When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post for $250 million last October, he promised to leave the paper’s leadership, publisher Katharine Weymouth and editor Marty Baron, in place for a year.
The year’s up. Weymouth announced this morning that she had resigned, to be replaced by Fred Ryan, who as president and CEO of Allbritton Communications helped to launch the web and print publication Politico, which has largely stolen the Post’s prominence in political reporting.
Veterans of Politico, as well as Allbritton’s failed attempt at a local news web outlet, TBD, found Weymouth’s departure unsurprising, but they were shocked to hear of Ryan’s appointment.
“I figured Bezos would eventually replace Weymouth with a great innovative leader who would transform the Washington Post,” says Stephen Buttry, who worked under Ryan when Allbritton started TBD. “I was wrong. I think Fred’s old school, and the Post needs someone innovative.”
“At Politico,” added Buttry, now a visiting scholar at Louisiana State University’s school of mass communication, “I never got the sense that any innovative ideas came from Fred.”
Buttry’s view is widely shared among Politico journalists, one of whom called the news that Ryan would take over the Post “jaw dropping.”
It’s true that Ryan is not an obvious choice to run a legacy media company. Despite Weymouth’s contention in her resignation memo that “we have made the transition to the digital era,” the paper still lacks a viable business model. Ryan, 59, is neither of journalism nor digital media. Before being appointed by Robert Allbritton’s father, Joe, to be the corporate face of the company, Ryan was Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff after Reagan left the White House.
In age, temperament, and background, furthermore, Ryan little resembles his new boss in Seattle. Bezos is a entrepreneur, a classic tech disrupter; Ryan is a California lawyer who became the quintessential Washington insider. He is chairman of the board of trustees for the Ronald Reagan Foundation and is still very close to Nancy Reagan.
Though Ryan helped invent Politico from scratch—in part by luring away a talented trio of Posties—Jim VandeHei, John Harris, and Mike Allen—he will face a much more daunting task in his new job. Politico, a startup, could be agile in its hiring and coverage, and drew attention for its aggressiveness and its sheer novelty.
At the Post he’ll be charged with making a profit on the digital side as he shores up declining revenues from the print publication.
One explanation for Ryan’s hiring is that Bezos is feeling more comfortable as owner of the Post. Word in the industry is that Weymouth did not choose to resign, an indication that Bezos feels the Post rank-and-file have come to look to the paper as his enterprise, rather than a media company still run by the family that’s held it since 1933.
The Washington Post’s editorial board writes Friday that it will stop referring to the Washington NFL team by its proper nickname, joining the ranks of the growing library of publications and writers who feel that it is a derogatory term better left unprinted. While the board has urged the team to change its name to something that doesn’t insult Native Americans (or any other group) since at least 1992, it writes today that it will finally get ahead of the team on the issue.
“[W]hile we wait for the National Football League to catch up with thoughtful opinion and common decency, we have decided that, except when it is essential for clarity or effect, we will no longer use the slur ourselves,” the board writes. “That’s the standard we apply to all offensive vocabulary, and the team name unquestionably offends not only many Native Americans but many other Americans, too.”
The change only applies to articles issued by the editorial board itself; letters to the editor using the team’s name will not be altered, and the news pages will continue to refer to the football club by its popular name.
“Standard operating policy in the newsroom has been to use the names that established institutions choose for themselves,” the Post’s executive editor, Marty Baron, tells his Metro section. “That remains our policy, as we continue to vigorously cover controversy over the team’s name and avoid any advocacy role on this subject.”
While the Post’s news pages strenuously avoid taking a firm position on a name that most dictionaries define as a racial slur, its opinion pages are already flush with writers who would like Washington’s professional football franchise to be called something else. Besides sports columnist Mike Wise (easily the loudest bullhorn on the issue), Metro columnists Courtland Milloy and Robert McCartney have penned their opposition to the name, as have opinion columnists Charles Krauthammer and Colby King.
The team’s executives might not lose that much sleep over this, though. Their official “content partners” at the Washington Times routinely publish editorials defending the name from the “politically correct crowd.” Then again, the Post’s editorial board cites as inspiration a column by Krauthammer, the paper’s resident fussy conservative and no fan of political correctness.
