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On the Washington Post

There’s a pretty common perception in this town (and, for that matter, all across the country) that the Washington Post is a prime example of “liberal media bias.”  As a daily Post reader and lifelong D.C. resident, I can say with all honesty that the Post is all but free of any such thing.  In fact, it could probably use a little more.

For an easy and none-too-complex look at the Post’s conservatism, one need look no further than the editorial page.  Despite reluctant, perfunctory formal endorsements of some Democratic candidates (usually the ones doing significantly better in the polls than their rivals; the Post just as often endorses Republican pols, as in their 2006 all-Republican streak for Northern VA), the opinions published both by the paper and by its hired contributors are almost uniformly to the right of the mainstream political spectrum.  Spearheaded by Michael Gerson and George Will, the section has advocated for, among other things, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the wholehearted encouragement of any and all Israeli settlements (an stance more hawkish on the subject than the majority of Israelis), and a ban on that malignant culture-eroding “impropriety,” denim.  These unremittingly fringe opinions go mostly uncontested by any sort of vocal opposition; with the exception of Eugene Robinson — also,  astoundingly, the only non-white writer in the A-section opinions page — and the occasional freelance piece by Ruth Marcus, writers are either quietly centrist or in complete conservative concurrence.  And Sunday’s Outlook section, a compendium of Post-selected opinion pieces, is even less subtle.  Outlook’s headliners, most recently last week’s Steven Hayward diatribe lionizing Glenn Beck and Jonah Goldberg, are nearly all conservative, a shocking proportion of which are submitted by ex-Reagan staffers.  Even articles ostensibly representing liberal viewpoints are, as in Naomi Wolf’s infamous-in-the-blogosphere book review, often as dismissive of and condescending towards those viewpoints as any right-wing writer.  And the few pieces embracing honest-to-goodness liberalism, such as the Yes Men’s Abbie Hoffmann-esque contribution or Jaclyn Friedman’s imperfect but well-aimed response to Tucker Max, are buried in the corners of the 4th and 5th pages, seemingly designed to be as inconspicuous as possible.

Yet the Post didn’t start unleashing the truly disturbing stuff until this summer — and has it ever been a doozy.  In an unofficial series that could best be titled “Profiles in Crazy,” the front page of the Style section has periodically devoted itself to lengthy, highly sympathetic puff pieces on radical right-wing icons.  Randall Terry, the no-holds-barred anti-choice “vigilante” whose tactics include physically harassing women and who allegedly inspired the Dr. Tiller murder, was the first in this series.  Then came Brian Brown, head of the bigoted and homophobic — but always polite! — National Organization for Marriage.  The latest Profile in Crazy focuses on Orly Taitz, a powerhouse player in the so-called birther movement — or, as Taitz and the Post would have it, the “campaign to challenge Barack Obama’s eligibility to be president.”  One only wonders who will be next in this hit parade of irrational polemicists; surely, with the sweet-talking Parade Magazine style of the articles, right-wingers are lining up outside the Post office in hopes of the star treatment.  I say “right-wingers” because, over the time span of this series — in fact, over the course of recent memory — there has not been a profile of a prominent leftist, or even a vaguely left-of-center activist.  Right-wing protests are lionized; left-wing protests scorned or condescended to.  A conservative has to be farther right than the John Birch society to be considered fringe; when a liberal leaves the comfortable “moderate zone” of pro-war, pro-civil union centrism, s/he is automatically tarred as a radical lunatic. And that isn’t even getting into the vastly complicated, factually overloaded argument about what the Post does and does not choose to publish.

Perhaps the Post is trying too hard to prove that it isn’t at fault for the “liberal media bias.”  Perhaps it’s overcompensating to deflect the accusations routinely slung.  Perhaps it’s being spurred on by the success of the even more conservative Washington Times, or by the desire to seem like a provocateur in the wake of a Democratic administration.  Perhaps Republican writers are just easier to find in this town.  But whatever the reason, the Washington Post has left behind its noble investigative history, left behind the glory days of Woodward and Bernstein, and allowed itself to become — dare I say it? — an unthinking conservative rag.

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