News & Politics

Talk About Not Being Colby King

Capehart is a new—and surprising—voice on the editorial page. Photograph by Matthew Worden.

Days after Marine general Peter Pace said in March that homosexual acts were “immoral,” Fred Hiatt showed up at Jonathan Capehart’s office.

Hiatt, editor of the Post editorial page, asked, “Want to write about Pace?”

Capehart, who had recently joined Hiatt’s staff, said, “Sure.”

As Capehart tells it, Hiatt then said, “Don’t think I’ll always ask you to write about gay issues.”

To which Capehart says he said: “That’s why I’m here.”

In asking Capehart to be one of four recent hires to join his staff of eight that writes the Post’s editorials, Hiatt got a “twofer.” The 39-year-old New Yorker is African-American and gay. His detractors accuse him of being a token every time he takes a new job, whether it’s writing editorials for the New York Daily News or press releases for Michael Bloomberg’s first New York City mayoral campaign.

“I frustrate a lot of people,” he says. “They look at me and think I’m a Republican, an Uncle Tom, a sellout.”

Capehart is a registered Democrat, but he could pass for a member of the conservative corporate set: His suit looks custom-made; his blue cotton shirt has French cuffs. In print he champions gay issues, adored Bill Clinton as president, and of Hillary says: “I like her.”

Capehart purses his lips when I ask what provokes him.

He says: “What I bring to my job is heightened sensitivity about being black and gay.”

What Capehart will not bring is the sensitivity to local Washington that Colby King brought to the Post for 16 years. There is no “black” slot on the editorial staff, but King was the only African-American on the page when he retired. A product of Washington’s public schools, King raged against hypocrisy and foibles of DC officials. He retired in December but writes a column every Saturday and is a regular on TV news shows.

Capehart helps put Hiatt’s stamp on the Post. King was hired by Hiatt’s predecessor, Meg Greenfield, as were Sebastian Mallaby and Ben Wittes, both of whom recently left. Anne Applebaum left, too. Hiatt added former Metro editor Jo-Ann Armao and Capehart; he filled the last two spots with Post Supreme Court reporter Chuck Lane and Eva Rodriguez, bureau chief of BusinessWeek. They are scheduled to begin in July.

Capehart showed up on Hiatt’s screen in 1999 when he met Post editor Milton Coleman at a National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association meeting. They communicated occasionally.

Raised in northern New Jersey, Capehart graduated from St. Benedict’s Prep School. At Carleton College in Minnesota, he ran both the radio station and the newspaper. “Everything I did was geared to becoming a news commentator,” he says.

In 1993, at age 26, he joined the editorial staff at the New York Daily News; his columns about saving the Apollo Theater helped win a Pulitzer Prize in 1999. He then wrote columns for Bloomberg News, switched to Bloomberg’s mayoral campaign, went back to the Daily News, and then joined the Hill & Knowlton public-relations firm in 2005.

Settling into DC, he misses three things from Manhattan: effective snow removal, one-day dry cleaning, and a decent shoeshine.

Readers of the Post might miss Colby King.