WashPost Ombudsman Takes Conservative Side: Post Opinion Pages Too Dominated by Liberals

Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton explored conservative dissatisfaction with the national news in polls and then wondered if the Post’s own columnist corps didn’t lean dramatically to the left: “The Post should first be about news without slant. If The Post wants to wrap its news in commentary, fine, but shouldn’t some of those voices then be conservative?”

He listed all the “progressives” the Post was planting throughout the paper:

With the exception of Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza, who cover politics in a nonpartisan way [?], the news columnists almost to a person write from left of center.

Ezra Klein of Wonkblog comes out of the Democratic left, fills in for Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz on MSNBC and sometimes appears in the printed Post on the front page.

Steven Pearlstein, who covers business and also appears occasionally on the front page; Walter Pincus on national security; Lisa Miller of the On Faith blog; Melinda Henneberger of She the People; Valerie Strauss, the education blogger; plus the three main local columnists — Robert McCartney, Petula Dvorak and Courtland Milloy — all generally write from a progressive perspective, readers say. (So does Dana Milbank, who works for the Opinions section but writes a column that appears on Page A2 twice a week.)

Is it any wonder that if you’re a conservative looking for unbiased news — and they do; they don’t want only Sean Hannity’s interpretation of the news — that you might feel unwelcome, or dissed or slighted, by the printed Post or the online version? And might you distrust the news when it’s wrapped in so much liberal commentary?

Post executive editor Marcus Brauchli offered his opinion: Don’t blame the Post. Blame conservatives who just haven’t been paying attention until this year. (He actually claimed that.)

Marcus Brauchli, The Post’s executive editor, said conservative readers may perceive that recent coverage of Romney is too tough because they’ve missed a lot of the coverage of Obama in the past four years. “We’ve been covering Barack Obama aggressively for years,” Brauchli said. “We’ve only been covering Mitt Romney deeply since he became the Republican nominee. We cover politics in an even-handed way, and Dan Balz, Chris Cillizza, Karen Tumulty, Glenn Kessler and our other reporters do a terrific job of delivering the news without slant. Between the columnists on the editorial page and the commentators on the news pages, I believe The Post offers readers a balanced perspective.”

Let's imagine that the reporters were completely unbiased. Even if they were, that's not a balanced perspective, in the sense that you'd read unopinionated news and liberal-dominated commentary. But Pexton isn't going to steam Brauchli by returning to the scene of  a few previous bias controversies:

-- In May, Pexton touted the Post’s Romney-pinned-down-a-kid-for-a-haircut “scoop” as a “deeply reported story” that “holds up to scrutiny.” But the family of the haircut victims told ABC it was “factually inaccurate” and it shouldn’t be used as a political football. Pexton said nonsense: the Post has received “no specific complaint of inaccuracy.”

Perhaps more shocking is that the Post shamelessly admitted they timed this story precisely to echo on the day after President Obama’s big pro-gay announcement. They actually waited a day longer than planned to let Obama have the front page to himself when he was being “historic.”

-- I also noted that while Romney's high-school-bully narrative was being branded into his political flesh, "As might be expected, a Nexis search of 'Obama' and 'Punahou' brings out mostly laudatory references to his high school basketball career. The seven stories in the sample have no critics of young Obama, but plenty of oozing sympathy for his fatherless plight."  

-- Then in June, Noel Sheppard reported that after the Washington Post "published a 5,400 word front page hit piece on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's high school years the Post devoted 5,500 words, beginning on the front page of the sports section, to an excerpt of David Maraniss's new book with the headline 'President Obama’s Love for Basketball Can be Traced Back to His High School Team.'"

Brauchli's problem is NOT that conservatives aren't reading the paper's Obama coverage. The problem is the Post's syrupy Obama coverage.

-- In a column last October on Rick Perry and the Post's “N-head” painted-rock “investigative” hullaballoo, Pexton just circled his wagon and made excuses for the newspaper. “If the seven sources The Post relied on for this article are truthful, then Perry is lying or is badly misinformed about when the rock was painted,” insisted Pexton. But what if the seven anonymous sources are lying or badly misinformed? What if some are Obama voters or financial backers? The Post threw the biggest rock they can at a Republican – racism, as in casual acquiescence to the N-word – without telling the public who was behind it.

We asked how many stories did national editor Kevin Merida assign when Rep. Andre Carson said at the end of August that the Tea Party protesters wanted to see blacks lynched? The Post published no story. Did that build trust that the Post publishes every story on the race beat?

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis