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November 27, 2007

The Horrible, Horrible Humans Of Washington, D.C.

From a new interview with Benjamin Bradlee:

KAISER: [T]hat's the problem—that we have this gigantic defense establishment. I think we now spend more on defense than all the other countries in the world...isn't that a little ridiculous?

BRADLEE: It is—this isn't my field of expertise. My president wouldn't do that. But on the other hand, my presidents have done that—so I don't know how to get out of that one.

Yes...why would it be Bradlee's field of expertise? I mean, he was only AMERICA'S MOST POWERFUL NEWSPAPER EDITOR AT THE HEIGHT OF THE COLD WAR. Why would he focus on a tangential issue like that? Or even know the minimum necessary to have an opinion on it?

And obviously Bradlee's instincts have stood the test of time. I mean, look at what a journalistic powerhouse the Washington Post is today.

BUT SERIOUSLY: Of course it isn't Bradlee's field of expertise or even something he appears to have the vaguest interest in. If he were the kind of person who was interested in things that genuinely matter, he would never have been editor of the Washington Post.

ALSO: When asked about Rupert Murdoch buying the Wall Street Journal, Bradlee says, "I don't worry about it. I think Murdoch is a better journalist than the rest of you do." Yes, I'm sure he does.

Posted at November 27, 2007 05:33 PM

Bradlee's Olympian detachment has to be seen to be believed. From the questions immediately before and after the one you quoted:

Do you think we'll still be in Iraq into the next Administration?
I don't know. It seems to me we have to do one of these things at all times to keep the standing army in good condition.
Are you surprised the Washington Post [editorial page] has supported this fucking war for so long?
Oh, we always do. We like wars. How long do you think we supported Vietnam?

Is this supposed to be amusing? Or ironic? Or is the guy really a monster?

Posted by: SteveB at November 27, 2007 06:13 PM

Yes, I liked that too. I'm just a hard-bitten plain-spoken wised-up old-fashioned newspaperman who tells it like it is and also I made $17 million from my Washington Post stock options.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at November 27, 2007 06:22 PM

So I guess "hard-bitten plain-spoken wised-up old-fashioned newspapermen" follow the same code as fourteen-year-olds: that it's "uncool" to give a shit about anything. Must be that "objectivity" thing they're always going on about.

Posted by: SteveB at November 27, 2007 06:34 PM

Bradlee and wifey, former Style Section mistress of deliciciouly nasty gossip Sally Smith, thrive in the insy-poo world of the Georgetown establihment. They hated Nixon because he was sooo un-Ivy and uncool and they hated the Clintons for similar shortcomings.
Serious? That's for nerds from the U of Chicago or lefti or conservative eggheads. For us, whose parties you get invited to is what matters.
Katharine Graham was his mentor, the Lady Astor of DC. The Post's tributes to her after her funeral were full of praise for her love of the "little people." They really used those words.
DC is one swampy plantation, doncha kinow.

Posted by: donescobar at November 27, 2007 07:51 PM

Dear Jonathan -- You had to be there, I guess, but being a reporter in the glory years when Bradlee was editor were maybe the best time ever to be a reporter on major newspaper. He was as non-political as he sounds, but loved poking a thumb in the political establishment's eye, regardless of party or ideology. Reporters thrived on the freedom or were scared by it.

Blaming the Post today on Bradlee is a cheap shot and misguided. The uptight newspaper today in no way resembled what he created.

Other than that, I enjoy you rants. best, Bill

Posted by: Bill Greider at November 27, 2007 09:32 PM

There is this myth in the land that newspapers are purveyors of truth and goodness, when actually they are merely the conveyance of advertising into the hands of buying prospects. Advertisers, whose rates are proportional to circulation, pay the bills (and the profit), not subscribers, and they demand a readership that's in a buying mood and capable of buying. That's the job of the editor. So it's Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching As To War (which is a racket). A rising war-based economy lifts all boats, even WaPo's, and puts more cash in readers' hands so they can buy more stuff that's advertised in the paper, and everybody's happy, everybody that counts.

Posted by: Don Bacon at November 27, 2007 11:35 PM

Give WaPo something GREAT to write about. Call Nancy @1-202-225-0100 and DEMAND IMPEACHMENT.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at November 27, 2007 11:47 PM

Wow, and I thought I was cynical. Sure, it's all about selling our eyeballs to their advertisers, but don't you think some reporters are atually motivated by a desire to learn and present the truth? I think of Bartlett and Steele, when they were writing for the Inquirer, or even those two guys who wrote for the Post a while back, Redford and Hoffman, I think their names were.

This ideal, however tarnished, may yet inspire some young reporter to do good work, so I'm not quite ready to throw it away entirely.

