Back when I was reporting and researching “The Return of the Moguls,” my 2018 book about The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and the Orange County Register, I had a dilemma. My goal was to write about how the business models of those papers were changing under wealthy ownership. The Post and the Globe were producing excellent journalism as well — and the Register, at least before it all went bad, was improving.
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But what to do about the Post’s opinion section? The Post is our second- or third-most influential newspaper (depending on where you rank The Wall Street Journal), but its editorial pages under the late Fred Hiatt were problematic — dull and dumb, with a few notable exceptions, and pro-war besides. Since I didn’t intend to write a book of media criticism, I decided to punt, describing the section as “moderately liberal with a taste for foreign intervention.”
Well, the Post is going off the rails in all sorts of ways lately. Sara Fischer of Axios reported earlier this week that Jonathan Capehart, one of those notable exceptions, had quit the editorial board, leaving it with precisely zero people of color. (Capehart, who appears weekly with New York Times columnist David Brooks on the “PBS NewsHour,” remains a staff writer and video host with the Post’s opinion section.)
And now Dan Froomkin, an independent liberal media watchdog, has weighed in with a scorching commentary headlined “The Washington Post opinion section is a sad, toxic wasteland.” Yikes! It’s a long piece — worth reading in full — but essentially Froomkin’s argument is that the section has actually gotten worse under Hiatt’s successor, David Shipley. Froomkin writes:
The New York Times opinion section regularly publishes absolute tripe – most recently, a barrage of virulent and ignorant anti-trans rhetoric and panicking about wokeism. Several of its columnists are well past their sell-by date. Some are just trolls.
But there’s no denying that overall, it remains intellectually stimulating, ground-breaking, and consequential.
The Post’s opinion section doesn’t come in for remotely as much criticism as the [New York] Times’s — but that’s because nobody cares about it enough to criticize it.
It offers a regular megaphone to some of the most retrograde ninnies in the business, and has had no impact on the national discourse since torture ended (they were for it).
I found Froomkin’s assessment to be overstated (yes, he does disclose that Hiatt fired him) but fundamentally correct. At a time when Jeff Bezos’ Post is losing money and shrinking after years of profits and growth, the opinion section could stand out as a way to attract new readers. Instead, he allows it to languish, dragging down a (still) great news organization that’s slipping further and further into the shadow cast by its ancient rival to the north.