The Washington Post's new reader representative, Doug Feaver, made clear when he was offered the position that he did not want it to be full time.
And it appears he is getting his wish, according to Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, who said Feaver, a former Post editor who has been retired since 2006, will likely spend just two or three days a week on the job and have no set weekly column.
Feaver replaces Patrick Pexton, who as Post ombudsman was hired on a two-year contract that allowed complete independence. The Post has had such an ombudsman for more than 40 years.
"Doug will be part time and we've agreed that he'll kind of feel his way and figure out after some time how part time," Hiatt said Thursday, just hours after announcing Feaver had taken the job. "Right now, I'm sort of assuming it's two or three days a week. I've said to him 'If you find out it needs to be more, we're open to that, or if you find eventually we only need one person, I'm open to that,' I have huge confidence in Doug so I am kind of leaving it to him to figure out what's the best way to make the job work."
Hiatt announced on Thursday that Feaver would be hired as a part-time employee and work with Alison Coglianese, a full-time staffer who had served as assistant to the Post ombudsman for years.
Hiatt says that concerns that a reader representative employed by the Post will have less independence than the paper's traditional ombudsman are misplaced.
"While it's true Doug doesn't have the two-year contract that we traditionally gave ombudsman, to me that's not the main difference," Hiatt said. "Nobody who knows him will doubt that he will be totally independent in his judgment and that he will hold us all properly accountable."
Feaver said he happened to get the job somewhat by accident, explaining that he was visiting Hiatt on another subject a week ago and Hiatt asked him about the position.
"I was in to see Fred on an entirely unrelated matter and he said 'what would you think about this?' and I said 'that could be very interesting.' So that's how the conversation started," Feaver, 73, said. "We were just talking, within the past week. I told him when we started talking I wasn't the least bit interested in a full-time job."
Asked why, Feaver added: "I've been retired, officially retired for the last several years and it was very nice to be asked to come back and do something. But it wasn't going to get into another one of these 60-hour week situations that I did for a long time."
Feaver worked at the Post from 1969 to 2006, serving in jobs that included reporting and editing for the Metro, Business and National staffs, as well as executive editor of washingtonpost.com.
Former Washington Post ombudsmen are speaking out against the paper's contemplation of eliminating that position, stating that it serves a vital purpose as the only independent communication between readers and the newsroom.
The ombudsman, which is a contracted job with a defined term, has been a Post staple since 1970, making it among the longest-existing reader representative positions at a major daily newspaper.
But Post officials say that the paper may cut the job when the current term of Ombudsman Patrick Pexton ends on March 1, 2013.
"We haven't decided what we are going to do after Pat leaves," Fred Hiatt, the Post's editorial page editor, told Media Matters in an email. "I think it's important that the Post continue to be accountable and to offer readers a way to ask questions or lodge complaints and be confident they will be heard. I'm not sure that having an ombudsman whose primary focus is on writing a weekly column is the best way to achieve that goal."
The proposed shift did not sit well with several former Post ombudsmen, who stressed the paper's tradition of using the position to interact with readers and feared that the paper would try to save money by dropping the position.
Andy Alexander, who held the job before Pexton, said eliminating the ombudsman would be a "terrible loss for Post readers."
"And I'm afraid it would be widely interpreted, fairly or unfairly, as The Post using financial pressures or other reasons as a pretense to get rid of an internal critic," Alexander, currently a visiting professional at Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, said in an email. "From the outset, the role has been to provide readers with access to an independent agent empowered to investigate charges that The Post has not lived up to its high journalistic standards."
"Certainly, the role of the ombudsman can and should evolve in the Digital Age," Alexander added. "It makes sense to continue to use new platforms to converse with readers. But there is a huge difference between an ombudsman who merely reflects what readers are saying, as opposed to an ombudsman who has the independence and authority to ask uncomfortable questions of reporters and editors and then publicly hold the newsroom to account."
Asked about criticism of the Post from former ombudsmen concerned that the paper might eliminate the position, Hiatt said, "I value their opinion, of course, but I hope they'll wait to see what we do before forming final judgments. I also think the media world is quite different from what it was when the Post began hiring ombudsmen."
