By Andrew Alexander
Sunday, July 18, 2010; A17
Thursday's Post reported about a growing controversy over the Justice Department's decision to scale down a voter-intimidation case against members of the New Black Panther Party. The story succinctly summarized the issues but left many readers with a question: What took you so long?
For months, readers have contacted the ombudsman wondering why The Post hasn't been covering the case. The calls increased recently after competitors such as the New York Times and the Associated Press wrote stories. Fox News and right-wing bloggers have been pumping the story. Liberal bloggers have countered, accusing them of trying to manufacture a scandal.
But The Post has been virtually silent.
The story has its origins on Election Day in 2008, when two members of the New Black Panther Party stood in front of a Philadelphia polling place. YouTube video of the men, now viewed nearly 1.5 million times, shows both wearing paramilitary clothing. One carried a nightstick.
Early last year, just before the Bush administration left office, the Justice Department filed a voter-intimidation lawsuit against the men, the New Black Panther Party and its chairman. But several months later, with the government poised to win by default because the defendants didn't contest the suit, the Obama Justice Department decided the case was over-charged and narrowed it to the man with the nightstick. It secured only a narrow injunction forbidding him from displaying a weapon within 100 feet of Philadelphia polling places through 2012.
Congressional Republicans pounced. For months they stalled the confirmation of Thomas E. Perez, President Obama's pick to head the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, while seeking answers to why the case had been downgraded over the objections of some of the department's career lawyers. The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility launched an investigation, which is pending. The independent, eight-member Commission on Civil Rights also began what has become a yearlong probe with multiple public hearings; its report is due soon. Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), a prominent lawmaker in The Post's circulation area, has been a loud and leading critic of how the case was handled. His office has "aggressively" sought to interest The Post in coverage, a spokesman said.