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Political Animal

Post Secret

By Brian Morton | Posted 4/11/2007

What happened to the Washington Post of yore?

The newspaper that Richard Nixon tried to immobilize, the one whose publisher, Katharine Graham, Nixon crony John Mitchell said would get her 'tit caught in a big fat wringer" if it published a story about the president's slush fund?

Those stories were true, no matter how hard the push-back from the corrupt Republican White House. Nixon spokesman Ron Ziegler called Watergate 'a third-rate burglary," and it ended up driving a president from the White House in disgrace.

In the decades following, the GOP hated the 'liberal" Post with an all-consuming passion. It didn't help that executive editor Ben Bradlee was pals with early Nixon bęte noire John F. Kennedy. The Post was part of the central axis of East Coast liberalism in the eyes of the hard right, and conservatives have long railed against it as part of the Washington establishment they want to destroy,

The Post hit hard during the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal, all the way up until John Poindexter fell on his sword in order to make sure that the scandal never reached Ronald Reagan. Even then, the Republicans had mastered the art of selective forgetfulness, demonstrated by then-Vice President George H.W. Bush's public assertions of being 'out of the loop." Of course, this ran completely contrary to the statements Bush made in a deposition to the Office of the Independent Counsel in January 1988.

But if you fast-forward to 2007, the Washington Post that was the liberal thorn in the side of conservatives has become the welcoming committee and official obfuscator of the possible criminal hijinks of the second Bush administration. Where savvy and brilliant Meg Greenfield used to run the editorial page, which railed against the off-the-books illegal foreign policy of the Reagan administration, now crypto-conservative Fred Hiatt rules the roost, and things couldn't be more different.

Probably the most drastic contrast between now and the Greenfield era is the paper's reaction the conduct of the speaker of the House of Representatives when it comes to foreign policy.

If anything, the Post's relentless cheerleading of the war in Iraq has mirrored the hardest of the hard-line neo-conservative talking points going all the way back to 2003. Hiatt's editorial page ran a piece titled 'Irrefutable" on Feb. 6, 2003, after Colin Powell's hilariously wrong speech to the United Nations, exclaiming, 'After Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council yesterday, it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction." This was the first of many of the Bush administration's 'because we said so" moments. Under Hiatt, skepticism has been tossed out with the bathwater.

When Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, last week visited Syria, a country seen as 'the enemy" in the Manichean worldview of the diplomacy-challenged Bushies, both the administration and the Post editorial board went apoplectic in a fit of fact-free, history-abusing rhetoric. The Bushies tried, at the same time Republican congresspeople were doing the same thing in Syria, to make Pelosi sound like she was off the U.S. reservation when it came to creating a peace process in the Middle East between Syria and Israel.

The Post editorial page thundered that 'Pelosi's attempt to establish a shadow presidency is not only counterproductive, it is foolish." Echoing this view, Matt Lauer of NBC said, without attribution, 'a lot of people think [Pelosi] messed up on this one."

There are a few problems with this--for starters, this erroneous and undemocratic belief that the president is the only American allowed to speak to foreign leaders. Republican Rep. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, yet to become speaker in 1997, went to Colombia to try an end-run around Clinton administration efforts to tie human-rights abuses to military aid. At the time, Hastert encouraged the Colombians to 'bypass the U.S. executive branch and communicate directly with Congress." Did the Post complain? Uh, no

Even the Post's own reporting contradicted the views of Hiatt's editorial board: A Post story last Thursday stated that 'Foreign policy experts generally agree that Pelosi's dealings with Middle East leaders have not strayed far, if at all, from those typical for a congressional trip."

It has become clear over time that The Washington Post, far from the liberal stalwart that Republicans have used as a pińata for the last 30 years, has been co-opted into a reliable parrot for the Bush administration. And Hiatt himself has become the main apologist for some of the most valuable opinion real estate in America.

I miss the old Washington Post. The late I.F. Stone used to complain about it, 'You never knew where in it you'd find a Page One story." The sad thing now is you wonder if you'll ever find one in there at all.

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