The Washington Post is a legend in the minds of the Washington elite, so its financial decline has caused quiet panic. As NPR media reporter David Folkenflik put it, “You think of stories like the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, these are all stories where The Washington Post led the nation's understanding, the world's understanding of some major issues.”
Outside the liberal media, you wonder how long Post fans can wallow in their Nixon-crumbling polyester “glory days” in the early 1970s. But nostalgia ruled as the Graham family sold the Post to Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon.com. “Now he is being credited as a white knight with deep pockets helping to save one of this country's great newspapers,” oozed NBC reporter Tom Costello.
Perhaps the worst back-slapping came inside the Post. Its media reporter, Paul Farhi, peddled rumors that The New York Times might be next on the sales block, and flattered both: “One is a venerable family-owned pillar of the national media establishment. So is the other. One has a storied history of investigative reporting and a reputation for journalistic excellence. So does the other.”
In the last electoral cycle, that “excellence” was defined by huge exposes claiming Mitt Romney cut another kid’s hair at prep school and Rick Perry failed to put enough coats of white paint on a racist piece of rock.
Obviously, many expect (or just hope and pray) that Bezos can find a way to make newspapers profitable again. That might explain why the Post Company’s stock jumped almost $25 a share. But if Bezos can’t manage that, he’ll get credit as a pro-journalism philanthropist. After all, the other Washington newspapers, the Times and more recently the Examiner, have been labors of love, not money.
NBC quoted Bezos saying “The values of The Post do not need changing. The paper's duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interest of its owners.” That sounds self-refuting: The Graham family sold the paper due to seven straight years of financial losses, now mounting at roughly $100 million a year. New Post editor Martin Baron insisted “No institution can spend more money than it has.” (There’s one exception, and Obama’s running it.)
When Bezos announced the Post’s “values” don’t need changing, he was agreeing with the liberal media’s self-image. They have to deny that journalism’s vanishing profits might be caused by alienating half of your potential audience with partisan hit jobs and blatant liberal bias. It's similar to the media claiming Detroit's bankruptcy is all technological, and has nothing to do with its politicians.