Also, the Post has several times as many readers as the Times.
For all the headlines that President Obama, Hillary Clinton, half the US Senate, and various journalists garner when they announce their desire to see Washington’s NFL team change its name, they all have something in common: They’re not exactly football experts with years of experience in the NFL, a $9 billion business whose executives vigorously defend the team’s name.
But it appears opposition to the Washington team’s name, which most dictionaries define as a racial slur against Native Americans, runs far deeper in the league than the management might care to admit. The Washington Post’s Mike Wise has a column today about Mike Carey, a referee who refused to officiate a Washington game for the last eight seasons of his 19-year career. Carey, Wise writes, asked the league beginning in 2006 to not schedule him for any Washington games, and the NFL granted his request:
“It just became clear to me that to be in the middle of the field, where something disrespectful is happening, was probably not the best thing for me,” Carey said.
Told how uncommon his social stance was for a referee, whose primary professional goal is to be unbiased, Carey shook his head.
“Human beings take social stances,” he said. “And if you’re respectful of all human beings, you have to decide what you’re going to do and why you’re going to do it.”
Wise’s full column is worth the read, especially because Carey's story eats away at the argument that opposition to the Washington team’s name is very recent and driven only by—in the words of, oh, say, Mike Ditka—“politically correct idiots.” More of Ditka’s former colleagues are siding against the name.
Carey, who put away his zebra suit after the 2013 season, is now a commentator for CBS Sports, where on Monday, former New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms announced he’ll only refer to the Washington team as “Washington” when he calls its September 25 game against the Giants. Former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, now an anyalyst for NBC Sports, says he’ll do the same this season.
Rumblings about the Washington team’s name have even come from members of the current roster, if short-lived. Cornerback DeAngelo Hall said in January that “they probably should” change it, though he quickly walked back those comments before signing a four-year, $20 million contract.
The NFL’s top brass might be able to keep a lid on their current employees. But with respected veteran players, coaches, and referees refusing to engage the Washington team’s name, the push to change it suddenly has a lot more gridiron legitimacy.
Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.
“Here is the bottom line: if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you.”
Try the Washington Post.
The advice comes from a veteran police officer, writing on the Post’s PostEverything site, which since its launch been a reliable bucket of patently offensive takes on issues that are consuming the rest of the internet (recently, two university professors wrote on PostEverything that marriage is the best antidote to domestic violence). Los Angeles Police Department officer Sunil Dutta takes up the question of how to avoid running afoul of the police, Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shot at least six times and killed August 8 by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.
“Don’t argue with me, don’t call me names,” Dutta writes. “Don’t tell me that I can’t stop you, don’t say I’m a racist pig, don’t threaten that you’ll sue me and take away my badge.”
In other words, shut up and take it, because even the slightest bit of intransigence is grounds for the cops to unleash a world of hurt. If you've got complaints, shelve them for later, Dutta says.
"Do what the officer tells you to and it will end safely for both of you," he writes. "We have a justice system in which you are presumed innocent; if a cop can do his or her job unmolested, that system can run its course. Later, you can ask for a supervisor, lodge a complaint or contact civil rights organizations if you believe your rights were violated." Or, wait for your complaint to get buried under mountains of paperwork and or dismissed outright. In DC, for instance, only 66 of the 358 complaints filed last year against Metropolitan Police Department officers were sustained, according to figures released this week.
Dutta admits that he, like nearly every other observer in this case, doesn’t know exactly what transpired before Wilson fired his gun, but Dutta’s take on the Ferguson situation is dosed with enough experience—in addition to spending 17 years with the LAPD, he also moonlights as a college instructor in Colorado—to make his points at least appear logical. But to say that putting up a verbal argument warrants bringing out the billy clubs, stun guns, or actual guns only stokes what’s been seen coming out of Ferguson in the past week—images of peaceful demonstrators being met with a lines of officers rigged with military-grade equipment, marchers being fogged with canisters of tear gas, and people being slugged with rubber bullets after not moving quickly enough.
