Gone forever is the Washington Post of Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee. The new Washington Post reflects the world and values of Fred Hiatt and Katherine Weymouth. As Ken Silverstein noted on Thursday, the paper has emerged as the Village’s Lady of Loose Virtues; not only does she report on the world of the Beltway, she fully reflects its compromised values. Senior WaPo editors hit upon a new way to raise revenue: they decided to sell access to political movers-and-shakers, pulling back from the scheme only when they noted the public outrage it provoked. The critical reception of this breathtaking act of journalistic pimpery is documented by Charles Kaiser. The Post’s dissembling in the face of accusations and its painfully involuntary path to corrective measures is chronicled by Melinda Henneberger, who concludes with a warranted call for an internal probe. But the sale of the Washington Post editorial page to players in the health care industry is nothing new. That territory was pioneered by WaPo’s “dean,” David Broder, as Ken Silverstein discovered a year back, who took trips and honoraria from health care groups and then wrote columns that reflected their interests.
The Post’s shameless effort to exploit the health-care crisis for profit won’t really surprise anyone who’s followed the WaPo’s editorial pages for the last eight years. In what Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein noted was the most corrupt epoch in American political history, the WaPo editorial page consistently failed to find a voice of outrage. With the arrival of the Obama team, the rate of decay has noticeably accelerated. The paper is busy establishing itself as the nation’s remainder bin for tired Neocons. Editors like Jackson Diehl and Fred Hiatt, who worked feverishly to sell America on the necessity of invading Iraq, now beat the drums loudly for their new project, the bombing of Iran. Indeed, only a few days ago John Bolton, now a regular for WaPo (along with Paul Wolfowitz, Charles Krauthammer and William Kristol), argued why the Green Revolution helps make the case for bombing Iran.
Significantly, the uprising in Iran also makes it more likely that an effective public diplomacy campaign could be waged in the country to explain to Iranians that [a bombing of Iranian sites] is directed against the regime, not against the Iranian people. This was always true, but it has become even more important to make this case emphatically, when the gulf between the Islamic revolution of 1979 and the citizens of Iran has never been clearer or wider. Military action against Iran’s nuclear program and the ultimate goal of regime change can be worked together consistently.
Could we imagine clearer evidence of the Neocons’ limitless capacity for self-delusion? In the Neocon world, every new historical development is twisted to serve a preconceived goal. With Hiatt’s blessing, Bolton is arguing that the Iranians will welcome all those bombs falling in their midst, as an agency of revolutionary change. But this is no more delusional than comparable editorials that filled the op-ed pages of the Post in the run-up to the Iraq War.
What lessons did WaPo’s Neocon management learn from the Iraq experience? That can be answered simply. They learned that it is useful to silence the voices who called them on their lies and distortions. That explains the firing of Dan Froomkin, which the paper’s ombudsman has labored–very unconvincingly–to portray as an economically-motivated decision. (Of course–in the midst of a downturn, the answer is to fire the web writer who brings in the heaviest traffic, and bring aboard a writer who was laid off by the Times for embarrassing sloppiness and errors).
But aside from its embarrassing editorial page, the Post has some of the best investigative reporters in the business. It’s a national institution. It needs to be salvaged. There’s an obvious solution. That’s to bring back the likes of Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee. They have worthy successors in the world of the media; the trick is to find them.