As Politico reports, the Washington Post is attempting to become a major player in the left-liberal blogosphere, “transforming its online presence. . .into a competitor of the Huffington Post and TalkingPointsMemo. . . .” As one might expect, the Post is being a bit disingenuous about the move. Its national editor, Kevin Merida, claims the paper is only responding to the demands of the new online audience: “The web is a place where people want to come to the news of the day and developments in the political world and public policy from different vantage points, so you’re trying to offer people online a pretty robust smorgasbord.”
But, as the Politico piece makes clear, the Post is responding only to a segment of online readers — the leftist segment. Accordingly, it is offering more of a fixed menu than a smorgasbord.
This is clear from the Post’s leading non-leftist hire, Dave Weigel. He was brought in at the recommendation of lefty Ezra Klein. Weigel, by his admission, is not a conservative, and his function seems to be to “cover” conservatives, rather than to offer anything approaching a conservative perspective. Based on his reporting so far — he has called those who oppose gay marriage “bigots” — assigning Weigel to the social conservative beat can be compared to retaining Leopold and Loeb to cover a middle school.
Politico speculates as to why the Post’s online incarnation is lurching so far to the left. There may be an economic explanation, of course, but one is not required, any more than one is needed to explain why the writing in the Post’s “style” section, and even its sport page, veers leftward.
From top to bottom, the Post is populated by leftists. Those at the top seem torn between the need they still perceive to maintain the Post’s compliance with something like traditional journalistic norms and the desire to do battle on behalf of the left. That struggle is resolved, for the time being, by maintaining a quality editorial page, an op-ed page with a few strong conservative writers, and a news section that crosses the border into partisanship but usually not too far.
Meanwhile, as part of the unofficial bargain, lefty impulses are unchecked in the portions of the paper that can’t undermine the Post’s standing as a reasonably reliable reporter of the news. The Post assumes, probably correctly, that its online incarnation falls into this category.
Think of the Post in Freudian terms. The editorial page and op-ed section represent the super-ego. The back sections are the domain of a largely unrestrained id. The news pages constitute the ego, which has been struggling to stave off the powerful left-wing impulses of the id. To understand the magnitude of the struggle, and why it’s been mostly a losing battle, consider this quotation from reporter Alec MacGillis: “We can’t go as far as the bloggers do, but there’s a spectrum, and editors who celebrate the popularity of someone like Ezra perhaps can also encourage a more authoritative voice across the newsroom.”
The online presence, naturally, will also be the domain of the id. Some of the Post’s grown-ups may view it, in part, as a defense mechanism to protect the integrity of the news sections. But, as the MacGillis statement indicates, the opposite consequence seems at least as likely.
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