Colbert King, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and former deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post, recently expressed concerns about the Post‘s Fred Hiatt-led editorial page in a parting memo. The Post must “avoid resorting to sophomoric language when addressing serious matters…to preserve its unique standing in journalism,” said King, who left the newspaper in late 2006.
King is right to speak of the Post‘s unique standing in journalism. As one of the nation’s two establishment papers, the Washington Post and its editorial page serves, for better or worse, as an important player in American politics, with a unique responsibility to the public. As William Greider wrote in
when lamenting the Post‘s jingoistic tone prior to the Iraq invasion: “Whether the newspaper gets things right or wrong, its version of reality will inevitably color everyone’s political calculations.”
In the run-up to the Iraq War, the Post editorial page was wrong on just about everything and failed to ask the right questions. It called Secretary of State Colin Powell’s soon-to-be-discredited speech in front of the UN “irrefutable” and supported the Bush Administration’s unilateralist policies to bring down Saddam Hussein, who the editors were convinced possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Surely, the Post was not alone in failing the public in 2002 and 2003. The New York Times was widely criticized for its prewar coverage, and even issued an apology for it in 2004.
The Post editorial page, however, seems to have learned little from its past misadventures. As America struggles to deal with a reckless President with dangerous views on executive power, the newspaper’s editorials have taken oversimplified, often partisan positions on the most pressing issues of the day. The newspaper is failing to seriously inquire about the most important matters facing our democracy–issues that go well beyond the left-right paradigm.
Consider some Post editorials from the past year.
• The Post editorial page has consistently opposed efforts by Democrats to bring US troops home from Iraq and in doing so has made many baseless claims. An editorial on March 13, for example, addressed the House supplemental bill: “The only constituency House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ignored in her plan…are the people of the country that US troops are fighting to stabilize.” But the editorial willfully ignored that 71 percent of Iraqis want US troops to withdraw within a year, and 78 percent feel that the US presence is “provoking more conflict than it is preventing,” according to a 2006 World Public Opinion poll.