George Will's practice of citing groups funded by a conservative foundation -- without disclosing that he is a paid board member of that foundation -- brought sharp criticism from media ethicists and journalism veterans who say such a lack of disclosure is a breach of journalistic ethics.
"Is there a problem here? Of course," said Ed Wasserman, Washington and Lee University journalism professor and a Miami Herald columnist. "Even though he is a committed conservative guy with strongly held principles, you still have the right to read his commentary as something that is independently arrived at rather than a reflection of a nexus of relationships and entanglements that he is embedded in."
Will was elected to the Bradley Foundation board in 2008 and received the Bradley Prize in 2005. A Nov. 19, 2011, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story about the Bradley Foundation revealed Will received $250,000 for the Bradley Prize and still receives $43,500 annually as a board member.
Media Matters reviewed Will's columns from mid-2008 to the present and found at least a dozen instances in which he has promoted conservative groups that have received money from the Bradley Foundation without disclosing his connection to the foundation. Those groups include the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and the Federalist Society, and National Affairs quarterly.
Among the examples is an April 23, 2009 column citing the Heritage Foundation, in which Will writes: "The [Department of Education] could not suppress the Heritage Foundation's report that 38 percent of members of Congress sent or are sending their children to private schools."
Media Matters found one column in which Will's Bradley Foundation ties were disclosed. In an August 20, 2009 column, he cited the Institute for Justice, which received Bradley Foundation funding. Will's connection was noted at the end of the piece.
The disclosure initially incorrectly stated that Will was on the board of the MacArthur Foundation, rather than the Bradley Foundation. It said: "The writer is a member of the board of the MacArthur Foundation, which provides some funding for the Institute for Justice."
The error was later corrected at the end of a subsequent column to read: "George F. Will is a member of the board of the Bradley Foundation and not the MacArthur Foundation, as was disclosed in a recent column on threats to freedom of speech."
Last year, Washington Post education reporter Bill Turque made clear what he thought of how his paper's editorial board covered then-Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee.
In a blog post, Turque wrote that the Post's editorial support for Rhee had been "steadfast, protective and, at times, adoring."
The item was quickly removed from the Post's website, but Turque is hardly alone in his views.
Two of the Post's journalists covering education recently shared with Media Matters their own concerns about the way the paper's editorial page has covered Rhee.
Jay Mathews, a 40-year Post scribe who writes the Class Struggle blog and a weekly column, pointed to editorial writer Jo-Ann Armao's coverage of recent allegations of potential cheating on standardized tests. Mathews noted that Armao is his former boss and praised her work on education in general, but he said that on the testing issue, he could not "understand why her reporting instincts have failed her." Mathews criticized what he called Armao's "failure to address seriously what seems to me are problems that cannot be overlooked," later adding, "Her failure to see that, I find troubling and puzzling given my great respect for her as a person and a journalist."
Valerie Strauss, who pens the Post's Answer Sheet blog, told Media Matters:
"I didn't agree with very much of the editorial stance when it came to the Rhee era. But certainly, as an editorial board, it had a right to take a stand and stick to it. That's what editorial boards do." She added, "There were times when they could have been more critical, they could have looked harder and been more even-handed about how they presented information."
Rhee's tenure at the helm of D.C.'s schools -- from 2007 to 2010 -- was contentious. She implemented a controversial reform program designed to improve achievement. She angered some parents and education officials and fired hundreds of teachers. (Rhee reportedly once invited a PBS camera crew to film her firing a principal.)
Rhee had something to show for her work -- gains in student achievement. The Post editorial page -- along with other Rhee supporters -- has pointed to rising test scores as evidence of her success.
All these years of making fun of Newsbusters' incompetent efforts to demonstrate "liberal bias" in the media, and I've finally realized that the basic problem is that these people have no idea what the word "liberal" means. (Or the word "bias," but we've been over that.)
In the course of ranting about schools serving salad to children*, Newsbuster Iris Somberg describes Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt as a "doctrinaire liberal." Previously, Newsbuster Warner Todd Huston has called Hiatt a "socialist," and Newsbuster Matthew Sheffield has said Hiatt runs a "liberal" editorial page. And Newsbuster Noel Sheppard has claimed to be surprised when the Post runs an op-ed that is "counter to leftwing economic dogma."
If you know who Fred Hiatt is, you probably already know that to be nonsense. If you don't, here's a primer.
Anyway, that's Newsbusters in a nutshell: They think Fred Hiatt is a "doctrinaire liberal" and David Frum -- former Bush speechwriter, National Review editor, Giuliani adviser, etc, etc -- is not a conservative. Their claims of "liberal bias" should be dismissed accordingly.
* I am not making this up. Somberg is angry that "liberals decided it was the government's job to put 6,000 salad bars in schools and proceed to regulate how much of each vegetable a child must intake for it to count as a reimbursable meal." Who else's job would it be? (Newsflash: Governments run schools.) And what's wrong with giving kids salad? Somberg doesn't say.
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen claims:
The health-care bill has almost no near-term benefit for anyone who votes. Its immediate beneficiaries are the uninsured, consisting of the poor and vulnerable, and the young and delusionally invincible. As a voting bloc, they largely don't.
And remember, Cohen is what passes for a liberal at Fred Hiatt's Washington Post, home of the nation's worst opinion pages.
When the Washington Post hired the habitually-wrong Bill Kristol to write misinformation-laden columns, Post opinion boss Fred Hiatt explained "I think he's a very smart, plugged-in guy," adding "I thought he wrote a good column" at the New York Times, which tired of Kristol after only a year. Hiatt even suggested that the Times dumped Kristol merely because its readers disagreed with his opinions:
"It seems to me there were a lot of Times readers who felt the Times shouldn't hire someone who supported the Iraq war," said Hiatt, adding that he wants "a diverse range of opinions" on his page.
But the real problem with Kristol is that, unlike a broken clock, he's rarely right twice in one day. And that he often seems enthusiastically dishonest. And that he loves war and torture the way chocolate loves peanut butter. And... well, you get the point.
Anyway: Salon's Glenn Greenwald points out that the Washington Post editorial board -- which Fred Hiatt runs -- has now denounced a video attacking the Obama administration as a "smear" that plays on "ignorance and fear" at the expense of reason. Oh, and Bill Kristol is among those responsible for the video. Here's Greenwald:
So according to the Post Editors, this "Department of Jihad" ad is a "smear" campaign based in "hysteria, ignorance and fear" that is designed to "cloud reason." Yet those very same Post Editors continue to employ as a Columnist one of the primary parties responsible for this "smear" campaign. That's a strange thing to do. Once a newspaper's editors decide that someone is responsible for what they themselves denounce as a repugnant "smear" that traffics in fear, hysteria and ignorance and is designed to "cloud reason," one would think they'd no longer want to provide a forum to the person responsible. Why would a newspaper want to amplify and elevate a person who they know smears others using fear, hysteria and ignorance?
It's hardly news that Bill Kristol is a rank propagandist responsible for some of the most destructive falsehoods in our political culture, but now that the Post Editors explicitly recognize this, doesn't it speak volumes about them if they continue (as they will) to employ such a person as a regular Columnist?
Why does the Washington Post employ a columnist who is responsible for what it believes are nasty smears on honorable public servants? Simple: Because the Washington Post's opinion pages under Fred Hiatt are a cesspool of lies and propaganda and fear-mongering; a safe haven for those who endorse (or turn a blind eye) to torture, political thuggery, and everything in between.
The Washington Post's opinion pages keep getting worse, every day. Today, the Post handed over a valuable chunk of opinion real estate to Sen. Orrin Hatch, who the Post allowed to make several misleading claims about reconciliation -- some of which were in conflict with the Post's own reporting.
Broadly, Hatch's op-ed is fundamentally misleading in that it repeatedly conflates passing health care reform via reconciliation with passing tweaks to health care reform via reconciliation. The former is not under discussion; indeed, the Senate has already passed health care reform. As the Post's own Ezra Klein explained yesterday, "Democrats are not proposing to create the health-care reform bill in reconciliation. Rather, they're using the process for a much more limited purpose: passing the 11 pages of modifications that President Obama proposed to reconcile the House and Senate bills with each other."
