RP: The job of a newspaper is to tell the truth without fear or favor, whether that truth ends up advantaging conservatives, or liberals, or Zoroastrians or Masons.
GM: Do you find anything legitimate in the idea that trying to incorporate conservative perspectives could bring a paper closer to the truth than it might otherwise be?
RP: Sure, of course. But what does this ACORN story have to do with conservative perspectives?
Everything has to be understood in historical context. Unless you grasp the history of conservatives attempting to appeal to newspaper editors’ guilt about being liberal—which has been around since Spiro Agnew—then you can’t tell these kinds of stories, because all that is part of the story. And unless you look at the repeated pattern of smear-driven narratives in presidency after presidency—which turn out, in the end, not to implicate anyone—then you’re not telling the story.
Honoring the perspectives of conservative citizens is an absolute imperative for any newspaper; honoring the perspectives of liberal citizens is an absolute imperative for any newspaper. But there are ways of honoring people with conservative politics without serving the agendas of conservative politicians.
Think about the outstanding reporting of Hanna Rosin on religion, which is something that demonstrates that The Washington Post has always had a commitment to reporting on and respecting the viewpoints of its conservative constituency. That’s very different from letting itself be used as part of a political crusade, when the political crusade itself should be the story.
The Post’s irresponsibility when it comes to ACORN is symbolized by the fact that the word “Drudge” doesn’t show up in that article. The idea that this guy Andrew Breitbart [a protégé of Matt Drudge, and the founder of Big Government, the Web site that presented the ACORN videos] is just floating out there in the ether as some kind of independent conservative activist—he’s a very powerful person, in a lot of ways he might be more powerful than ACORN.
GM: I think what’s being expressed is a sort of felt need to compensate for the perceived fact that journalists don’t see the world through the same prism as members of the conservative movement do.
RP: I would say that journalists’ job is not to see the world through the same prism as the conservative movement, or a different prism than the conservative movement. It is to tell the truth without fear of favor. And if the truth makes conservatives look bad, devil take the hindmost. And if it makes liberals look bad, devil take the hindmost. It’s just too easy—and if you read my work, it’s been too easy for four decades—for conservatives to exploit their ability to create a sense that the media are biased in favor of liberalism in order to manipulate the media, in order to get the stories they want told told in the way they want. It’s a strategy—you can see the memos in which people lay it out. And unless that strategy is reported on, and treated as part of the story, then you are not reporting on what’s actually happening in the real world.