John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

Header

The Decline and Fall of the Mighty Washington Post

Posted on May 7, 2010
“Politics and Film", a local film festival in Washington D.C., re-ran the epic movie “All The President’s Men”, and then held a discussion with Bob Woodward, one of the protagonists depicted in the show.

In the movie, Woodward and his sidekick Carl Bernstein, risked personal safety and career advancement investigating the malfeasance of the Nixon Administration, and ultimately created the dynamic that led to the President’s resignation.

No matter where you are on the political spectrum, the movie is terrific.  Great action, great plot, great storyline and great acting all make this one of the most interesting movies about politics in history.

What the movie really highlighted was how courageous it was for the Post to investigate a President.

Fast forward three and some decades to the present version of the Washington Post.

Always a left of center newspaper, the Post is now best known for being a lap-dog to the current White House occupant.  On the cable television shows, the Post’s line is best exemplified by the almost comical devotion to the President by Eugene Robinson, Jonathan Capehart and E.J. Dionne.  For them, everything the President does or says or thinks is simply wonderful, and everything that his opponents say or do or think is well, either stupid, racist, fascist, sexist or un-American.

These are the folks who represent the Post to the cable world.

We have now learned that the Post is taking it a step further in the cyber-world.  They don’t see their competitors to be the New York Times, the Associated Press or even Politico.

Nope, they see their competition to be left-wing bloggers from The Huffington Post, the left-wing Talking Points Memo or even the more left wing The Nation.

According to Ben Smith of Politico, this is what the Post has come to:

The once-cautious Washington Post has begun to invest heavily in the liberal blogosphere, transforming its online presence – a combination of accident and design – into a competitor of the Huffington Post and TalkingPointsMemo as much as the New York Times.

The Post’s foray into the new media world received some unfavorable attention last weekend when its latest hire, Dave Weigel, who covers conservatives, referred to gay marriage foes as “bigots.” But the resulting controversy brought into relief a larger shift: The Post now hosts three of the strongest liberal blogs on the Internet, and draws a disproportionate share of its traffic and buzz from them, a significant change for a traditional newspaper that has struggled to remake itself… Besides Weigel, who came from the liberal Washington Independent, the Post also has Ezra Klein, hired last May from the American Prospect to bring his brand of deliberately wonky policy writing to its website; and Greg Sargent, who the paper said Tuesday will soon move to the Post itself after coming from TPM to run a political blog for the Post-owned website, WhoRunsGov.com, as well as two editors recently hired from the Huffington Post to handle online aggregation and social networking… The liberal hires have drawn criticism from two directions. 

Conservatives have complained of being covered by people they perceive as liberal. Having Weigel on her beat was “like assigning a weasel to watch the hen house,” Concerned Women for America chief executive Penny Nance told the conservative blogger Matt Lewis Tuesday…Traditionalists, meanwhile, worry that the Post is sacrificing a hard-won brand and hallowed news values. 

“It’s a danger to the brand if they go too far with it – if there really are only liberal voices – because they’re in a different ballgame than the Huffington Post is,” said Rem Rieder, editor of the American Journalism Review, who once worked at the Post.

I have many friends who work for the Post who play it straight down the middle.  But their work will now be suspect, because the Post brand, once respected as a voice of the conventional wisdom, will now be seen as the leading voice of the left-wing fringe.

As a strategy to make money, this makes no sense.  People buy newspapers not because they want to hear the latest propaganda from the Obama White House.  They buy newspapers because they want to find out the truth.  And as anybody can see from the ratings of Fox News and MSNBC, being a liberal lapdog for this President is just a bad way to make money.

Earlier this week, the Post announced that it was selling Newsweek, because nobody was reading it anymore.  Unless they change direction quickly, the Post is going to have to put itself on the auction block, because they keep going to route of The Nation or TPM, percentage-wise, nobody is going to read them anymore either.