The Washington Post is the largest newspaper in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States. The paper was founded in 1877 as an organ of the Democratic Party, but since became an independent news outlet. The Post specializes in coverage of politics in Washington, D.C. and is also well-known for its investigative reporting. Its reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein spearheaded the media's investigation of the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, and the paper played a central role in the undoing of the Nixon presidency. The Post is also one of the most highly-circulated papers in the country, behind only such papers as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.
The Post continues to exert a powerful influence in the political arena of Washington, D.C., and the nation, but arguably has lost ground due to the rise of innumerable political blogs on the Internet that compete with it in terms of uncovering scoops and commentary.
The Washington Post was founded in 1877 by Stilson Hutchins. In 1880, a Sunday edition was added, thus becoming the city's first newspaper to publish seven days a week.
The paper originally served as an organ of the Democratic Party. This affiliation ended with the 1889 sale of the paper to Frank Hatton, a former Postmaster General, and Beriah Wilkins, a former Democratic congressman from Ohio. To promote the paper, the new owners requested the leader of the Marine Band, John Philip Sousa, to compose a march for the newspaper's essay contest awards ceremony. The Washington Post endures today as a Sousa classic and is said to have brought the once modest newspaper to worldwide fame. In 1899, during the Spanish-American War, the Post printed Clifford K. Berryman's classic illustration Remember the Maine. The early years of the Post also featured some famous writers. Joseph Pulitzer and future president Theodore Roosevelt both contributed features to the paper.
On Hatton's death in 1894, Wilkins acquired Hatton's share of the paper. After Wilkins' death in 1903, his sons John and Robert ran the Post for two years before selling it in 1905 to Washington McLean and his son John Roll McLean, owners of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
When John McLean died in 1916, he put the paper in trust, having little faith that his playboy son Edward "Ned" McLean could manage his inheritance. Ned went to court and broke the trust, but under his management, the paper slumped toward ruin. It was purchased in a bankruptcy auction in 1933 by a member of the Federal Reserve's board of governors, Eugene Meyer, who restored the paper's health and reputation. In 1946, Meyer was succeeded as publisher by his son-in-law Philip Graham.
In 1954, the Post consolidated its position by acquiring its last morning rival, the Washington Times-Herald, leaving as its remaining competitors two afternoon papers, the Washington Star (Evening Star) (until that paper's demise in 1981) and The Washington Daily News, which was bought and merged into the Star in 1972. The Washington Times, established in 1982, became a local rival offering a conservative view, although its circulation has remained significantly lower—in 2005 it was about one-seventh that of the Post.
After Philip Graham's death in 1963, control of the Washington Post Company passed to Katherine Graham, his wife and Eugene Meyer's daughter. No woman before had ever run a nationally prominent newspaper in the United States. She served as publisher from 1969 to 1979 and headed the Washington Post Company into the early 1990s as chairman of the board and CEO. After 1993, she retained a position as chairman of the executive committee until her death in 2001. Her tenure is credited with seeing the Post rise in national stature through risk-taking and effective investigative reporting, most notably of the Watergate scandal. Executive editor Ben Bradlee put the paper's reputation and resources behind reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who, in a long series of articles, chipped away at the story behind the 1972 burglary of Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate Hotel complex (Woodward remains at The Post today). The Post's dogged coverage of the story, the outcome of which ultimately played a major role in the resignation of President Richard Nixon, won the paper a Pulitzer Prize in 1973.
The Post was made a public company in 1971, listing on the New York Stock Exchange.
In 1980, the Post published a dramatic story called "Jimmy's World," describing the life of an eight-year-old heroin addict, for which reporter Janet Cooke won acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize. Subsequent investigation, however, revealed the story to be a fabrication. The Pulitzer Prize was returned.
Donald Graham, Katherine's son, succeeded her as publisher in 1979 and in the early 1990s became chief executive officer and chairman of the board. He was succeeded as publisher and CEO in 2000 by Boisfeuillet Jones, Jr., with Graham remaining as chairman.
Like The New York Times, the Post was slow in moving to color photographs and features. On January 28, 1999, its first color front-page photograph appeared. After that, color slowly integrated itself into other photographs and advertising throughout the paper.
