Once there's a new president -- or governor or city council chairman -- one of the dominant rules of journalism kicks in: Question authority. Journalists love a good fight or a scandal. Republican readers today forget the aggressive coverage The Post gave to Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky affair.And readers of a more liberal persuasion remember all too well that the WaPo's coverage of the Lewinsky scandal in 1998 was far more aggressive and all-encompassing than the WaPo's coverage of all the Bush scandals put together - scandals that were much more serious. Question authority? When it comes to Bush, the WaPo has given him the benefit of every doubt. (Until just the past few months, when it's admitted - too late to need to actually do any investigative reporting - that his Presidency has been an unmitigated disaster.)
Journalists question the powerful, often side with the underdog and love the new more than the old. The new politician is more interesting. Bill Clinton over George H.W. Bush. George W. Bush over Al Gore. That shows in Post political coverage this year. Barack Obama is the new thing. So is Sarah Palin. They get more ink.Yeah, I remember how intensely the WaPo scrutinized Bush when he first took office. (Oh, wait.)
OK, let's give the WaPo a do-over. Take the new and interesting Sarah Palin's Troopergate scandal, which one would think would have entirely disqualified her from being the Vice-President. It was a one-day story in the WaPo. Guess that new candidate doesn't get such aggressive coverage after all.
One of the great things about journalism in this country -- yesterday and today -- is that it's hard to suppress a story that needs to be done.Like the way the WaPo ignored, for many months, the story of the seven U.S. Attorneys who were fired because they weren't willing to prosecute essentially nonexistent vote-fraud cases in 2006. Or the way the WaPo yawned at the Scooter Libby trial, and Bush's pardon of Libby.
When I came to this job in October 2005, I heard more from Democrats who thought The Post was in George W. Bush's back pocket. The Post was "Bush's stenographer." Now I hear mainly from Republicans who think The Post is trying to elect Barack Obama president.The WaPo was Bush's stenographer. Nobody's bothering to write in about it anymore, because Bush is pretty much irrelevant right now; nobody's paying attention to whether the WaPo is Bush's stenographer anymore, because it doesn't matter.
There's a reason I call Deborah Howell the Washington Post Apologist.