News & Politics

Is the Washington Post Biased in Its Coverage of the Mayoral Candidates?

The paper has drawn criticism for its “fawning” articles about Muriel Bowser.

It’s not unusual for the Washington Post to point voters to its favorite mayoral candidate. The editorial page lobbied hard for Anthony Williams in 1998 and 2002. In 2006 and 2010, Adrian Fenty got the Post’s hearty endorsement. The paper was instrumental in Marion Barry’s rise to the mayoralty in 1978, when it endorsed him with six glowing editorials.

Post readers are in no doubt about the paper’s pick this time: Muriel Bowser has been endorsed twice already on the editorial page, and odds are she’ll be favored again before April 1’s Democratic primary. Meanwhile, the editorial page has hammered incumbent mayor Vince Gray for his alleged role in corruption surrounding his 2010 campaign.

In the news pages, the Post’s Metro section has run a series of articles focusing on each mayoral candidate. Bowser’s turn came in the March 3 paper. Solid and balanced, it cited her lack of “legislative chops,” a common complaint from the media and voters alike.

What struck more than one reader as out of the ordinary was a news feature of Bowser that appeared on Monday’s front page, headlined, “A week out, all eyes suddenly appear to be on Bowser.” The second portrait of the candidate to run in less than three weeks, Monday’s feature began with a vignette of Bowser devoting an afternoon in the midst of her campaign to help a retired teacher find a home. After suggesting her gravitas was burgeoning, the piece depicted her as the physical embodiment of a leader: “She’s a striking presence,” the story said, “the only woman among the major candidates, tall, with piercing obsidian eyes and an unusually expressive face.”

“You usually have to pay for advertising,” commenter gbooksdc wrote on the Post’s website.

“The tone and language of the coverage are beginning to remind me of the way Fox News covers Democrats,” says Robert Cullin, former longtime Newsweek correspondent and AP reporter. “All of this fawning coverage, hailing Bowser as the new people’s choice in DC, is hung on one poll that the Post admits is unscientific.

“By contrast,” Cullin tells Washingtonian, “the coverage of Gray uses equally selective anecdotes to insist that his support in the black community is slipping fast.”

Post executive editor Marty Baron bristled at the criticism, saying that the A1 profile was prompted by Bowser’s surge in the polls. “The Post doesn’t use the news pages to promote any candidate,” he wrote in an e-mail responding to questions. “To suggest otherwise is inaccurate.

“It is a standard practice to catch up again with a candidate who moves into a virtual tie with the incumbent and front-runner,” Baron added.

On Wednesday, the Post ran a 1,450-word piece on the front page, on Bowser’s surge in the polls.