Obama vs. Snyder—Who’s Tougher to Cover?

By: Harry Jaffe

Investigative reporter James Grimaldi’s fall series on the Skins hit the team for its ticket practices. Photograph by Matthew Worden

Washington Post editors often say the paper’s two most important beats are the Redskins and the White House. They devote lots of reporters and space to covering the teams at 1600 Pennsylvania and FedEx Field. Matched head to head, which is better—White House or Redskins coverage?

The Redskins

The Post has three full-time reporters on the Skins beat: Jason Reid is in his third year as chief writer. He usually writes the game-day story and most items in the Redskins Insider blog; Rick Maese, the beat’s newest reporter, came from the Baltimore Sun to replace Jason LaCanfora, who went to TV; Barry Svrluga switched from covering the Washington Nationals to writing features about the football team.

On game days, the Post floods the Redskins zone. The press box hosts seven Posties: the three beat writers plus two columnists as well as utility writers Dan Steinberg and Paul Tenorio.

The Post has had a rocky relationship with Redskins owner Dan Snyder. A few years ago, the Skins accused the Post of meddling in the locker room and writing too many negative articles. Team executives tried to undermine Nunyo Demasio, then the beat reporter. The Redskins yanked 267 of the Post’s season tickets as part of a 2004 dispute over coverage and alleged resale of the tickets.

How are relations now after investigative reporter James Grimaldi’s exposé on ticket sales and lawsuits against fans? “I feel the Redskins have been very cooperative and helpful,” says sports editor Matthew Vita. So far—but Redskins execs are furious and might make the next play.

The White House

The Post has four reporters covering the West Wing: Mike Fletcher concentrates on economics and business; Anne Kornblut has returned from book leave to cover politics; Mike Shear moved up from state politics to cover White House news; and Scott Wilson has been dispatched to handle more think pieces. Chris Cillizza roams in and out.

Talk about flooding the zone: Following President Obama’s health-care-speech before Congress, Dan Balz weighed in with analysis, Dana Milbank cracked wise in his Washington Sketch column, Ann Gerhart and Garance Franke-Ruta went on the blog 44: The Obama Presidency to report back stories. Health-policy writer Ceci Connolly gave the coverage some heft.

Despite the bodies and words the Post throws into the White House beat, most reporters and observers polled by Post Watch say it’s no longer the paper of record on presidential coverage. It rarely breaks news stories. Its analysis lacks bite. Gone are the days when Ann Devroy had more sources than the President and broke news before it reached the Oval Office. The Post often gets beaten and outclassed by its main competitors: the New York Times and Politico, two publications that have hired away some of the Post’s veteran White House writers.

The Verdict

So which beat does the Post cover better? Tough call. For sheer number of voices who cover the White House in the newspaper, columns, and blogs, I’d give an edge to the political team. But the Post columnists and reporters covering the Redskins have moved from the cheerleading of years past to challenging Snyder and his team. Both should be breaking more news.

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