Monday, April 27, 2009

The Washington Post’s Boy King

Former CBS anchor Walter Cronkite was once called “the voice of God.” And for some people, that’s how the Washington Post editorial page appears. After all, there’s the elegant masthead and logo, the rich tradition of legends like Bob Woodward and Ben Bradlee, all the Pulitzers (8 in 2008 alone) and the often excellent national and international reporting. So the editorials should carry some weight, right?

Not the ones about Montgomery County. Because their until-now anonymous writer is a 23-year-old intern who has never lived in Maryland and is less than a year out of college.

Steven Stein is a Los Angeles native and current Virginia resident who graduated from Emory University in 2008. His first job out of school was an internship at the Washington Post. The Post had him write a handful of blog posts last fall, but it didn’t work out. One reader complained on his last post, “I continue to be mystified at the Post’s rationale for giving Mr. Stein a platform as he never has anything remotely insightful to contribute to any public debate,” and Stein was yanked. But the Post had another job for Stein because longtime Maryland issues writer Lee Hockstader was taking a break. And so Stein was given a task that was a low priority for the Post Company, something that wouldn’t matter even if it was screwed up by an intern: editorial writer for Montgomery County.

Now the Post has always had an anti-union lean to its editorials because it is an anti-union business. But with Stein at the writer’s desk, the propaganda reached new lows: clobbering the Fire Fighters, calling collective bargaining a “ruse,” ranting about “the sway that unions exert over county politicians” and congratulating Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19) for supposedly being willing to criticize unions. The Post even ran an election-day smear alleging that the unions were “funneling contributions” to Nancy Navarro.

But Stein is no ordinary intern; he has an agenda. At the Emory Wheel (the campus newspaper), Stein wrote this about Barack Obama:

For all his talk of unity, Obama has a platform only a far-left liberal could love. He’s Edmund Muskie with sex appeal, Walter Mondale with charisma. If you’re a diehard liberal, Obama is your man. If you actually believe in unity, you might want to look elsewhere.
And on the Post’s intern profile page, Stein wrote this about his career goals:

The ultimatum came early my freshman year of college: “Get a job or forget about us paying tuition!” my mother frostily exclaimed. Having no discernible talent other than the ability to string sentences together semi-coherently, I sought refuge in the Emory Wheel, my university’s student newspaper. Three years and more than 150 articles later, I’m preparing to make journalism a career. I’ve interned as a reporter at the Garden Island (Kauai, Hawaii), where the governor of Hawaii publicly criticized one of my first articles. I’ve also interned as an editorial writer at the Austin American-Statesman, where a tongue-in-cheek blog post about San Antonio left the Alamo City up in arms. Needless to say, my goal at The Washington Post is to practice hard-hitting journalism — even if it means infuriating a high-ranking politician or the residents of a major city. Besides writing things that anger people, my interests include playing bad basketball, playing worse golf and raving to anyone who will listen about the genius of the film “Being There.”

How on Earth could the Post permit such a thing to appear on its website? Stein is in bad need of an adult in the company to approach him and say, “Look, kid. This is the Washington Post, not the Emory Wheel. The goal of our editorial page isn’t to infuriate politicians for its own sake. We have opinions, but they have to be fact-based and fair.” But no one is interested. Montgomery County just doesn’t matter to the Post leadership.

But the Post leadership does matter a lot to Montgomery County politicians, a few of whom still regard the editorial page as the Voice of God. Some in the County Council building have been working Stein for months, feeding him all the propaganda he can regurgitate. They gleefully cavort before the Boy King’s throne and Montgomery voters are none the wiser.

What does this say about the Post’s senior management? Their pick of an intern who has never lived in Maryland to write Montgomery County editorials reveals their true regard for us. Montgomery County politics is irrelevant in their world and, in any event, the editorials supply a pleasant way for a callow neophyte to hurl invective at government employees and move up in the ranks.

And what about the Post’s editorial integrity? It lies in shredded tatters, decaying at the feet of the Boy King.