The Washington Post has quietly updated its obituary for Nancy Reagan, who passed away this weekend in her home in Los Angeles, after the piece drew criticism for being too harsh on the former first lady.
Stealth edits of this sort are commonplace, and the obituary, which was prepared years in advance of Reagan's passing, was simply updated to include additional information, the Post's executive editor Martin Baron told the Washington Examiner's media desk.
"The original obituary was written in advance -- years ago. It was posted quickly because that was what was available immediately when Nancy Reagan's death was announced," he maintained in a statement.
"Our feeling, as part of an entirely standard process, was that the obituary needed additional reporting, writing, and editing. We have never published editor's notes when stories undergo further customary editing, reporting, and writing over the course of a publishing cycle. Nor is that the standard for news organizations generally. On every news website, stories are routinely modified over the course of a day," he added.
The obituary as it originally appeared on the Post's website Sunday afternoon started with gossipy details about Reagan's negatives, her supposed shortcomings and personal struggles.
"Nancy Reagan had an undeniable knack for inviting controversy. There were her extravagant spending habits at a time of double-digit unemployment, a chaotic relationship with her children and stepchildren that could rival a soap opera plot, and the jaw-dropping news that she had insisted the White House abide by an astrologer when planning the president's schedule," read the obituary, titled "Nancy Reagan dies at 94; first lady was a defining figure of the 1980s."
"But the running drama during her eight years as first lady often obscured her profound influence on one of the most popular presidents in modern history. They were a universe of two, and their legendary devotion helped define Ronald Reagan's presidency," it added.
"Welcome to American media in 2016 ... where respect, class and dignity are all relics of the past," Mediaite's Joe Concha seethed in a response article. "And apparently, those three items can't even have a temporary rebirth ... even in the moments and minutes after the death of a former first lady."
The Post has since updated the story online so that the introduction goes much easier on the former first lady. However, there is no editor's note, and no mention by the article's author, Lois Romano, of the major changes made to the story.
Romano is a longtime Post reporter. She worked briefly at the Daily Beast, and did a three-year turn as an editor at Politico. She returned to the Post in January 2015 as an editor.
The article's opening paragraph now reads, "Nancy Reagan, a former film actress whose crowning role was that of vigilant guardian of President Ronald Reagan's interests and legacy, died March 6 at her home in Los Angeles. She was 94. … As first lady from 1981 to 1989, Mrs. Reagan had a knack for inviting controversy — from her spending habits to her request that the White House abide by an astrologer when planning the president's schedule."
Still present in the Post's obituary, however, is an unflattering examination of the former first lady's legacy, and a deep dive into criticism she meddled too much in her husband's administrations.
The Post published a separate story, titled "How Nancy Reagan got pilloried by the media," not long after the much-pilloried obituary appeared.
"Nancy Reagan ... ranks among the most pilloried, and sometimes ridiculed, first ladies of the 20th century to the point, she later confessed, that it often brought her to tears," the article read.
The Post is not alone in drawing criticism for its knee-jerk reaction to news of Reagan's death.
The New York Times also raised eyebrows this weekend when it published an obituary that spent its opening paragraphs talking about the Iran Contra scandal.
This article has been updated to include a statement from the Washington Post.