News & Politics

The “Post” Isn’t Invited to the Party

The paper is becoming increasingly sidelined in Washington discourse.

Sally Quinn’s

last week in the
Washington Post, arguing effectively that dinner
parties in Washington are over because—it seems—no one invites her to
dinner anymore stirred
up quite the


on the Internet.

Yet reading
David Sanger’s new book,
Confront and Conceal,
it’s clear dinners
still happen in Washington. Hushed, insightful dinner
conversations come up repeatedly in his reporting on the Obama
It’s striking, actually, to see reference after reference to
meals at which power brokers broke bread with Sanger and provided
the inside story of how the 44th President was beginning to
learn the levers of power.

There’s a private dinner at Lincoln’s summer cottage with
Robert Gates (p. 32), a dinner at the G-20 in
Pittsburgh where officials first pulled back the curtain on the Iranian
nuclear facility
at Qom (p. 181), and a 2011 dinner (p. 412) with “the prime
minister of one significant American ally,” during which the leader
said to Sanger, “Ten years ago, the first question any
Southeast Asian leader would ask is, ‘How will this play in Washington?’
For the past few years, it’s been, ‘How will this play in
Beijing?’” And that doesn’t even count the series of dinner discussions
National Security adviser
Tom Donilon has evidently been conducting with his Chinese counterpart (p. 396).

Maybe the bigger issue is that metaphorically, no one invites the
Washington Post to dinner anymore. There was a time, as Quinn relates in grand fashion, when the dinner table of
Katharine Graham was the most elite place to be in Washington. Yet last week the
Post celebrated in grand style the 40th anniversary of


Washington’s defining modern scandal, against a backdrop that
seemed to emphasize how sidelined it’s become in the modern
Washington discourse.

Notably, amidst the Obama administration’s controversial war
none of said leaks involve the
Washington Post. The

New York Times has seen a steady drip of leak
investigations—most recently major scoops on

and President Obama’s “kill

by Sanger,
Jo Becker,
Scott Shane,
Charlie Savage, and
James Risen, among others. Similarly, the
Wall Street Journal and the
Baltimore Sun have been involved in going to bat for
Siobhan Gorman in a case involving NSA staffer
Thomas Drake. The AP is under fire for its
reporting on operations against al-Qaeda in
Fox News’s
James Rosen is caught up in the prosecution of alleged leaker
Stephen Kim

As far as we know so far, the
Post has remained on the sidelines, its “scoops” evidently not worth either protecting in the administration’s eyes or getting
Congress worked up over. To add insult to injury, Wikileaks last year partnered with the
only after its other media relationships fell

No matter how many times
Post executive editor
Marcus Brauchli argues otherwise, the
Post is a shadow of what it was under Sally Quinn’s husband,
Ben Bradlee. “The
Washington Post is haunted by its history,”
Vanity Fair’s
Sarah Ellison concluded this spring. “The mythology of the
Post was always grander than the reality.”

And that reality is getting darker.

This year, for the first time since at least 1995, the
Post not only won no Pulitzers, but it wasn’t even a
in any

Its talent pool seems more shallow with each passing year. The
Post just completed its fifth round of buyouts, with the goodbyes and “cakings” unfolding through an increasingly demoralized
newsroom that’s already seen the departure of two of its top leaders,
Raju Narisetti and digital guru
Katharine Zaleski, in recent

In the past 15 years, at least 15 journalists who have won Pulitzer Prizes at the
Washington Post chose to leave.
James Grimaldi, the most recent escapee, moved to the
Wall Street Journal. The others departures include
Anthony Shadid, Jo Becker,
Barton Gellman,
Len Downie,
Kate Boo,
Rick Atkinson,
Robin Givhan,
Stephen Hunter,
Henry Allen,
Tim Page,
Sue Schmidt,
R. Jeffrey Smith,
Steve Fainaru, and
Steve Coll.

Beyond that list,
John Harris,
Jim VandeHei, and
Mike Allen left to start
Politico, starting a whole new conversation and a new institution from scratch that is out-hustling the
Post on a seemingly daily basis in its core area of politics. Profile master
Mark Leibovich won a National Magazine Award in one of his first years after leaving the
Post for the
Times Magazine. Brauchli’s leadership style even led
Howard Kurtz, a reliable scoop machine, to depart for
Newsweek/Daily Beast, where he’s now the Washington bureau chief. Just weeks ago, the
Post’s Polk Award-winning foreign correspondent
Leila Fadel left for NPR, as part of its overseas expansion.

NPR will soon overtake the
Post internationally by opening its 18th foreign bureau in Brazil. Domestic bureaus? The
Post gave those up entirely three years ago.

Coll, the former managing editor, told
Vanity Fair this spring that he left because if he had stayed, he “was going to be managing decline, and that didn’t interest me.”

There are still some great reporters at the
Post (Greg Jaffe and
Joby Warrick are both great national security reporters, for instance) and the paper is still making attempts to rebuild its bench—yet
with varying degrees of success.

In his February buyout announcement, Brauchli wrote to

Post’s Newsroom remains formidable, and we will
continue making tactical hires so that even as we get smaller, we get
Leaving aside the fact that few in the newsroom believe the
bluster anymore, in Brauchli’s first high-profile recruiting attempt
after that memo, going after the
New Republic’s
Noam Scheiber, the
Post editor was politely rebuffed.

New managing editor
John Temple is carrying many Posties’ hopes
that he can begin to turn things

Now the
Post is hiring a new enterprise editor who, in Brauchli’s words, “we believe
will lift the ambition, quality and impact of our journalism, across the newsroom and across platforms.”

Let’s hope Temple and the new enterprise editor can help the paper get invited to dinner again.