Two newspapers set the agenda for the rest of the media: The Washington Post and The New York Times. The stories they break, the play they give them, and the way they characterize candidates, events, and issues are usually adopted by both print and broadcast reporters.
As a Christmas gift, I am happy to report that one of those newspapers — The Washington Post — appears to have discarded its liberal slant and become a fair newspaper.
As a Washington Post reporter from 1970 to 1985, I have been dismayed by the way the paper, along with much of the rest of the media, became openly partisan during the Bush administration. I cite examples of unfair coverage of Bush initiatives in my books on the war on terror, on Laura Bush, and on George W. Bush. I guarantee that if we had written stories like that during the Watergate days, Executive Editor Ben Bradlee would have fired us.
But since Katharine Weymouth, a granddaughter of former Post Chairman Katharine Graham, became publisher a year ago, the paper has steadily become more fair. A graduate of Harvard College and Stanford Law School, she practiced law at Williams & Connolly in Washington prior to coming to the Post. After Weymouth named former Wall Street Journal Editor Marcus Brauchli executive editor last September, the switch to more balanced coverage became even more noticeable.
No longer do I pick up the paper to find slanted stories that suppress or ignore the other side or that mischaracterize issues to further a liberal agenda. Instead, honesty has been restored to the coverage. It has become more probing and interesting as well.
Last week, the lead story on Page One was, “Charter Schools Make Gains on Tests.” Prior to Brauchli’s takeover, it would have been unthinkable for the paper to highlight that a pet Republican approach to education was successful. When conservative icon Paul Weyrich died last week, the Post ran the story under a three-column headline on Page One. In contrast, The New York Times ran a story on page B11.
Now when Post stories report problems, the subheads often cite countervailing progress. “Although U.S.-Run Detention Centers Have Vastly Improved Since the Abu Ghraib Scandal, No System Has Been Developed to Determine Who Is Guilty,” a Dec. 6 Page One subhead said.
Most important, the hit jobs that mischaracterized Bush administration programs, especially involving the war on terror, have vanished.
The editorial page, which continues to report to Don Graham, chairman and CEO of The Washington Post Company, has also become more fair-minded. Every day, the Bush White House e-mails friendlies a morning update. These days, it is not uncommon for the update to cite Washington Post editorials or Op-Eds. Last week, for example, a headline in the update said, “The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl Praises President Bush for Meeting with Political Dissidents.” Diehl is the Post’s deputy editorial page editor.
Post insiders tell me Brauchli has not issued any edicts about fairness, but clearly he is setting a different tone and leading by example through his editing and choice of stories and play.
Conservatives have taken notice. Brad Blakeman, a Republican strategist who is a former Bush White House aide, says he is pleased to have observed the change.
In the long run, fair and balanced coverage should help the Post’s financial prospects as it earns back trust.
Josh Bolten’s 'Fatboy'
On Inauguration Day, White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten will be giving up more than his corner office in the west wing: He will be giving up his prized Secret Service codename, Fatboy.
Bolten was somewhat surprised when I mentioned the codename to him at the White House holiday party for the press, but he quickly owned up to it.
When assigning codenames to protectees, the Secret Service starts with a random list of words, all beginning with the same letter for each family. The codenames were once necessary because Secret Service radio transmissions were not encrypted. Now that they are, the Secret Service continues to use codenames to avoid confusion when pronouncing the names of protectees. In addition, by using codenames, agents prevent people from overhearing the subject of their conversations.
Produced by the White House Communications Agency, the list of codenames excludes words that may be offensive or easily mistaken for other words. However, those under protection may object to a codename and propose another. Thus, Lynne Cheney, a prolific author, asked for and was given the Secret Service codename Author. Dick Cheney, an avid fisherman, got the codename Angler.
Bush objected to Tumbler, the codename he was initially assigned. Perhaps it reminded him of his drinking days. Instead, he chose Trailblazer.
Barack Obama — codenamed Renegade — and Michelle Obama — codenamed Renaissance — accepted the codenames they were given.
Fat Boy — spelled out as two words — refers to the model of Bolten’s silver-and-black Harley-Davidson. Bolten’s codename is one word. His predecessor Andy Card had been Patriot, a codename the Secret Service chose because Card did not like Potomac, the codename traditionally assigned to the White House chief of staff.
“My Secret Service detail loves the codename — even the female agents, who end up getting called Fatgirls,” Bolten told me.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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