Column: When the Media's Humility Died in Darkness

October 18th, 2023 5:55 AM

Insular media elites have a nasty habit of thinking they represent Democracy. They aren’t a half or a third of Democracy. They own it. Like they’ve trademarked it. Anyone who dares to attack them is attacking Democracy. The most obvious example is The Washington Post and their arrogant motto “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

As part of his “hail the conquering hero” tour of liberal media promoting his memoir Collision of Power, former Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron told NPR Fresh Air host Tonya Mosley he didn’t like the motto.

“I was a little skeptical of this, simply because it's not customary to have death and darkness in a motto. I don't think many marketers would say that’s a really good idea,” he said. “We tried using the word ‘light’ in various ways, but it sounded very self-aggrandizing. And it sounded a little cultish, actually.”

So “Democracy Dies in Darkness” doesn’t sound self-aggrandizing as your newspaper’s motto, which implies Democracy Dies Without Us. That doesn’t sound “cultish.”

Baron reports in his book that Bezos approved the motto after the internal favorite, “A Free People Demand to Know,” was rejected by Mackenzie Scott, then Mrs. Bezos. The marriage ended, but her favorite motto remained.      

For his part, Baron preferred a phrase from a Post photographer who died covering Ebola  – “the story must be told.” He thought it was “very powerful.” Yawn.

They put “Democracy Dies in Darkness” on the front page daily, “and it was an immediate phenomenon. I many people embraced it. Although Trump criticized it, his allies assailed it as being an attack on Trump and being targeted at Trump, which it never was....that motto or mission statement, as Bezos liked to call it, is still affixed to every product of The Washington Post. it didn’t go away when Trump left the White House.”

Well, Trump never went away, and the January 6 riot reinforced every superior feeling the liberal reporters ever had about embodying Democracy. Everyone knew the motto was anti-Trump, and applied more broadly to critics of the media’s aggressive attempts to destroy his presidency. That’s what made them heroes inside the progressive media silo.

The Post sold its arrogant motto on all kinds of merchandise: not just shirts, but baby onesies, blankets, car magnets, umbrellas, tote bags, winter scarves,  coffee mugs, and water bottles.

The motto was apparently something Bob Woodward, the legendary Nixon destroyer, had been saying for many years. None of them want to acknowledge that potentially career-ending investigative stories on powerful Democrats were often left to “die in darkness.” Bob Woodward was too bored to follow up, and so was everybody else working at 1301 K Street Northwest.

Under this motto in the fall of 2020, The Washington Post dumped buckets of skepticism on the Hunter Biden laptop. I called one Post article “a pitcher of Biden-Aid,” since it was all about the laptop’s suspicious provenance. There were 14 references to Rudy Giuliani, and only five uses of “Hunter Biden,” playing defense. The Post reporters lamented: “Efforts to tarnish Hunter Biden and by extension his father have been a focus of Trump’s campaign over the past year and a half.” The paper wouldn’t engage in any “efforts to tarnish” the Bidens.

Leftist reporters should have the humility to suggest they are just a part of democracy, and another part of democracy is people criticizing the crusading reporters. It’s a part of democracy to say The Washington Post is a pack of arrogant jerks seeking to destroy Republicans and elect Democrats. That viewpoint should never “die in darkness.”