Still, Post op-ed editors allowed Hatch to suggest that reconciliation is being considered as a means of passing the entire reform package. Hatch writes:
Some of my colleagues, and others, have wrongly argued that using reconciliation to change only parts of this enormously unpopular bill would not be an abuse of the process. But if the only way to pass this $2.5 trillion bill is through reconciliation, then this continues to be an abuse that stifles dissent and badly undermines our constitutional checks and balances.
Of course, reconciliation isn't the only way to pass the bill, because the Senate has already passed the bill. Reconciliation is begin considered as a means of amending the bill. (That $2.5 trillion figure, by the way, is much larger than the CBO's estimate, but the Post didn't make Hatch explain where it came from.)
Worse, the Post allowed Hatch to misleadingly suggest that Sen. Kent Conrad shares his opposition to using reconciliation:
This use of reconciliation to jam through this legislation, against the will of the American people, would be unprecedented in scope. And the havoc wrought would threaten our system of checks and balances, corrode the legislative process, degrade our system of government and damage the prospects of bipartisanship.
Less than a year ago, the longest-serving member of the Senate, West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, said, "I was one of the authors of the legislation that created the budget 'reconciliation' process in 1974, and I am certain that putting health-care reform . . . legislation on a freight train through Congress is an outrage that must be resisted." Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, also a Democrat, said last March, "I don't believe reconciliation was ever intended for the purpose of writing this kind of substantive reform legislation." They are both right.
But Conrad was "speaking generally of the idea of moving major legislative priorities under reconciliation," according to the New York Times article in which that quote originally appeared. He wasn't speaking in opposition to using reconciliation to tweak legislation that has already passed, which is the current debate. (Note, again, that the Post allows Hatch to refer to "the use of reconciliation to jam through this legislation," which falsely suggests the entire reform package would be passed via reconciliation.) In fact, Conrad said just yesterday that reconciliation can be used for such fixes:
But Conrad patiently explained that the media interpretation of his comments is wrong. He was merely saying reconciliation would not be used to pass a comprehensive bill, and would only be used to pass the sidecar fix, which he said is workable, depending on what's in it.
"Reporters don't seem to be able to get this straight," Conrad said, hitting the "misreporting" he said is widespread. "Comprehensive health care reform will not work through reconciliation. But if the House passes the Senate bill, and wants certain things improved on, like affordability, the Medicaid provisions, how much of Medicaid expenses are paid for by the Federal government, that is something that could be done through reconciliation."
Surely the Post knows about that; Conrad said it to a Post reporter.
The Post also allowed Hatch to assert "Reconciliation was designed to balance the federal budget. Both parties have used the process, but only when the bills in question stuck close to dealing with the budget. In instances in which other substantive legislation was included, the legislation had significant bipartisan support."
But just yesterday, the Post's Greg Sargent detailed several reconciliation votes cast by Republicans during the Bush presidency, including:
McConnell, Hatch, NRSC chief John Cornyn and 21 other current GOP Senators voted for the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003, which accelerated the Bush tax cuts and added new ones. This passed by a simple majority via reconciliation - 50-50 in the Senate with Dick Cheney casting the tiebreaking vote.
That wasn't an attempt to "balance the federal budget," and that wasn't something that passed with "significant bipartisan support." So not only was Hatch's suggestion that reconciliation has only been used to to pass measures "to balance the federal budget" or those with "significant bipartisan support" false, he himself has supported reconciliation in situations that met neither of those conditions. Yet the Post let him mislead their readers.
Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt doesn't just leave the misinformation to his stable of former Bush speechwriters -- he rolls up his sleeves and gets the job done himself:
As president, however, Obama had to grapple with the reality that extending government-subsidized insurance to the working poor is not all that popular in a country where most people have insurance, from the government or from their employer.
Hiatt didn't cite a single poll or study to back up that claim. Maybe that's because if you go to PollingReport.com, you'll find four polls conducted this year that assess the public's interest in subsidizing health insurance for people who need it -- and all four found that doing so is, in fact, popular.
In February, a Newsweek poll found 59 percent support for requiring that "all Americans have health insurance, with the government providing financial help to those who can't afford it."
