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Eric Alterman Headshot

Think Again: The Washington Post, Trumped

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Remember the days when Osama was still alive?

If you want a perfect pictorial image of almost everything that's wrong with the contemporary elite media in the age of Obama, you could do a lot worse than to focus on the sight of carrot-topped megalomaniacal billionaire Donald Trump, seated as an honored guest of The Washington Post at the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner. Both Obama and comedian Seth Meyers went to town on him, and the surrounding journalists guffawed and applauded madly. Thing is, without all those smart, sophisticated reporters and editors applauding their superior common sense, Trump's hysterical ravings about Obama's birth certificate wouldn't have mattered at all. As David Axelrod told Meet the Press, "Donald Trump didn't make the decision to put himself on a split screen. Donald Trump didn't make the decision to cover this over and over and over again, once he raised the issue."

But turn away, if you can, from the frowny-faced clown image of Trump and ask yourself this: What in the world was he doing being given an honored place at The Washington Post's table? Just two days earlier, the paper's editors had complained that Trump had been raising a "bogus" issue and should "cease and desist." Its news pages noted that his attacks on Obama were "simply wild speculation" with "almost no basis in fact." (The "almost" is journalistic posterior-covering.)

A similar phenomenon can be found on the paper's op-ed page. Just last month, the paper's editorial page editor Fred Hiatt authored a column strongly critical of those Republican politicians he accused of engaging in "climate change denialism" as part of what he termed the new "catechism." But as CAP Action Fund's Matt Yglesias pointed out, while Congress was debating the Obama "cap and trade" plan in 2009, Hiatt published six separate columns by George Will passing along much of the same disinformation back when, legislatively speaking, it mattered. When experts complained, and the newspaper itself reported Will's conclusions to be unfounded, Hiatt defended Will's right to misinform. "Do I think it's somehow dangerous to have one of our many columnists casting doubt on this consensus? No, I think it's healthy." In addition, he published an op-ed by Sarah Palin in which she asserted--again, in opposition to available evidence in 2009--"we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes."

Donald Trump and George Will don't have much in common save the fact that both are selling peculiarly dangerous forms of snake oil and are doing so with the imprimateur of The Washington Post. In my last Nation column, I wrote about the deeply questionable business dealings of The Washington Post Company together with the newspaper's editorial enthusiasm for its company's profit center, the Kaplan Education Company. But a second, no less disturbing trend at the Post that has accelerated under the leadership of publisher Katherine Weymouth and editor Marcus Brauchli--as evidenced by the above--has been its sometimes desperate desire to court conservatives, regardless of what its editors know to be true. Brauchli sent a clear message to his troops when, following the release of the James O'Keefe-Andrew Breitbart doctored ACORN videos, he complained, "We are not well-enough informed about conservative issues. It's particularly a problem in a town so dominated by Democrats and the Democratic point of view."

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