The sale of the Washington Post is big news in the media world. The acquisition of the paper by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos could have an impact on its political orientation as well as the way it reports the news, but that is something we’ll learn more about in the months to come as the purchase is finalized and the new owner installs a new management team or keeps the existing crew in place. But the main conclusion we can draw from the coverage of this event has less to do with the decline in readership that made the sale necessary than with the self-infatuation of the staff of this once-iconic daily.
Our John Podhoretz summed up the situation nicely when he noted today in the New York Post that the shift in ownership showed how the mighty are fallen. The Washington Post once lorded it over the media world of the capital with a sneering liberal prejudice that was emblematic of the bias that characterized the mainstream press of the pre-Internet era. But like every other daily that stopped being a cash cow when classified and other forms of print advertising began to dry up, the Post is just another remnant of what Rush Limbaugh aptly termed the “dead tree” media. Yet instead of soul searching about how such publications must change or die, what we have gotten instead today is a non-stop orgy of praise for a paper and a management team that have obviously failed to keep up with a changing environment. While we don’t doubt that publisher Donald Graham has his fans, the notion that he is the second coming of Sister Teresa—the official story we’ve been getting from the Post’s editors and columnists as they troop to MSNBC to sing his praises—is a bit much to take. Even more egregious was Post superstar Bob Woodward who sought to console his fellow staffers by saying that Bezos wasn’t another Rupert Murdoch. The Post should be so lucky.
After all, unlike the family that owned the Post, Murdoch has generally gone from success to success in the media business and even those of his properties that are not financial powerhouses have been kept going in the name of providing alternate viewpoints to mainstream liberal echo chambers.
The willingness to take a shot at this outsider even at a moment when one of the flagships of the liberal establishment is changing hands tells us everything we need to know about the self-infatuation of the Post’s inner circle.
Instead of spending this day celebrating themselves for journalistic achievements of the past, as the WaPo and its fans are doing today, they might do better to ponder why they have been surpassed by a number of websites that provide stronger reporting on the government and politics than they have done in decades.
Anyone who wants to memorialize the Post’s golden age can just watch All the President’s Men again. Let’s hope Bezos does help revive the WaPo. But that will likely require him to think more like Murdoch than the Grahams. He should also tell the people that now work for him to stop praising themselves and start thinking about how to compete for readers.