Howard Kurtz opens up the lid on the Washington Post today having internal discussions about the future of the newspaper. But get a load of this passage:
On Thursday, Book World Editor Marie Arana, noting that she had been "a Young Republican at 15, a marching SDSer at 20, and roundly disgusted by the blue-team, red-team political dialogue by the time I turned 30," criticized an article on what was called a "stealth evangelism" festival by saying: "The elephant in the newsroom is our narrowness. Too often, we wear liberalism on our sleeve and are intolerant of other lifestyles and opinions. . . . We're not very subtle about it at this paper: If you work here, you must be one of us. You must be liberal, progressive, a Democrat. I've been in communal gatherings in The Post, watching election returns, and have been flabbergasted to see my colleagues cheer unabashedly for the Democrats."
[Executive Editor Len] Downie says he is concerned if some staffers are openly displaying political preferences but that Arana's comments were valuable and "made clear that we do have a diverse staff when it comes to ideological backgrounds."
Um, that's a little Orwellian, don't you think? The fact that one person says we're overwhelmingly cheering for the Democrats shows we're not overwhelmingly one-sided? Actually, spending some time with Arana's Book World section will reveal it's not exactly great proof of ideological diversity at the Post.
UPDATE: Kurtz's online chat today included questions about Arana from three inquiring minds:
1. Silver Spring, Md.: Kudos to TWP for having the chutzpah to encourage employee criticism. Many times ideas of greatness are brought by the great unwashed (so to speak). I do have one comment on your article though. In the last paragraph, quoting Leonard Downie as saying the reporter's comments prove we have a diverse staff, I would have drawn the opposite conclusion. That is, to paraphrase, we have a staff that is markedly pro-progressive (or whatever the democrats are calling themselves today) and not enough conservative reporters? Maybe I missed the context of the quote?
Howard Kurtz: That's certainly what Book World Editor Marie Arana meant, but Len Downie chose to emphasize the fact that she made the rather sharp criticism, thereby demonstrating that not everyone at The Post thinks alike. Just from a management point of view, it's an interesting experiment to institutionalize the kind of daily criticism by employees that goes on in private conversations and around the water cooler.
2. New York, N.Y.: The remarks from your Book World editor are revelatory. I guess we now know why the Book Review has been using right leaning reviewers with such frequency. It's apparent she has returned to her 15 year old roots - that often happens to people who make extreme conversions (joining the SDS indeed!). As for her assessment that The Post leans way left, that was never true and certainly is not true today. I would call it moderate to center right but the stakes have been moved so often in the last few years that a moderate might seem like a progressive these days.
Howard Kurtz: Without adopting your thesis that Book World reviewers lean to one side--and there are several editors in that section, not just Marie--I'd say this is one heckuva interesting debate to have.
3. Baltimore, Md.: Howard - Marie Arana's comments supported what many of us believe - that Post reporters are to the left side of the scale. Great example -Dana Milbank, also mentioned in your column, can't seem to keep the smile off his face or glee from his voice when he appears on MSNBC to bash Bush. Would it be practical to have an honestly unbiased in-house person or committee read news stories for obvious bias and then to replace reporters who can't be objective?
Howard Kurtz: I don't agree with you on Dana, but how exactly does a news organization pick an "honestly unbiased in-house person"? What if not everyone agrees that this person is unbiased?