Dutta tries to generate some sympathy for the cops, writing, “An average person cannot comprehend the risks and has no true understanding of a cop’s job.” Neither does Dutta, however, if he thinks encounters with police officers can only end with immediate submission or the deployment of overwhelming force.
That’s the argument by New York Police Department Sergeant Jon Murad, another scholar-cop who wrote on his blog over the weekend that even if Brown did physically engage the officer who shot him, if he signaled his surrender, Wilson’s gun should have remained holstered.
“Shooting someone trying to take your gun is lawful, especially if he’s a significant physical threat; shooting someone surrendering with their hands up is not, even when it’s the same guy and mere seconds separate the events,” Murad writes.
Murad assessment is more sober, though far less click-baiting than something that screams “I’m the police! Do as I say or else!”
Like any advertising platform, Twitter reserves the right to regulate the content its customers want to promote. The social networking platform’s policy for “promoted tweets”—posts that appear high up in certain users’ feeds, whether they ask for them or not—prohibits “adult or sexual products,” a category that covers pornography, prostitution, sex toys, and mail-order spouses. It also outlaws most contraceptives, although condoms are permitted when the point of the ad is not explicity sexual.
But as DC’s Department of Health discovered this week, Twitter’s policy is applied inconsistently, and can derail publicity for things with public value, like the city’s programs aimed at reducing infection rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
On Thursday, the publicity company that helps promote the health department’s seven-year-old free condom distribution program attempted to buy a promoted tweet for the account @FreeCondomsDC, but was rebuffed. An automated reply informed them the tweet violated of its content guidelines.
The ban was short-lived, with Twitter spokeswoman Genevieve Wong saying that @FreeCondomsDC was approved Friday morning (a few hours after Washingtonian had inquired about why it had been refused). “We allow advertisers to run campaigns that promote condoms and safe sex,” she wrote.
But the temporary ad-block raised questions about how consistently and effectively Twitter applied its condom ban. At least one condom retailer has run into a wall after Twitter prodded then to advertise. In June, Think Progress reported that LuckyBloke.com, an online condom store, finally tried to buy a 140-character ad but was rejected on the grounds that its tweet was too sexy. (Lucky Bloke’s basic pitch—“Tired of lousy condoms?”—seemed to us relatively tame for prophylactics.) Meanwhile, manufacturers like Durex have been able to advertise, making the logic of their ban even fuzzier.
There’s no evidence that Twitter targets sexual-health tweets. The health department had been able to place sponsored tweets in June to advertise its presence at DC’s annual Capital Pride parade. In fact, it reports encouraging results from its social media efforts. @FreeCondomsDC doesn’t have many followers—only 804 at last count—but promoted tweets can increase that audience four or five times, says Michael Kharfen, the director of the department’s HIV/AIDS office.
“We’ve recognized that social media is a critical way for us to reach the public with information and access to services and resources,” Kharfen says. “We’re getting across information that’s on the leading edge of public health.”
Kharfen says social media has been critical growing the program from giving out 500,000 rubbers in 2007 to 6.9 million last year. And in Washington, where 2.5 percent of the total population is HIV positive—one of five highest infection rates among major US cites, Kharfen says, and an epidemic by World Health Organization standards—safe-sex promotion needs as much daylight as possible.
The tweets intended for next week include a link to the health department’s order form for condoms.
“We tend to get increases [in orders] when these ads go out,” Kharfen says. “We get more people that check out the tweet. They click through.”
It’s likely that Twitter’s uneven condom policy has more to do with hypersensitive keywords than human squeamishness. Perhaps it would be better to err toward allowing the occasional French tickler to get through the filters than to frustrate a valuable public health resource.
The news that MSNBC’s Chuck Todd will replace David Gregory as host of Meet the Press deflated a bubble of speculation that had grown as ratings for NBC’s Sunday chat show, once helmed by the beloved Tim Russert, tumbled. (Rumors spiked in mid-July after Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski bought a Georgetown condo.) We like Todd, but in an age when Americans have soured on insider-y Washington TV types, we were hoping for someone who could shake up the entire Sunday-morning genre.
