The Washington Post has great reporters, but as a journalistic institution, it has been strikingly sympathetic to the ruling establishment. Over the decades, reporters there have complained repeatedly about how their efforts to break out of an emerging consensus have been stymied, overtly or more subtly. See for example pages 223-226 in Kristina Borjesson’s book “Feet to the Fire,” where national security correspondent Walter Pincus describes some of his most important stories, casting doubt on whether Saddam had WMDs. How many were on the front page? “Almost none of them were.” A particularly crucial article, which provided new reasons to doubt the justification for war, came out four days before the invasion–and was published on page 17. To get a better sense of what was going on, note that Bob Woodward offered to “help” with that story, and then see Family of Secrets (by yours truly) about Bob Woodward’s top-secret military background just prior to his being hired at the Post at the request of someone in the White House. Not exactly an environment conducive to challenging the status quo.
As bad as the Post’s news pages have frequently been for those wanting a candid assessment of our times, the editorial pages have been much more of a problem, a veritable feeding frenzy for insiders with agendas. But now, faced with financial pressures, the Post seems to be erasing the fragile line between the sections. At least, according to these assertions:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
TUESDAY, JANUARY 5, 2009
CONTACT: Jenn Ettinger at (202) 955-5665
POLICY EXPERTS CALL ON WASHINGTON POST TO STOP PRINTING BIASED “NEWS” ARTICLES BY BILLIONAIRE IDEOLOGUE, PETER G. PETERSON
Post Runs “News” Story by Peterson-Funded Fiscal Times About Conrad Deficit Commission,
Controversial Idea Promoted by Peterson — Quoting Groups Funded by Peterson.
Group Asks to Meet with Washington Post Company Chair Donald Graham.
WASHINGTON — The Washington Post ‘s decision to publish special-interest-funded propaganda as a “news” story on New Year’s Eve could signal the death of the daily newspaper as an independent and objective news source, according to a group of 21 policy experts who protested in a Jan. 1 letter to the Post’s ombudsman. Having received no response, the group sent a new letter to The Washington Post Company chairman Donald Graham today demanding to meet with him. Campaign for America’s Future co-director Roger Hickey signed both letters.
The Washington Post Dec. 31 article, entitled “Support grows for tackling nation’s debt,” wasn’t written by the newspaper’s reporters. It was written by a new organization called The Fiscal Times, whose founder and major backer, Peter G. Peterson, has a long-term ideological commitment to cutting public programs like Social Security and Medicare over public investment and progressive taxation as a way to reduce deficits. This explains why the article was rife with factual errors, important omissions and significant distortions that favored Peterson’s position.
Pointing to growing concern about The Washington Post’s partnership with Peterson’s enterprise, the scholars and advocates today requested a meeting with Graham to discuss their concerns in person. In addition to Hickey, signatories for the letter include former Alan Greenspan Commission aide and author Nancy Altman, Syracuse University professor Eric Kingson, Center for Economic and Policy Research co-director Dean Baker and The American Prospect co-founder Robert Kuttner.
Several scholars and advocates sent their original letter of protest to Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander on New Year’s Day, arguing that the Post should not publish news content financed by people like Peterson, who has an interest in the coverage. They specifically pointed to the fact that The Fiscal Times article covers Sen. Kent Conrad’s, D-N.D., controversial plan for a deficit commission, which Peterson publicly favors, and quotes advocates backed by Peterson while ignoring critics of the deficit commission idea, like a coalition of 40 national organizations whose opposition to the commission is nowhere to be found in the article.
The original letter called on The Washington Post to “rescind the partnership” and to “reserve opinion pieces for the op-ed page, and not allow itself to be a propaganda arm for ideologues who use fiscal distress as a stalking horse to destroy social insurance.”
Responding to another “pay-to-influence” coverage scandal at The Washington Post, Alexander admitted last summer that his publisher’s “ill-fated plan to sell sponsorships of off-the-record ‘salons’ was an ethical lapse of monumental proportions.” Post executives apologized too, rescinding plans for a series of intimate dinners to discuss public policy issues where fees of up to $25,000 guaranteed underwriters a seat at the table with lawmakers, administration officials and opinion leaders.
Several media organizations and blogs covered the Peterson content controversy over the New Year’s weekend. News coverage by Politico and reform websites like Media Matters’ assure the issue won’t go away for The Washington Post. Protesting groups were alerted last week by blog posts by Baker, in his “Beat the Press” blog at The American Prospect, and Hickey, writing in The Huffington Post and other websites.
There’s an update on the story from the competition—the New York Times.