Robert H. Smith death editorial—and the need for the Washington Post to tell the whole story

image image Robert H. Smith, philanthropist and Crystal City developer, gets another paean today from the Washington Post—this time an editorial, which follows an obituary of more than 1,100 words.

The Post appropriately notes Smith’s donations of “hundreds of millions of dollars to universities, the arts, historic sites and civic activities.”

Given his significance, then, perhaps the newspaper’s business desk could treat him as a flesh-and-blood human and also do a balanced retrospective on his business career. The article could include at least brief mentions of the Skyline high-rise collapse and Sen. Abraham Ribicoff’s hidden and apparently illegal stake in a Smith building occupied by the CIA (right photo). Such a business post mortem could still be overwhelmingly positive—I myself believe in cutting the dead some slack.

But with all due respect to Robert Smith’s memory, the Post should not repeat the omissions of the obit and editorial and leave out facts as public as the Skyline collapse (a rumble heard for miles, 14 workers dead and lawsuits).

Consider, too, the journalistic significance of the hidden investment, another AWOL fact now—just as it was missing from the Post in the 1975 despite a report on the NBC Nightly News.

Might Ribicoff-style situations have helped explain the many millions that Smith collected off the federal office leasing program? The well-regarded senator—who sat on a committee overseeing the General Services Administration, the government’s real estate agency—denied having had any conflict of interest before I revealed the CIA-related one, via Connecticut papers. No proven quid pro quo. But can’t the Post just report the facts from the record and let readers decide for themselves? A thoughtful retrospective would be a nice, graceful way to get facts out after three decades while weighing them against Smith’s career as a whole.

Related: Robert H. Smith dead: Son of the builder who helped inspired the Solomon character, Nothing on Skyline or illegal Ribicoff investment and When you die, how many people will sign your page? Six for Robert Smith so far.

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David Rothman

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