the Post’s communications manager, told Boehm via email on Thursday. “The profile of Maya Harris was updated with new reporting, as noted online, using the existing URL. The original story remains available in print.” If you have 2019 newspapers lying around. 

As it happens, the July 24, 2019 newspaper was still here in our MRC archives, carefully maintained by our Scott Whitlock. The controversial piece was right there on the front page of Style: 

When other media outlets took notice, the Post tried to fix their scandalous little scrub. New York Times media columnist tweeted on Friday afternoon: 

Per @washingtonpost spox: The paper “repurposed and updated” stories for a special section, but “we should have kept both versions of the story on The Post’s site (the original and updated one), rather than redirecting to the updated version” & have fixed https://t.co/Vg1nTRC06Q https://t.co/1iwGVEnBpB
— Ben Smith (@benyt) January 22, 2021

That’s why the link on Terris’s page is back to the original version, although the new version is now at the top of his page, so most would probably just click on the new one, just as if you searched for it on Google. The Post does include a link to the “earlier published version” without explaining the somewhat controversial difference. 

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