A February Kaiser poll found 68 percent think it is "extremely" or "very" important to provide "financial help to lower and middle income Americans who don't get insurance through their jobs to help them purchase coverage." Only 11 percent think it is "not too important" or "shouldn't be done at all."
An ABC/Washington Post poll found in February that 56 percent think the government should "require all Americans to have health insurance, either from their employer or from another source, with tax credits or other aid to help low-income people pay for it." You'd think Hiatt would know about that one -- his own employer sponsored it.
And in January, a Kaiser poll found 62 percent would be more likely to support legislation that would "Expand the Medicaid program to cover everyone with incomes under 133 percent of the federal poverty level" and 57 percent would be more likely to support legislation that would "Provide financial help to people who have incomes below 400 percent of the federal poverty level -- about $88,000 for a family of four -- and who don't get insurance through their jobs to help them purchase coverage."
Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen could hardly have written a more dishonest attack on President Obama if that had been his primary goal.
Thiessen writes that "Obama is the real obstructionist at his health-care summit" because Obama has no interest in "bipartisan compromise." Thiessen bases his assertion that Obama is uninterested in compromise on the fact that no Republicans have supported Democratic health care proposals. That's a questionable claim on its face; it's downright absurd if you know that Obama's health care proposal -- like the bills passed in both the House and the Senate -- already contain significant concessions to the GOP. Not just concessions like "not being single-payer" and "not including a public option" -- though those are significant concessions Democrats have made. But the bills also include ideas Republicans have long supported. As Politico recently put it:
the pillars of the Senate bill resemble proposals that have been embraced by the GOP, most notably in a proposal offered last year by former Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) and by Republicans during the 1993-94 health care reform debate. Major elements are also remarkably similar to a plan put forward by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.).
the Senate bill allows families and businesses to purchase insurance across state lines, a favorite policy proposal of the right. ... Republicans say states should decide how they want to do reform. But the Senate bill already goes a step in that direction.
So, Democrats have included Republican ideas, but Republicans refuse to support the bill anyway, leading Marc Thiessen to write that Democrats are uninterested in bipartisan compromise.
Next, Thiessen writes: "The president's real objective is to paint GOP leaders as obstructionists -- so that Democrats have an excuse to ram through their health-care legislation using extraordinary parliamentary procedures."
By "extraordinary parliamentary procedures," Thiessen presumably means "reconciliation." And he presumably knows reconciliation isn't all that "extraordinary" -- it was used to pass significant portions of President Bush's agenda. Thiessen presumably knows that because Thiessen worked as a speechwriter in the Bush White House.
Then Thiessen calls Obama "dishonest" and points to the fact that Senate Democrats worked with President Bush as evidence that Barack Obama hasn't reached out to Republicans. But, again, the simple fact is that Obama and Democrats did reach out. They did so with last year's stimulus package, which, in an effort to win GOP votes, was smaller and heavier on tax cuts than liberals wanted. They did so with the health care legislation. When Side A makes significant concessions to win the support of Side B, but Side B withholds their support anyway, Side A can hardly be blamed for a refusal to compromise.
I'm sure Thiessen and his boss Fred Hiatt would say Thiessen is simply expressing an opinion, which is the whole point of being an opinion columnist. But Thiessen isn't doing so honestly -- not even remotely. Thiessen could make the case that the concessions Democrats have made are insufficient, or that the inclusion of Republican ideas in the various health care bills do not do enough to outweigh the ideas they think are bad. But he doesn't do that. He simply pretends there were no such concessions, that there are no Republican ideas in the bill. That isn't honest.
But it's what we have come to expect from Fred Hiatt's Washington Post.
The Daily Beast has unveiled its list of "The Left's Top 25 Journalists" -- with Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt coming in at number 5, despite the fact that "many on the left would question Hiatt's presence on this list" because "his near-neocon position on foreign policy enrages the left-wing blogosphere."
Seriously? The fifth-most influential liberal journalist in America is a neocon? Who came up with this list, Dick Cheney?
No, actually, it was Tunku Varadarajan, formerly op-ed editor for the Wall Street Journal (whose opinion pages are notoriously conservative) and currently a fellow at the right-wing Hoover Institution, where the fellows program is generously funded by Richard Mellon Scaife.
