The Mirror

WaPo Gets Whomped For Having No Soul In Story About Homeless Man

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Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
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It’s not a reporter’s job to help out a homeless man.

But it was the least a Washington Post reporter could have done after writing such a heart-wrenching front page story about how the man couldn’t afford a $27 bus ticket to go see his daughter.

As the story by John Woodrow Cox goes, a 70-year-old homeless man named Robert Fox “knew where he should spend Christmas.” The answer: With his daughter in Fredericksburg, Va.

Cox found the man in Washington’s Franklin Square. The temperature expected for tonight is 36 degrees.

All Fox had was 62 cents.

Seriously, Jeff Bezos couldn’t spring for a bus ticket?

Even the Bongino Report noticed: “I feel like just handing him $27 would’ve been easier than writing this story.”

As with any story about the homeless, it’s complicated. Fox has “struggled with drugs.” He told the reporter he spent a year in prison on a cocaine charge.

Cox tweeted that he was “prohibited” from helping the man, but didn’t explain whether that was a Washington Post policy or just a personal one.

“To those who‘ve asked, reasonably, why I didn’t pay for Mr. Fox’s bus ticket, I‘m afraid that journalists are ethically prohibited from becoming a part of their stories or giving money to the subjects of one, no matter how badly they want to (and as I certainly did in this case),” he wrote.


Daily Mail‘s U.S. Political Editor David Martosko grew cranky about it.

“I read this waiting for the moment where the journalist shows his humanity & drives the homeless man 75 minutes to Fredericksburg to be reunited with his daughter,” the journalist tweeted. “Sometimes helping the man is more important than writing the story. Apparently they don’t teach that in J-school.”

Martosko mocked WaPo‘s “Democracy Dies in Darkness” campaign.

“If you’re wringing your hands about staying out of the story, help after you file; have an editor append a note. Community journalism’s financial death spiral bothers me. Newsrooms shouldn’t make it harder to save, & this isn’t helping. (‘Democracy Dies in Apathy” should trend.)'”

And this: “I’m going to Florida to cover the president today but I called three different shelters in DC trying to get someone to find this man. I’ll gladly pay the $27 plus $50 for meals if someone can get him to Fredericksburg.”

There’s an “update” to the WaPo story — and it’s actually pretty embarrassing.

In short, lots of reader interest, but not one WaPo reporter, including the writer, thought it would be appropriate to give the man $27.

“Update: By late afternoon Christmas Day, Fox was still in the District, planning to eat dinner and sleep at his son’s home in southeast. Fox said he had not yet spoken to  his daughter because he did not have her phone number. He said he hoped to get her number from a family member Thursday and would then call her. The Post’s story about Fox generated wide reader interest, with many wanting to help Fox reunite with his daughter.” 

WaPo now has another reporter out looking for the man. They may have an update tomorrow, which hopefully is not as appalling as the one in Wednesday’s story.

Even if Fox didn’t use the money for the purpose he said he intended to, wouldn’t the chance that he might be worth the risk?

And why is this even a question?

A email request for comment to WaPo spokeswoman went unanswered as of press time.