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A year and a half ago when Vice President Kamala Harris was gunning for the Democratic presidential nomination, the Washington Post published a story looking at her close relationship with her sister Maya that contained what some might call a disturbing anecdote.
What are the details?
In short, Harris likened the effects of the fast pace and long days and nights of the campaign trail to how a desperate, overwhelmed prisoner might feel begging for food and water. Here’s how the first seven paragraphs of story read when it was originally published on July 23, 2019, Reason reported:
It was the Fourth of July, Independence Day, and Kamala Harris was explaining to her sister, Maya, that campaigns are like prisons.
She’d been recounting how in the days before the Democratic debate in Miami life had actually slowed down to a manageable pace. Kamala, Maya and the rest of the team had spent three days prepping for that contest in a beach-facing hotel suite, where they closed the curtains to blot out the fun. But for all the hours of studying policy and practicing the zingers that would supercharge her candidacy, the trip allowed for a break in an otherwise all-encompassing schedule.
“I actually got sleep,” Kamala said, sitting in a Hilton conference room, beside her sister, and smiling as she recalled walks on the beach with her husband and that one morning SoulCycle class she was able to take.
“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.
Yup, she laughed. At her own ill-advised joke. Not the best look.
And Reason noted the effectiveness of the Post’s story:
The scene was a brilliant bit of reporting and writing because it did what few political features can accomplish: showing, rather than telling, something about the candidate at the center. Harris made her name as a prosecutor, and her track record includes defending dirty cops and laughing off criticism of her history of throwing poor parents in jail when their kids missed school. The Post profile provided a mask-slipping moment that seemed to perfectly capture a warped sense of justice and lack of basic human dignity—all in just a few hundred words.
At the time, Harris was fair game like all the other Democratic hopefuls wanting a shot at the White House. Indeed, she was an early front-runner, which made her an even bigger target for the media. But less than five months after the Post’s profile ran, Harris dropped out of the race as he poll numbers plummeted and the staff departed.
Oh my how things have changed in two years
Reason took a look again at the Post’s 2019 story — and discovered that, lo and behold, Harris’ cringeworthy joke was gone.
Turns out the paper put together an online series prior to the inauguration, and when Reason asked the Post’s communications manager why the story was changed, the outlet said it got this response: “We repurposed and updated some of our strong biographical pieces about both political figures” and the story in question “was updated with new reporting, as noted online, using the existing URL. The original story remains available in print.”
What’s more, it appears the Post did some fast fixing.
Reason’s story about the Post doing a “memory-hole” number was published at 10:25 a.m. Friday. But in an new update note, Reason told its readers that as of 1:15 p.m. the Post had “updated its website and URLs to restore the original version of the Kamala Harris profile.”
Sure, the repurposed story dated Jan. 11 without Harris’ anecdote is still there — but a number of other links that Reason said redirected users to the sanitized Harris story were restored so that they now go to the original.
“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,” Kris Coratti, the Post’s vice president for communications, told Reason on Friday. “We have now done that, and you will see the link to the original at the top of the updated version.”
Reason had an inkling of what may have been at the heart of things:
The original quote might have demonstrated something about Harris — indeed, it suggests why her presidential primary campaign flopped so hard — but its disappearance suggests something about the Post, and about the way traditional political media are preparing to cover Harris now that she’s one heartbeat away from the presidency.
Eric Boehm, author the Reason piece, added that “at a time when legacy publications are increasingly seen as playing for one political ‘team’ or the other, this type of editorial decision will not do anything to fix that perception — is there any doubt that the Post would not have treated an inartful comment from Mike Pence in the same way?”
“Intentional or not, the memory-holing of the older version of the piece sends a message that the Post is willing to pave over its own good journalism to protect a powerful politician from her own words,” he concluded.