A former New York Times Washington bureau chief, Abramson was canned this past spring as the paper’s top editor, in part for being too prickly. The kind of questions that made her Times bosses unhappy would likely do the same for top officials—to the delight of viewers.
Dismiss Cowell as an entertainment-industry lightweight, but we say Piers Morgan was simply the wrong Britain’s Got Talent judge. Cowell is far removed from the US political wars, but after a thousand hotel-ballroom auditions, he knows the American voter intimately.
The comedian has shown himself to be a capable, dry-eyed interviewer as host of his WTF podcasts. But can he channel his “river of rage” performing style without his signature flood of F-bombs?
The wife of superlobbyist Jack Quinn and a socialite who doesn't take no as an RSVP, she already runs the hottest off-the-record political salon in Washington. If we can’t escape Sunday-morning guests’ incestuous wonkery, we can at least ensure that it’s interesting.
Univision’s Anderson Cooper is ready for his crossover. Unafraid to chide President Obama in a 2012 interview for whiffing on immigration reform, Ramos would bring alien demographics—Hispanics and those who don’t eat at the Palm—to the table.
Cranky even with movie stars whose work he’s supposed to be plugging, Letterman wouldn’t sit quietly when political blather gets “hinky,” as they say back in Indiana. And with Meet the Press shooting in Washington, John McCain could read the Top Ten list every week.
In 2004, George W. Bush sat down with this Irish TV journalist for what he assumed would be a softball session. Instead, she asked tougher questions than a Russert would dare. “We have a spunky one here,” he said before she grilled him about Iraq. We’d like to see that uneasy grin on more faces.
Having honed his debating skills defending Darwin’s theory in his anti-creationism campaign, the Science Guy is used to refuting slickly drawled malarkey. Bonus: He might even be able to explain carbon credits in a way we can understand.
Reporters for the Washington Post and the Huffington Post were arrested Wednesday night in Ferguson, Mo. while covering protests that have taken hold of the St. Louis-area city following the shooting death of a black teenager by local police last Saturday.
The Washington Post's Wesley Lowery and Huffington's Ryan J. Reilly were working from a McDonald's about 7 PM local time when police entered the restaurant and ordered everyone inside to leave, Reilly reported on his Twitter account.
SWAT just invade McDonald's where I'm working/recharging. Asked for ID when I took photo. pic.twitter.com/FOIsMnBwHy— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 13, 2014
Ferguson has resembled a combat zone in the days since 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police. Brown was unarmed. With protests swelling, officers from city, county, and state departments, many outfitted in assault and riot gear, are patrolling the city of about 21,000.
After their brief detentions, from which they were released without any charges, Lowery and Reilly both described being manhandled by police.
Officers slammed me into a fountain soda machine because I was confused about which door they were asking me to walk out of— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 14, 2014
Released without any charges, no paperwork whatsoever— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 14, 2014
Refusing to give us any names of the officers— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 14, 2014
Reilly told MSNBC's All in With Chris Hayes that the officer arresting him "used his finger to put a pressure point on my neck" and "slammed my head against the glass purposefully."
A person answering the phones at the Ferguson Police Department told Washingtonian he did not know any of the circumstances that led to Reilly's and Lowery's arrests. Before the McDonald's incident, a Twitter user asked Lowery he was more concerned about the the protestors, some of whom have turned to looting Ferguson businesses since Saturday, or the police: "easy answer, i'm a black man—the police," Lowery responded.
"Wesley has briefed us on what occurred, and there was absolutely no justification for his arrest," Washington Post editor Marty Baron said in a statement released by the paper. "After being placed in a holding cell, he was released with no charges and no explanation. He was denied information about the names and badge numbers of those who arrested him. We are relieved that Wesley is going to be OK. We are appalled by the conduct of police officers involved."
Neither Reilly or Lowery responded to e-mails following their arrests. There are obviously more pressing concerns in Ferguson. Shortly after they were released, other reporters on the scene reported being hit with tear gas police fired into the crowd.
