News & Politics

Post Watch: “We Have a Problem With Our Local Newspaper”

The change of the guard at the top of the Washington Post has sidelined some big Redskins fans.

Post Company head Don Graham, who was publisher for 21 years, tries to attend every Redskins home game. He’s been spied sitting at the 50-yard line in the upper deck. A Washington native, he’s been a Skins fan his whole life. Ditto Boisfeuillet “Bo” Jones, publisher until February and Graham’s longtime friend.

Katharine Weymouth, Graham’s niece, has taken over as Post publisher. A native New Yorker, she has been to a few games but says, “Don is the real sports fan in the family.”

Departed executive editor Leonard Downie had a heart of burgundy and gold. He tries to go to every home game, and he paid special attention to Redskins coverage. It was Downie who reserved a spot on the front page for game coverage the morning after the Redskins played.

Downie’s replacement, Marcus Brauchli, grew up in Boulder, Colorado; he’s a Denver Broncos fan.

Will taking the Redskins fans out of the executive suites affect coverage? In recent years, the Post’s coverage sometimes seemed celebratory—the paper devoted page after page to coach Joe Gibbs’s return to the team in 2004.

“In the year I’ve been there,” says beat writer Jason Reid, “I’ve never heard from any of the top editors about direction of coverage or whether they were dissatisfied. I didn’t even know they were fans.”

A Brooklyn native, Reid came from the Los Angeles Times, where he covered “everything except track and field.” Of the Redskins he says, “It’s obvious the Redskins are the thing people in this region care the most about. My goal is to be accurate and fair. When my head hits the pillow at night, that’s all I can do.”

The team’s number-one fan—owner Dan Snyder—often hits the pillow seething about Washington Post coverage. In 2005 he was so mad about the way the Post covered his team that he yanked hundreds of the newspaper’s season tickets. He summoned Post editors to his mansion to complain about coverage.

Shortly after Snyder bought WTEM, the local sports radio station, in June, a Wall Street Journal reporter said fans were concerned its coverage might become “propaganda.”

Snyder says the complaints come from the Post: “We have a problem in this marketplace with our local newspaper. There’s a monopoly. I have no problems saying that. They have been losing circulation by the droves, losing advertising by the pound load, and they are desperate to create controversy.”

Snyder might take more of his ire out on the Post—but with the fans gone from the helm, it’s likely no one will listen. And the coverage probably will be straight and tough, as it should be.

This article first appeared in the October 2008 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here

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