The Washington Post Is Having a Bad Year... This Week

(Patrick Connolly/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

A once-proud bastion of journalism, WaPo has devolved into a clown show.

It is the paper built on the heritage of Woodward and Bernstein, of the Watergate scandal and the Pentagon Papers. Names like Ben Bradlee and Katherine Graham hang above Washington, D.C., to this day. Movies have been made centered on the Washington Post newsroom. 


But today, the news outlet is closer to resembling a three-camera comedy filmed before a live studio audience. Once regarded as the paper of record in our nation’s capital, it has become in recent years a source of mockery. What had previously been seen as the paragon of journalism is today a case study of media mirth.

It’s where Jennifer Rubin pens pieces that would be embarrassing to anyone in possession of the ability to feel shame. It is where the truth-averse Glenn Kessler plies his trade as a ‘fact’-checker, and Max Boot rewrites the same column-once a week-decrying Trump and the Republicans. Today, reading the paper is like visiting a home that has not updated the photos on the mantle since the 1980s, a place with framed accomplishments from generations past, and dotted with trophies from long-matriculated schools. 

As morosely comical as things have become, this week was especially bad for the Post. Things began poorly with a strained attempt to deflect the nation’s horrendous economic conditions away from the president. In pieces dripping with condescension and bolstered with sub-Schoolhouse Rock animation, you could almost feel them patting readers on the head as the overarching message they were delivering was, “Don’t blame Joe.” 


From there, things turned darkly comical. First, the jury returned a verdict on the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial-of-the-sedentary, and it proved to be a blight for the Post. At the center of the trial was an opinion piece Heard had written in the Post, and the jury found in favor of Depp concerning no fewer than three items of defamation she penned in the column.

This prompted the paper to tack on a lengthy Editor’s Note at the opening of the column, attesting that the things she had been found liable for were from the piece. The entire basis of this was that Heard pledged to donate millions of dollars to the ACLU, and the organization had ghostwritten the column, leading to Depp filing his defamation suit. It is a remarkable development for a major paper to declare it printed the item that was found libelous in court.

At the same time, a shooting took place at a Tulsa hospital, and the coverage in the Post veered from the hysterical to the slanderous. A former patient, distraught over lingering pain, sought out his doctor and killed him, as well as others in the hospital, before taking his own life. The Post framed the entire episode around race, citing the infamous Tulsa race riot, which the governor described as hatred. Never mentioned in the piece: the race of the shooter, who was a black man. As I mentioned on my latest “The Lie-Able Sources” podcast, the gun narrative was clearly written beforehand and the details had to be rearranged–once they realized there were inconvenient facts.


Then on Friday, even more asinine drama unspooled. First, there were hysterics, when writer Dave Weigel did the unthinkable: He retweeted someone’s tasteless joke. This completely innocuous move was blown up by a co-worker, Felicia Sonmez. Not only did she find a way to become offended by something completely divorced from her, but she also took to social media to out Weigel as some kind of social aggressor.

The paper was actually compelled to respond, with Weigel forced to apologize, and no one at the Post was grownup enough to see the sheer idiocy of this episode over a joke that Weigel never told.

Then came the real humiliation for the masthead, from that perpetual source of embarrassment, Taylor Lorenz. In her latest article, the writer was covering video accounts that experienced traffic surges and revenue benefits by posting videos from the Depp-Heard trial. The recidivist fabulist Lorenz was exposed as having claimed to have reached out to a number of the account holders, who had not in fact been contacted. She had also misattributed details about these accounts in her article, leading to more shame on the paper.

First, the Post stealth-edited the article to correct the inaccuracies, then after being contacted by Fox News on the matter, a formal correction was issued. Then, in amazing fashion, a second and lengthier correction had to be issued that night. Numerous aspects of the article had to be changed; three people whom Lorenz asserted were contacted had not been, and the specifics behind a number of claims needed correcting. This was a trainwreck of a piece, and the Post appears content to cover for this reporter with a track record of problems.


These would be astounding issues for a news outlet to experience over a course of time. To see all of the above playing out in a matter of days–within a truncated week–is head-spinning. Making it all the worse is that it is a paper that used to lodge in the firmament of news organizations. Yet, the Washington Post is displaying a level of internal dysfunction one might expect from a tabloid weekly.


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