Posted by: SteveB at November 27, 2007 11:51 PM

William Greider:

You had to be there, I guess, but being a reporter in the glory years when Bradlee was editor were maybe the best time ever to be a reporter on major newspaper. He was as non-political as he sounds, but loved poking a thumb in the political establishment's eye, regardless of party or ideology. Reporters thrived on the freedom or were scared by it.

Blaming the Post today on Bradlee is a cheap shot and misguided. The uptight newspaper today in no way resembled what he created.

I don't know. I'm sure it was better than a big newspaper has ever been before or since. But in retrospect it looks to me like that had much more to do with the historical moment than Bradlee. (Though I accept there are many, many people who if editor would have tried to squelch things instead of giving them a little room to breath.)

Also, I do absolutely think he bears significant responsibility for the Washington Post today. I mean, he was editor of it for twenty-six years, ending in 1991. He's still a "Vice President" there, whatever that means. He was close friends with the owner. I don't see how ANY one individual other than the current editor and owner could have more influence.

Moreover, if he doesn't like it today, he certainly has the reputation and connections to do something else, or at least support other things. Or even just loudly criticize the current regime, both inside and outside. If he's really such a great editor, he would have tried that after retiring rather than just going to parties.

Finally, add that all together with the fact he's personally profited immensely from the current institution. I give him a thumbs down.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at November 28, 2007 12:59 AM

A must read on this general topic is Norman Solomon's War Made Easy, How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us To Death. The US media is a propaganda arm of the Pentagon, with the NYT and the WaPo at the lead in print media promoting war. A reporter might buck the system; Solomon mentions a couple. But the majority get with the program. Chris Hedges covered the Gulf War for the NYT: "The notion that the press was used in the war is incorrect. The press wanted to be used. It saw itself as part of the war effort". (p.120)

Posted by: Don Bacon at November 28, 2007 02:02 AM

It seems like there's a vogue of dodging questions by feigning ignorance and exaggerating the difficulty of the subject. Like, "Well, I could tell you about this, but I haven't done my PhD dissertation on the subject, so I'm really not qualified to express an opinion." Between that and "I can't recall" it's a miracle we learn anything at all.

Posted by: saurabh at November 28, 2007 07:19 AM

The Post has done pretty much the same thing the NYT has done: made "lifestyle" the mind and heart of the paper. Both are following the inclination of its core readership--upper middle class twits of DC/MD/VA--or in NYC, the Upper (West/East) Sides.
They deserve the papers they get. They're not complaining. Shucks, the NYT has a "Style" section twice a week now and at the Post it's the most important part of the paper everyday. Enjoy!

Posted by: donescobar at November 28, 2007 08:47 AM

Seems as good a time as any to recall this quote from former Post publisher Katherine Graham:
"There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn't. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows."

Well, she surely would be jumping for joy today.

Posted by: catherine at November 28, 2007 11:29 AM

Donescobar is right about the demographic the NYT wants to have. Currently they're running an oh-so-precious ad with several attractive young witty affluent types raving about the NYT, how it's a gateway to understanding the world, and also a great place to find out about stylish footwear.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at November 28, 2007 12:19 PM

I saw Bradlee at the Kennedy Library within the past couple of years when he was a panelist/guest along with Don Hewitt of CBS' 60 Minutes discussing "journalism" and after it was over the first words I said to my companions who had accompanied me to the forum were " we just saw Smug and Smugger"

I have never seen 2 men act or give voice to the opinion that their s*** does not stink as I saw those 2 men.

The audince challenged the Iraq war coverage( this was well before Scooter Libby's lunch with Judith Miller was known) and Bradlee was especially effusive in praise of Judith Miller's coverage.

When pressed by citizen after citizen about coverage in regard to the runup to the war and later of the war itself they resorted to the fall back line "Well this is Boston..." as if we are all a ittle weird because we live in the "liberal zone".

Smug and smugger

Uhh.... what a waste of an early evening listening to those 2.

Posted by: Susan H at November 28, 2007 03:09 PM

It might be remembered that the biggest story during Bradlee's reign at the Washington Post -- Watergate -- emanated not from the world, national or political desks, but from Woodward and Bernstein, novices stuck in the Metro section. In fact, most of the Washignton insider 'journalists' wanted nothing to do with the Watergate tale, and tried to discourage Bradlee from running it.

I've also heard that Bradlee was going to kill the Watergate series, but, by then, the NY Times had picked it up and he couldn't let them 'scoop' his paper.

There is an apt name for both the politicians and their handmaidens in the Beltway media, a name provided by Bill Allen and the VECO Corp. crooks in Alaska, shown on videos on last week's PBS NOW cackling over their ownership of most of Alaska's prominent GOP politicians: The Corrupt Bastards Club.

As a little private joke, Allen had ballcaps with 'CBC' distributed to his 'employees' in the state legislature; I think we should do the same for our American aristocracy in Washington, and we should start by sending 'CBC' caps to the editorial board of the Washington Post first.

Posted by: RS Janes at November 28, 2007 07:46 PM