Wash. Post ombudsman favors the Right -- again

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

In a blog post about David Weigel's departure from the Washington Post, the paper's ombudsman demonstrated once again a stunning bias in favor of its conservative critics. Ombudsman Andrew Alexander, like other key figures at the Post, routinely gives more weight and credence to criticisms of the paper that come from conservatives than to those that come from liberals -- despite the fact that on several of the biggest stories of the past two decades, the Post has (intentionally or not) placed not just a thumb but an entire forearm on the scales in favor of conservatives.

Among the most weighty progressive critiques of the Post:

1) The relentless obsession with Clinton-era non-scandals on the part of both the Post's news and editorial pages, as illustrated by the paper's editorial call for a special counsel to investigate Whitewater even as the paper admitted there was "no credible charge" either Clinton had done anything wrong. The Post's overheated reaction to every trumped-up allegation in Clinton is even more glaring after having witnessed the paper's comparatively minimalist approach to Bush-era misdeeds.

2) The Post's "war against Gore" during the 2000 election, exemplified by Ceci Connolly's snarky -- and 100% false -- lede on December 2, 1999:

"Add Love Canal to the list of verbal missteps by Vice President Gore. The man who mistakenly claimed to have inspired the movie 'Love Story' and to have invented the Internet says he didn't quite mean to say he discovered a toxic waste site when he said at a high school forum Tuesday in New Hampshire: 'I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal.' Gore went on to brag about holding the 'first hearing on that issue' and said 'I was the one that started it all.'"

That -- including some of the words in quotes -- is just completely wrong. And it was typical of the Washington Post's thumb-on-the-scale coverage of the 2000 campaign -- coverage that, given the election's razor-thin margin, can fairly be described as having unfairly put George W. Bush in office.

3) The Post's abject failure to appropriately cover the Bush administration's false case for war in Iraq, a failure to which enough Post reporters and editors have confessed that it need not be detailed here.

And those are just the clearest example of the Post's history-changing mishandling of specific stories. There's also the matter of what may be the nation's worst editorial & opinion pages and the constant drumbeat of articles and features that adopt conservative framing and assumptions.

If there is a single legitimate conservative gripe about the Washington Post that even begins to approach the magnitude of the Post's shoddy coverage of Clinton, the 2000 campaign, and the Iraq war, I've never heard it -- and I've never seen a Post reporter, editor, or Ombudsman cite it.

And yet Alexander and Post editors routinely refer to conservative unease with the Post, and validate that unease by bending over backwards to appease their conservative critics. Meanwhile, they typically pretend that liberal critics don't exist, and that the fiascos outlined above never happened.

Compare, for example, Alexander's handling of the Weigel story with his column about a similar situation: the Washington Post web video in which reporter Dana Milbank called Hillary Clinton a "bitch." The situations are similar, in that both involved a Washington Post employee making disparaging comments about political figures. But there are a few differences: Weigel's comments were made in private, on an off-the-record email listserv, while Milbank's were made publicly in a video produced by the Post and hosted on the Post's web site. And Weigel's comments were about conservatives, while Milbank's ugly insult was directed at a progressive. Oh, and Dana Milbank got to keep his job, despite the fact that his transgression, being public and part of his work product, would seem to be the far greater of the two.

Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander laced his write-up of Weigel's departure with references to conservative complaints about the Post, an aspect of the story Alexander found important enough to merit inclusion in his headline: "Blogger loses job; Post loses standing among conservatives."

Alexander wrote, for example:

Weigel's exit, and the events that prompted it, have further damaged The Post among conservatives who believe it is not properly attuned to their ideology or activities. Ironically, Weigel was hired to address precisely those concerns.

Notice that no example of the reasons for conservatives' ire toward the Post is included: Alexander just treats it as a given that they are upset with the Post, and that they must have reasons. The conservative contention that the Post favors liberals is presented as a key element of the story, and one that need not be challenged.

In comparison, Alexander's column about Post reporter Dana Milbank calling Hillary Clinton a "bitch" didn't contain so much as a hint that the episode might damage the paper's credibility among liberals, or that liberals might already have some complaints about the paper that would be exacerbated by Milbank's video. No liberals were quoted or paraphrased; there wasn't even any mention that liberals were unhappy about Milbank's stunt. Contrast that to Alexander's write-up of Weigel's departure from the Post, in which the Alexander dedicated four full paragraphs to the complaints of the conservative Media Research Center's Dan Gainor.

And, again, this is typical of Alexander's approach, as I have documented several times. He consistently stipulates to the validity of conservative complaints while ignoring liberal perspectives.

And not just Alexander. Post executive editor also says the Post needs to be more responsive to conservatives. And, when asked to reconcile that statement with the Post's coverage of the 2000 presidential election and the Iraq war, Brauchli refuses to answer. His deputies duck the question, too.

You simply cannot objectively and intelligently discuss conservative claims that the Washington Post is biased against them without addressing the Post's treatment of Clinton, the 2000 election, or the Iraq war. It's like discussing a claim that Babe Ruth wasn't a very good hitter without mentioning all the home runs he hit. And yet the Washington Post's ombudsman and editors do this all the time.

As I wrote last year:

The news media's disparate treatment of media critiques from the Left and from the Right pretty much disproves the idea of "liberal bias." If they really were biased in favor of liberals, liberal concerns about their coverage of huge matters like Iraq and Gore/Bush would get far more play than conservative complaints about whether an article about ACORN should have come a week earlier.

UPDATE: I should note that Alexander's blog post about Weigel did not contain a single criticism -- not even a general one -- about the content of Weigel's reporting for the Post. Not one. Apparently Alexander finds conservative complaints that have nothing to do with the actual content of Washington Post reports more compelling than liberal critiques -- such as those about the Post's coverage of the 2000 election and Iraq -- that are entirely about the content of Washington Post reports. What does that tell you?

The Washington Post
David Weigel, Andrew Alexander, Marcus Brauchli
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.