I know what you're thinking: If The Daily Beast turned to a Scaife-funded right-winger to pen its list of "The Left's Top 25 Journalists," it probably used a Soros-backed liberal to assess journalism's leading conservatives, right? Nope, that was Varadarajan, too.
Varadarajan also wrote Forbes magazine's recent list of "The 25 Most Influential Liberals In The U.S. Media." Fred Hiatt came in at number 3 on that list, with Clinton-hating, liberal-bashing Chris Matthews at number 12.
Howard Kurtz suggests Fox's "news programming" is balanced and the Washington Post's editorial page is liberal:
Knoxville, Tenn.: Why do so many media outlets, when mentioning "Fox News", say "which some say has conservative views"? This seems to be the equivalent of saying "The Washington Post, which some say is a newspaper..."
Why is the rest of the press corp afraid to call a spade a spade, particularly when (as in this case) it is so virulently blatant?
Howard Kurtz: Because some say a distinction must be made between Fox's opinion shows (O'Reilly, Beck, Hannity) and its news programming. Just as you have to make a distinction between The Post's news pages and its left-leaning editorial page.
This reveals more about Kurtz's own leanings than those of Fox News and the Washington Post's editorial pages.
First, no such distinction "must be made" between Fox's opinion shows and its news programming other opinion shows:
And there's plenty more where that came from.
As for the Washington Post: Does this sound like a "left-leaning editorial page"?
Powell's U.N. address occurred on February 5, 2003. A look at the editorials and columns that appeared in the next day's edition of The Washington Post makes clear how quickly the media ran to Powell's side.
The Post itself led things off with an editorial headlined -- what else? -- "Irrefutable" that declared, "AFTER SECRETARY OF STATE Colin L. Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council yesterday, it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. ... Mr. Powell's evidence ... was overwhelming."
The Post's columnists took it from there. Four Washington Post columnists wrote on February 6 about Powell's presentation the day before. All four were positively glowing...
More examples of the Post's editorial and op-ed pages not leaning to the left:
Then there's this: "On Social Security: The Washington Post Gets It." That's a column praising the Post's editorials defending George W. Bush's efforts to privatize Social Security. The author? Jack Kemp. The column appears on the web site of Freedom Works, a right wing group led by former House GOP leader Dick Armey.
"Left-leaning": yeah, right.
Four days ago, Editor & Publisher quoted Washington Post Op-Ed editor Autumn Brewington defending the paper's publication of Sarah Palin's deeply dishonest column about climate change. Most of the defense boils down to a predictably depressing acknowledgment that the Post doesn't really care about facts or expertise; they just want to sell some ads -- For example: "She is someone who stirs discussion and we are in the business of putting out opinion. She reached out to us."
But here's something interesting:
Brewington said the piece drew more reaction than most Op-Eds, adding that it ranked among the 10 most-read articles on the Post Web site Wednesday. ...
Among the critics was a university professor who has offered to write a rebuttal column, Brewington said, declining to name the person. "It is always interesting to see who reaches out to us," she said.
Palin's op-ed ran on December 9. By December 10, the Post had an offer from a "university professor" to write a rebuttal to the error-filled column. So ... Where is it? The Post has yet to run any kind of "rebuttal column," by a professor or anyone else. (The paper did, however, run December 11 column by former Bush aide Michael Gerson that echoed Palin's.)
Brewington seems to regard a proposed rebuttal column by an academic as a joke; something to be amused about -- "It is always interesting to see who reaches out to us." But it isn't a joke. The Post published a falsehood-filled screed by a former half-term governor who either doesn't know the truth or is willing to lie about it. And the paper apparently laughs off requests to run a rebuttal column. There's nothing amusing about that.
Early this year, when the Post was criticized for running a deeply flawed George Will column, Post editorial page boss Fred Hiatt challenged critics to debate Will rather than expect the Post to run a correction. So Chris Mooney submitted an op-ed in response to Will, which the Post eventually published. (Mooney's column ran three weeks after it was submitted. It took the Post less than a day to get Palin's into the paper.)
So why won't the Post publish a column rebutting Sarah Palin's op-ed? Did the paper promise Palin it wouldn't run such a response?