Whose Washington Post Will It Be?
It was a pleasant surprise when the Washington Post added Radley Balko as an opinion blogger, a surprise which was compounded when they soon after announced the Volokh Conspiracy would now publish under their banner. While both Balko and the many excellent law bloggers at Volokh bring a healthy dose of libertarianism to the Post, they have also injected some rare skepticism into the paper. Not only are they obviously skeptical of government, but they tend to approach all sources of authority with a healthy dose of skepticism. Why, they even direct it toward their own ideas, a novel concept at the Post.
This attitude contrasts with Washington Post relics like E.J. Dionne, whose hackneyed, partisan water-carrying tends to result in confused arguments and dishonest caricatures. To be sure, the Post has long counted George Will among its numbers, but the Dionne model has tended to dominate.
The two styles are perhaps the result of the environments in which they were crafted. Balko and the writers at Volokh honed their craft of commentary in an immensely crowded and competitive internet field, where name recognition meant squat. The quality of their individual work was paramount to their success, whereas the Washington Post and its assortment of writers have coasted on brand identification after its one significant achievement back during the Nixon Administration.
While the new additions are most welcome, I wonder whether or not they can ultimately co-exist with the close-mindedness of the old model. More importantly, I wonder which will ultimately win out, real investigative reporting or obsequious water-carrying for the powers that be? I hope it’s the former, as the New York Times has already called dibs on being the dead-tree version of MSNBC.
Ideological diversity is desirable, but it needn’t come at the expense of intellectual rigor. It is not necessary for the Washington Post to become a libertarian, anti-government mouthpiece. It just needs to dump the garbage. And while the acquisition of the paper by Jeff Bezos augurs well that the new additions might signal more than mere superficial reform, the J-school dominated news industry is still doggedly opposed to any challenge of elite media orthodoxy.