There is hope, after all

by Maria on January 28, 2010

The WaPo online has been given a good tongue-lashing by – so far – every single commenter on their ‘Is Elizabeth Edwards Right to Drop John?’ discussion.

The forum set-up goes; ‘Elizabeth Edwards and her longtime husband, former senator and Presidential hopeful John Edwards, have separated, according to People magazine, via Reliable Source. … Is Elizabeth Edwards, who is battling incurable cancer, doing the right thing by separating from John? Should she file for divorce? Weigh in below.”

Responses range from to “how in the world would I know whether two people I never met should stay together? Why would the Post have such an incredibly stupid discussion?” all the way to “When The Post would offer such an idiotic, shallow, voyeuristic question for discussion, it should surprise no one that the institution of the fourth estate has failed.” The obvious question, ‘is this TMZ?’, is asked along the way.

Shame on WaPo. This is cheap journalism in both senses of the word. Once more the newspaper is called on the carpet by readers who have no difficulty seeing the difference between public interest and voyeurism. How has WaPo fallen so low?

Any of us who’ve been around the block a few times work-wise know how strong the toxic effect of a few key people can be. A whole organisational culture can shift with shocking ease from collegiality to zero sum games by the simple failure to punish bad behaviour. As soon as a minority is rewarded for – let’s call it non-cooperation because there’s such a range of behaviours that can poison a workplace – then the rest look like chumps for not piling in. But you don’t need game theory to explain something most of us have experienced. The nasty effect of ‘a few bad apples’ is nothing new. (A striking example of a good place gone radically bad is HP. Anyone thinking of voting for Carly Fiorina for public office should read this).

I’ve no particular insight to what’s happened in the Washington Post. I suspect the unbearable commercial pressures have changed the balance of power between editorial and commercial people to the point where cheapo user-created content and page views trump journalistic merit. They should listen to their readers to whom that bright line is very clear.



John Quiggin 01.28.10 at 11:09 am

Hope, but not for WaPo. There might still be hope for Obama if he stops listening to them.


Salient 01.28.10 at 11:55 am

A striking example of a good place gone radically bad is HP. Anyone thinking of voting for Carly Fiorina for public office should read this.

Oh wow. Maybe this is off-topic, but as of, say, 5 minutes ago, I thought of HP as this company which produced so-so but not terribly robust/reliable products in the 90s and suddenly began to produce higher quality products in the 00s (thinking of their low-price-point printer and PC lines). Not that I ever had strong evidence for this thought, it was purely anecdotal from when I’d have to service PCs and printers on the job; I figured maybe HP’s new top-down model was helping to ensure optimum compatibility between components in their products, somehow. Anyhow, so much for a favorable opinion of the place.

That glassdoor review site is great — think I’ll start checking it before a major purchase if two different companies’ products seem about equivalent.


Stephen 01.28.10 at 12:51 pm

HP’s quality ratings (on laptops at least) are worst in the industry. I bought one nonetheless, but that’s because a 20% difference in price is more important to me than a 4-10% increase in chance of failure.

By two or three years from now, my laptop’s battery will be a pale shadow of its former self and its performance will be terrible. The same would apply no matter how high-end it was.


P O'Neill 01.28.10 at 12:59 pm

From the self-profile of the dude “moderating” the discussion

I’d Rather Be In…: Boston (where I feel like home), Austin (actual home) or London (where I hope will be home eventually)

Maybe he’s auditioning for the tabloids.


Cian O'Connor 01.28.10 at 2:18 pm

She also did a good job of wrecking Lucent. Awful woman.


Stan Kalmikoff 01.28.10 at 3:07 pm

I suspect the unbearable commercial pressures have changed the balance of power between editorial and commercial people

For a long period Donald Graham was simultaneously the head of the business board and the operations board, and he also leads the Graham family which still owns most of the company. Along with the degradation of quality came a hard rightward swing.

The present publisher, Katherine Weymouth, is the niece of Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads, and at different times came shockingly close to becoming the stepdaughter either of George Will or Alexander Cockburn. Lally was quite a gal.


joel hanes 01.29.10 at 1:20 am

If the WaPo wants to host a public discussion of the
sexual and romantic choices made by a woman in public life,
they should start with Sally Quinn.


Ben Alpers 01.29.10 at 1:24 am

While we’re on the awfulness of the WaPo (truly a bottomless pit), mention should by made of yesterday’s Sally Quinn column (h/t CT’s own Michael “Cruise Missile” Bérubé…though he got it from a commenter). It’s indescribably bad.


roac 01.29.10 at 2:05 am

Anyone else remember the column by Sally Quinn that ran in the Post shortly after 9/11, the Shorter for which was as follows:

A Reliable Expert has told me that WE’RE ALL GOING TO BE DEAD WITHIN TWO WEEKS! And it’s ALL THE GOVERNMENT’S FAULT! Boy, would I ever sue the hell out of them, if I weren’t going to be dead!

I thought at the time, and still think, that a government that seriously believed that we were At War With Terror would have had this woman shot for giving aid and comfort to the enemy. But at any rate, I will not since then read a word that she writes — what did she say yesterday?


Castorp 01.29.10 at 2:09 am

My favorite recent Sally Quinn story is when she talked about taking communion at Tim Russert’s funeral and then she, a supposed religion reporter, didn’t understand why Catholics were mad at her. I especially loved how she insisted that she did it to get closer to Russert and that he would have wanted her to do it.


Shelby 01.29.10 at 7:47 pm

I don’t personally have a strong opinion on (or much knowledge of) Carly Fiorina. However, I’m not going to learn much about her by reading comments about how bad things are now, but that begin 3 years after she left HP. And the scathing ones are more recent than that.


David 01.29.10 at 8:06 pm

When was the Washington Post any good ? It was always an insipid metro.

Heck, the Baltimore Sun has a more illustrious past.


Castorp 01.30.10 at 2:34 pm

Well, that’s not exactly true David. Besides Watergate, the WaPo recently uncovered the CIA’s secret prisons and had that excellent series on Dick Cheney, for example. The biggest problem with the WaPo, I think, besides recent cutbacks and decline in quality, is that Fred Hiatt runs the Op-ed page.


Tim 01.30.10 at 5:46 pm

I gave up reading it years ago. It’s a paper for the salons of Sally Quinn types.


Maurice Meilleur 02.01.10 at 5:15 am


AlanDownunder 02.03.10 at 2:26 am

Best response by a WaPo reader:

—When George Will’s first wife threw his belongings out the window of their Georgetown home, was it cheating for him to have gone to Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations in order to express his feelings?

—How many drinks did it take for Philip Graham to be seduced by his wife Katherine?

—What exactly was it that the authors of “Washington Confidential” witnessed through Dean Acheson’s bathroom window? Is this what first lured Sally Quinn into the field of journalism?

—Whose first marriage was kinkier, Elvis’s or Jerry Lee Lewis’s?

—Will the Washington Post’s Style editor ever let us know all about his or her private life? We’re just DYING to find out about it.

Seriously, this question about Edwards pretty much summarizes the Post’s mission these days. It’ll be interesting to see how many people will pay to participate in this sort of garbage when the inevitable web meter is installed. The Post sure has a high opinion of its readers.

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