I asked Thomas B. Edsall, who spent a quarter century covering politics for the Post, to assess the paper’s political coverage under Brauchli. “It’s not good to be dependent on Stanley Kaplan,” Edsall replied, referring to the testing and education firm that delivers substantial profits to The Washington Post Company. “If a newspaper is not making money, it loses self-confidence. Cowardice begins to set in. People are afraid of taking strong steps. As revenues began to decline, the aggressiveness of the Post also began to decline.”
In recent months, however, Edsall has noticed improvement: “They’re doing a pretty good job,” he says. “They’re getting stronger.” (He praises the reporting of Philip Rucker, Paul Kane, and Shailagh Murray.) John B. Judis, senior editor of The New Republic, agrees. In June 2009 Judis wrote a blog entry for TNR entitled “Who Killed The Washington Post?” He has since changed his mind. “I am amazed at how good it has become,” Judis wrote in a recent note to Post writers Ezra Klein and Alec MacGillis, referring to the Post’s domestic coverage. “I think Brauchli or whoever is pulling the strings there has figured out how to steer a path between the Web scoops (Politico) and the kind of New Republic-type pieces that Time and Newsweek have been trying to run.”
Like almost every section of the Post, Style has seen the departure of some of its most gifted writers. There are still admirable pieces in Style, and you can still read Pulitzer Prize-winning critics Sarah Kaufman and Michael Dirda. But the section is a shadow of what it was in the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond. Thirty-nine-year Style veteran Henry Allen told Dave Kindred: “Style as a place where readers can find writing, evocation, wit, and even some literary art is gone.” On June 3, Manuel Roig-Franzia achieved a near-impossible feat: a sleep-inducing profile of Christopher Hitchens. On June 9, the lead feature in the section was a story about D.C. nightlife by DeNeen Brown. It was as thin as a crepe. When I asked Brauchli for his vision of Style, his answer was so vague as to be useless.
It’s in the context of the Post’s business coverage that one tends to hear the most enthusiasm for Brauchli. Referring to the economic crisis that began in 2008, Keith Richburg says, “He really was engaged in the financial story in a way that I don’t think any of our editors ever could have been. Some friends of mine on the financial staff were just amazed that the new editor was coming in and rolling up his sleeves and sitting there at the news desk helping write the leads to stories.” Paul Steiger notes that Brauchli always possessed an acute knowledge of finance, and adds: “The Post’s coverage of the economic crisis was terrific, way better than it would have been in the past, because Marcus knows that stuff.”
But the Post is printing much less business news than it did in the past. The paper killed its stand-alone business section in 2009 and, in the print edition, business news is scant. (There is richer fare on the Post’s Web site, thanks to a new collaboration with Bloomberg.) Some of the Post’s most impressive business talent has departed in recent years, and Post sources say that Brauchli was dismayed by the recent loss of thirty-two-year-old reporter Binyamin Appelbaum, who, like many Post reporters in recent years—including Peter Baker, Mark Leibovich, Peter S. Goodman, Michael Barbaro, and David Segal—decamped to The New York Times.
No aspect of the Brauchli era has been as controversial as the “salon” scandal that erupted on July 2, 2009, after Politico reported that Katharine Weymouth had forged a scheme to bring together Post reporters, corporate lobbyists, and politicians for an exclusive series of salons at her own home; access would cost up to $250,000. Politico obtained a flier that said: “Underwriting Opportunity: An Evening with the right people can alter the debate.” (Weymouth and Brauchli would, according to the flier, serve as “Hosts and Discussion Leaders.”) When the story broke, Weymouth immediately put the blame on Post marketing employee Charles Pelton—a specialist in conferences who had recently joined the company, and who had approved the flier.