WaPo Editor's Liberal Tweets Again Belie Paper's Claims of Neutrality

May 9th, 2011 5:31 PM

In late 2009, the Washington Post's response to a tweet from its managing editor that betrayed a clear left-leaning worldview was to censor all of its employees for fear that they might betray their (gasp) opinions. A more sensible policy might have been to acknowledge that the paper is staffed by people who are, for the most part, liberals.

The same managing editor, Raju Narisetti - who has since added a strongly-worded statement to his twitter bio disclaiming his employer from any views expressed there - shot out a similar tweet on Monday, once again conveying his left-of-center views on major policy priorities. “Thought encounter of the day: ‘Would be good if our schools are fully funded and DoD has to hold a bake sale to buy its next fighter jet,'" Narisetti wrote.

The wisdom of that (facetious?) policy prescription is a debate for another forum. It should, however, remove any remaining doubt about Narisetti's political views. And while his tweet does not represent the Post's official position, it ought to give readers pause that someone with such obviously left-of-center views is in such a position of power at an ostensibly "objective" publication.

That liberalism is the dominant ideology in the Post's newsroom is not really a controversial or disputed claim. Even its former Ombudsman, Deborah Howell, acknowledged the political disparity. "I'll bet that most Post journalists voted for Obama," Howell wrote shortly after the 2008 election. "I know I did." She also noted the 3-to-1 ratio of front page stories on Obama and McCain, respectively, published by the Post during the campaign.

The leftward tilt at the Post is a microcosm of journalists' political views generally. Decades of survey data show that reporters overwhelmingly hold liberal views and vote for Democrats.

That does not mean that those reporters are not good journalists. It does mean that they are not objective. And who really is? We all have opinions, and confirmation biases inevitably color our tellings of even basic events. As Sir Francis Bacon, proverbial father of the scientific method, observed, "The human understanding, once it has adopted an opinion, … draws all things else to support and agree with it."

In 2009, the Post responded to Narisetti's Baconian slip by attempting to expunge opinion from the minds of its staff - by demanding they be superhuman, in other words. Narisetti, though he may not have been relaying the Post's official position, demonstrated on Monday the futility of that pursuit. Humans will have opinions. Journalists, by and large, have liberal ones.

Calls to replace objectivity with transparency as the overriding value of journalism recognize an inevitability: people who following the news for a living will form opinions about current events. As long as one is up front about one's biases, news consumers can make informed choices about what they wish to believe.

The Post and other self-proclaimed "objective" news outlets try desperately to maintain their status as neutral arbiters of political truth. Those who have no agenda, after all, have a unique claim to trustworthiness. But with each slip in the vein of Narisetti's, it becomes clearer how hollow the "objectivity" claim really is. The sooner the Post comes to grips with that reality, the sooner we can move on to discussing the merits of reporters' opinions, rather than harping on their mere existence.