Tear gas, omg! pic.twitter.com/dlWuE33u56— Christina Coleman (@ChristinaKSDK) August 14, 2014
If you’re still unclear about the meaning of “humblebrag,” check out former Washington Post columnist Sally Quinn’s valedictory tweet for Lauren Bacall, who died Tuesday from a stroke at 89, that sneaks in a reference to Quinn’s husband, former Post editor Ben Bradlee.
So so sad about the death of Betty Bacall. I almost lost Ben to her, the only acceptable person. As he would say,she was a spectacular dame— Sally Quinn (@sallyquinndc) August 13, 2014
There’s no doubt that Bacall and Bradlee went way back. A 2005 Washington Life interview with Bradlee and Quinn mentions Bradlee as one of Bacall’s many suitors over the years, and Bacall’s second husband, Jason Robards, went on to play Bradlee in the film adaptation of All the President’s Men. And, courtesy of Post columnist Richard Cohen, writing his own remembrance today, comes a side dish of Bacall making yearly appearances at Bradlee’s birthday parties.
But Quinn’s tweet nips at the possibility that Bradlee and Bacall might actually have been an item. It’s not a new charge from Quinn. In 2009, Quinn told guests of a Paris Review party about meeting George Plimpton in the Hamptons and “losing her now-husband in the dunes to Lauren Bacall for an hour.” According to Women’s Wear Daily, Quinn’s solution “was to befriend Bacall and make her feel incredibly guilty for apparently cuckolding her.”
Did Bradlee and Bacall actually hook up? That’s only for them, perhaps Quinn, and the beach grass of Long Island to know. If an affair did happen, of course, Quinn’s inference is that one of American cinema’s most beautiful grandes dames was no match for her own sexual prowess.
In the annals of memorials that are actually tributes to the one giving them, this one is pretty spectacular.
UPDATE, 5:50 PM: If you wanted more details on what happened that night at Plimpton's more than 40 years ago, today's your lucky day. In a feature-length remembrance for the Post's Style section, Quinn provides a fuller description of the time Bradlee met Bacall. In a scene that wouldn't be out of place in a Harlequin bodice-ripper, Quinn suggests that Bacall very nearly swiped away her man:
When it came time for dinner, I went to find him and he had disappeared. Coincidentally, Betty was also nowhere to be found. I could see the pitying looks on the faces of my friends. I pretended to be unconcerned, got my plate and joined a group, but I was frantic. Ben and I had only recently gotten together, and now I was about to lose him to the sexiest movie star alive. It was at least an hour before they emerged from the dunes, laughing and talking as though they had no concept of time. Ben looked so pleased with himself I could have belted him. He was a bit sheepish when he joined me, and I looked hawkishly for signs of dishevelment, lipstick on the collar. I found nothing, but still. . . . It was no consolation when Betty came over to me as we were leaving and confided in me that Ben was the only man who had ever reminded her of Bogey.
Quinn goes on to write that she then had to decide whether to exclude Bacall from her and Bradlee's lives or welcome the actress into the fold; she chose the latter, potential cuckoldry aside. In fact, the sexual tension enhanced the relationship. "I actually fell in love with her myself, and Ben seemed to be under control," Quinn writes. "In fact, their interest in each other became an inside joke among all of our friends."
Make sure you grab a damp towel when you open up tomorrow's edition of the Post.
Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.
On Tuesday, Forbes stunned the internet with a breathless review of Push for Pizza, a new smartphone app developed by a bunch of pizza-craving 19-year-olds for whom Seamless requires too many clicks. By reducing a pizza order to a single tap, Forbes concluded, these kids had built an “Uber for pizza.” Could there be more glowing praise for an app, or really anything that humankind has created?
This preceding paragraph is an example of what we call “burying the lede,” but it feels warranted in this case because logic demands that we first establish Forbes, your rich uncle’s favorite magazine, as the supreme arbiter of “cool,” and what could be cooler than discovering the “Uber for pizza”? That’s, like, the coolest company and the coolest food. And here, we arrive at our dilemma.
