In what could be described as the biggest non-surprise of the 2009 Virginia gubernatorial election, the Washington Post on Sunday endorsed Creigh Deeds, the Democratic candidate that its news section has been touting for months. Beginning in late August, the Post ran numerous hit pieces, 12 in the first 11 days, against Republican Bob McDonnell for a 20 year-old college thesis.
The massive, 1391 word editorial slashed Republican Bob McDonnell’s "intolerant" social positions. Readers could be forgiven for asking if this endorsement was really necessary. On August 30, the Post first inserted itself into the Virginia election by declaring, "'89 Thesis A Different Side of McDonnell." The piece by Amy Gardner tried to link McDonnell’s two decade-old Regent University thesis on marriage and the family to some sort of far right agenda:
"During his 14 years in the General Assembly, McDonnell pursued at least 10 of the policy goals he laid out in that research paper, including abortion restrictions, covenant marriage, school vouchers and tax policies to favor his view of the traditional family."
The editorial on Sunday struck a remarkably similar tone:
Based on his 14-year record as a lawmaker -- a record dominated by his focus on incendiary wedge issues -- we worry that Mr. McDonnell's Virginia would be one where abortion rights would be curtailed; where homosexuals would be treated as second-class citizens; where information about birth control would be hidden; and where the line between church and state could get awfully porous. That is a prescription for yesterday's Virginia, not tomorrow's.
[Emphasis added.] Again, why, exactly, did the Post spend an entire page slamming McDonnell and endorsing Deeds? Executive Editor Marcus W. Brauchli made his paper’s choice clear several months ago.
When the thesis story first broke, in an attempt to create controversy (and an issue for State Senator Deeds), the Post churned out six articles in four days on the subject.
On September 1, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, Gardner and two colleagues trumpeted, "Governor's Race Erupts Over McDonnell's Past Views." By September 3, the Post had produced nine stories in five days. That day’s paper also featured a headline that clearly expressed how far the liberal outlet would go in carrying water for the Democrat: "McDonnell's Thesis Is Relevant, Deeds Says: 1989 Paper Highlights Candidates' Differences, Senator Says."
Throughout the campaign, the Post downplayed negative developments for Deeds. On September 25, the paper buried in the Metro section the decision by the popular ex-Democratic governor of Virginia, Douglas Wilder, to not endorse his party’s current candidate.
On October 11, staff writer Michael Leahy’s page one bio of McDonnell featured this loaded headline: "McDonnell: A Razor-Sharp but Selective Memory."
The lengthy piece rehashed, yet again, the thesis issue. Leahy closed the article by speculating on the doubts that voters supposedly have about McDonnell:
If the poll numbers are a reliable indicator, some uncertain voters are still trying to reconcile the different parts of him -- the determined boy of Bishop Ireton, the passionate idealist of Regent, and this gray-haired, grinning 55-year-old in a restaurant. McDonnell's challenge in the campaign's final three weeks is to reveal himself for undecided Virginians as someone other than an enigma who wrote a paper.
Of course, Virginia polls have consistently shown McDonnell with a large lead. The Post adopted a similar strategy during the 2006 Senate race that saw George Allen go down to defeat over his "Macaca" moment. Perhaps voters are just no longer listening to this reliably liberal newspaper.