During an online Q&A today, Washington Post managing editors Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti took a question about their boss's recent comments about the Post's need to be more responsive to conservatives:
Washington, DC: Marcus Brauchli says the Post needs to be more responsive to conservatives. How do you reconcile that with the paper's coverage of the 2000 election (which savaged Al Gore, often dishonestly) and the run-up to the Iraq war? Or the paper's obsession with Whitewater and other Clinton "scandals"?
When you all talk about Republican claims that the Post is a "liberal" paper, does anyone ever point out that the Post's handling of some of the biggest stories in recent decades directly undermines those claims -- and, indeed, suggests you've been overly kind to conservatives and hard on liberals?
Liz Spayd and Raju Narisetti: We get complaints from both liberals and conservatives on our coverage--often on the same story--accusing us of being one or the other. That's one anecdotal indicator that we are not representing any one side in our news coverage. The goal of our more analytical pieces is to help frame issues for our readers but not to be ideological, unlike for our columnists who have views. As part of our redesign, we are going to also more clearly identify our columnists/columns in the paper to avoid any confusion among some readers.
All I can say is: What?
Spayd and Narisetti didn't even come close to answering the question. Didn't address Brauchli's comments. Didn't address the Post's coverage of Iraq, or Gore, or Whitewater. They tossed in something out of left field about identifying columns more clearly. Strange.
And that bit at the beginning about getting complaints from both liberals and conservatives, and those complaints indicating that the Post isn't "representing any one side" -- are they serious? Are they actually trying to suggest the Post's coverage of, say, Iraq did not favor one side?
If so, they don't seem to have much company in taking that position, even among Washington Post employees.
As I detailed in my column on Friday, former Washington Post Ombudsman Michael Getler has savaged the Post's Iraq coverage. Current Post reporter Michael Dobbs, who was involved in that coverage, says the paper's failure "went from top to bottom." Len Downie, who was executive editor of the Post during the run-up to the war, has conceded that the paper "underplayed" stories questioning the Bush administration's case for war. Post reporter Howard Kurtz has written that some Post reporters involved in the paper's coverage "complained to national editors that the drumbeat of the impending invasion was crowding out the work of [Walter] Pincus and others who were challenging the administration."
In 2005, the Post's lousy coverage of Iraq continued -- and Post employees continued to criticize their own paper's work:
Several Post officials have conceded that their publication has not given the Downing Street Memo adequate coverage. In a May 16 online chat, Kurtz wrote that "The Post should have done a substantial story much sooner, especially after other American media outlets picked up on the memo." Post ombudsman Michael Getler devoted his entire May 15 column to agreeing with critics who criticized the Post and other papers for failing to cover the Downing Street Memo prominently. And in a June 7 online chat, Post staff writer Jefferson Morley blamed the Post's inadequate coverage of the memo on "a failure of leadership at the senior editorial level."
And yet when Spayd and Narisetti are asked about the Post's coverage of Iraq, they say, in effect, "well, both sides complain, so we must not be doing anything wrong."
Later, in response to a question that claimed "the Post also has a history of ignoring internet and talk radio-driven stories (see Edwards's love child to Van Jones and ACORN) that reflect negatively on liberal/Democrats," Spayd and Narisetti reiterated Brauchli's attempt to appease the Right:
We are aware that we can do better in this area, particularly in terms of conservative web sites as clearly noted by our Executive Editor earlier this month.
So when someone brings up the Washington Post's coverage of Iraq -- which numerous Post reporters and editors have acknowledged favored the Bush administration and the pro-war point of view, the Washington Post's executive editors pretend that coverage was balanced.
And when someone claims the Post is insufficiently responsive to conservatives, they rush to agree.