Push for Pizza, sadly, does not work in Washington. Entering a District address into the must-have app is returned with a message stating, “DC is is not a valid state.”
That’s a harsh but true assessment of DC’s status among the rest of the United States, but it exposes a larger problem: If Washington is ineligible to enjoy Push for Pizza, how, then can Forbes claim that Washington is the coolest city in the country? Because that’s exactly what Forbes, a website that churns out sloppy kisses to tech startups and arbitrary rankings of geographic subdivisions, is doing today.
Yes, according to Forbes, Washington is cooler than New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, and all those other places that seem much hipper and more desirable than the nation’s capital. But how did Forbes arrive at this conclusion?
Washington’s designation as the coolest city, it appears, is the bizarre accident of an equation combining several arbitrarily selected metrics, including entertainment options, a “foodie” factor measuring ratio of locally owned eateries to chains, net population growth, and demographic makeup, with an emphasis on the all-important group of people between 20 and 34 years old commonly referred to as millennials. When all the numbers were crunched, Washington landed on top. In attempting to turn “cool” into an objective measurement, Forbes wound up placing Washington ahead of many places that are widely considered to be subjectively cooler, including second-place Seattle and 11th-place New York. The last time Forbes did this list, in 2012, Houston was the coolest. (It sank to fourth place today.)
And how are cool Washingtonians reacting to their new cultural supremacy?
Putting DC at the top of a list of "Coolest US Cities" is an atrocity against all that is decent and good. http://t.co/Ug5EjKyEJz— Jeff Spross (@jeffspross) August 6, 2014
RE: DC being named Forbes' "coolest city," that's neat and all, but we'll always be the city w/ the most dweebs. We're cool with it.— Lars Gotrich (@totalvibration) August 6, 2014
Ha-ha. “Washington, D.C., Tops Forbes 2014 List of America's Coolest Cities” http://t.co/ZVz2we4vhK— Garance Franke-Ruta (@thegarance) August 6, 2014
America's Coolest Magazines, Ranked— David A. Graham (@GrahamDavidA) August 6, 2014
.@Forbes just declared Washington the coolest city in the country. Forbes obviously didn't visit in August.— ✨Beth Jarvis✨ (@bhjarvis) August 6, 2014
It seems we can’t believe it, or we’re just too cool for school. Then again, no amount cultural resources or proliferation of millennials will compensate for the deepest flaw in Forbes’s assignation of what is or is not cool: Washington still doesn’t have Push for Pizza.
Someone other than Edward Snowden is leaking classified documents about the United States’ surveillance operations.
According to CNN, government officials have concluded that there’s a new fount of secret documents, following the publication Tuesday of an article on the Intercept, the site led by Glenn Greenwald, who’s reported the bulk of Snowden-connected stories. The new article looks at the Terrorist Screening Database, or TIDE, an interagency list of “known or suspected” terrorists that has ballooned from 500,000 names in 2009 to 1.1 million last year, 680,000 of whom are on government watchlists. Of that latter figure, more than 40 percent are listed as not having any affiliation to any recognized terror group. The article also features details on the federal government’s no-fly list, which has expanded to 47,000 people under President Obama, ten times its reported peak under George W. Bush.
The Intercept’s story, by Jeremy Scahill and Ryan Deveraux, does not name its source, but it includes a slide from the National Counterterrorism Center dated August 2013, several weeks after Snowden went into exile in Russia. But Greenwald himself hinted last month that there are other sources of classified intelligence documents after Snowden.
Today’s Intercept story also landed with a side dish of media drama. The Associated Press, which had also been chasing the story of TIDE’s expansion, published a report about 12:30 PM, a few minutes before Scahill and Deveraux posted their more detailed version. The timing was not accidental, the Huffington Post reports. The NCTC, perhaps knowing the AP’s prose would be less stinging, tipped off the wire service to “spoil” the Intercept’s scoop. To wit: The AP frames the growth in anti-terror watchlists as a reaction to the failed “underwear bomber” who attempted to bring down an airliner over Detroit on Christmas in 2009; the Intercept paints it as surveillance run amok.
Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.