Hypocrisy and the Washington Post

Is there any limit to the hypocrisy of the Washington Post’s Editorial Page?  What brings this to mind is the Post’s recent editorial attacking the District of Columbia’s Inspector General, Charles Willoughby, whose work the same editorial writers had praised a year earlier.

What changed? How, in just ten months, did Mr. Willoughby go from being a trustworthy source to an inept hack in the eyes of the Post?  The answer is painfully obvious: Back then, the Post was defending Michelle Rhee, which it has shown time and again that it will do at all costs and in the face of clearly contradictory evidence.

This is what the Post wrote in April 2013: “Several investigations have been conducted into student testing by the public school system. All – including inquiries by the D.C. inspector general and the U.S. Education Department’s inspector general with the participation of the U.S. attorney  – concluded that no widespread cheating occurred.” (emphasis added)

As the Post knew (and as we had reported in detail on Frontline), the Inspector General conducted a slipshod inquiry that doesn’t really deserve to be called an ‘investigation.’ Despite evidence of widespread ‘wrong-to-right’ erasures in over half of DC’s public schools, Mr. Willoughby spent 17 months–more than 500 days– ‘investigating’ one school.  In that time he interviewed just 34 people!  However, the Post’s editorial writers chose to overlook his inept work–a performance that would unquestionably have gotten a Post reporter sacked. It chose instead to cite Mr. Willoughby’s work as evidence that no cheating occurred.

Now, however, the Post is “shocked, shocked” to discover that the same Mr. Willoughby has done sloppy investigative work.  A February 16th Post editorial about questionable ethical behavior by some DC officials charges that Mr. Willoughby ‘glossed over’ the matter and has ‘shown an inability to grapple with these issues in a serious way.’  (emphases added)

The Post editorial further criticizes Mr. Willoughby for producing a 3-page report, in contrast with the 27-page report written by ethics officials who have fewer resources but “have demonstrated a vigor and muscle that is strangely lacking in the work of the inspector general.”  Those words could easily have been written about his work regarding the erasures, of course.

At one point last year I analyzed the editorial coverage of cheating scandals in two major US newspapers, the Washington Post and the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  It’s a sad story because the Post was once one of America’s great newspapers. While the Atlanta editorial page vigorously pursued the truth despite the embarrassment to the city, the Washington Post has never wavered from its initial 100% commitment to Michelle Rhee’s approach to ‘fixing’ the schools.

Here’s part of what I wrote: “When “Michelle Rhee’s Reign of Error” revealed the existence of Dr. Sanford’s secret memo, with its clear implications that Chancellor Rhee’s own school principals might have done the erasing, the Post called it ‘old news,’ echoing Rhee and current Chancellor Kaya Henderson. ”

The slavish devotion of the Post’s Editorial Page to the false narrative that Michelle Rhee transformed DC schools must embarrass the reporters at the Post.  And to its credit, Washington Post journalists continue to produce outstanding reportage.  Witness its receiving THREE of one of journalism’s most treasured prizes, the George Polk Award, this year, as just one example.

And just this morning it was announced that Post reporters took home two awards from ASNE.

The Post’s editorial closes by asking for Mr. Willoughby’s head: “Mr. Willoughby’s term expires in May; we hope the mayor and council take that opportunity to give the office a good hard look and give the public the watchdog it needs.”

I was brought up to believe that a newspaper’s editorial page is also supposed to “give the public the watchdog it needs.” I am truly sorry the Washington Post isn’t fulfilling that role where the city’s public schools are concerned.

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