The newspaper established an online presence in 1996, with its website washingtonpost.com. However, it has had much less success online compared to The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
The Post is headquartered at 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington DC, and the newspaper has the exclusive zip code 20071. The Post moved to this site in 1950 to accommodate its expanded vision. It is part of The Washington Post Company, which owns a number of other media and non-media companies, including Newsweek magazine, the online magazine Slate, and the Kaplan test preparation service.
The Post is generally regarded among the leading daily American newspapers along with The New York Times, which is known for its general reporting and international coverage; The Wall Street Journal, which is known for its financial reporting; and the Los Angeles Times. The Post, unsurprisingly, has distinguished itself through its reporting on the workings of the White House, Congress, and other aspects of the U.S. government.
Unlike the Times and the Journal, however, it sees itself as a regional newspaper, and does not print a daily national edition for distribution away from the East Coast. However, a "National Weekly Edition," combining stories from a week of Post editions, is published. The majority of its newsprint readership is in the District of Columbia, as well as in the suburbs of Maryland and Northern Virginia.
As of 2006, its average weekday circulation was 656,297 and its Sunday circulation was 930,619, making it the sixth largest newspaper in the country by circulation, behind The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the New York Post. While its circulation, like that of almost all newspapers, has been slipping, it has one of the highest market-penetration rates of any metropolitan news daily.
The Post had been honored with numerous awards, including 22 Pulitzer Prizes, 18 Nieman Fellowships, and 368 White House News Photographers Association Awards.
The Post claims that its news coverage is politically neutral or strives to be. Conservatives often cite the Post, along with The New York Times, as exemplars of "liberal media bias." Some liberals, on the other hand, view the Post as "culturally and politically conservative" and supportive of the Washington Establishment and the status quo. As late publisher Katherine Graham noted in her memoirs, Personal History, the paper long had a policy of not making endorsements for presidential candidates. In 2004, however, the Post endorsed John Kerry. The Post has occasionally endorsed a Republican politician, such as Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich. It has regularly published a political mixture of op-ed columnists, many of them left-of-center (including E.J. Dionne and Richard Cohen) and a few right-of-center (including George Will and Charles Krauthammer). Its editorial positions are mostly liberal, yet it has taken rare conservative stances: it steadfastly supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, warmed to President George W. Bush's proposal to partially privatize Social Security, and advocated free trade agreements, including, among others, CAFTA.
In 1992, the PBS investigative news program Frontline suggested that the Post had moved to the right in response to its smaller, more conservative rival The Washington Times. The program quoted conservative activist Paul Weyrich as saying: "The Washington Post became very arrogant and they just decided that they would determine what was news and what wasn't news and they wouldn't cover a lot of things that went on. And The Washington Times has forced the Post to cover a lot of things that they wouldn't cover if the Times wasn't in existence." On March 26, 2007, Chris Matthews said on his television program, "Well, The Washington Post is not the liberal newspaper it was.... I have been reading it for years and it is a neocon newspaper."
In 1970 the Post became one of the first newspapers in the United States to establish a position of "ombudsman," or readers' representative, assigned to address reader complaints about Post news coverage and to monitor the newspaper's adherence to its own standards. Ever since, the ombudsman's commentary has been a frequent feature of the Post editorial page.
One occasion that provoked the ombudsman's criticism came in 1981, when the embarrassment of Janet Cooke's fabricated story, "Jimmy's World" led Post ombudsman Bill Green to conclude that "[t]he scramble for journalistic prizes is poisonous. The obligation is to inform readers, not to collect frameable certificates, however prestigious. Maybe the Post should consider not entering contests."
In 1986, Post news coverage was dismissive of a controversial series of articles, by journalist Gary Webb, that had appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, alleging that the CIA knowingly allowed CIA-financed Contra guerrillas in Central America to traffic in crack cocaine in order to raise funds for arms. The Washington Post's ombudsman, who was then Geneva Overholser, agreed with critics that the Post showed "misdirected zeal" and "more passion for sniffing out the flaws in San Jose's answer than for sniffing out a better answer [ourselves]." Noting that there was "strong previous evidence that the CIA at least chose to overlook Contra involvement in the drug trade," she added, "Would that we had welcomed the surge of public interest as an occasion to return to a subject the Post and the public had given short shrift. Alas, dismissing someone else's story as old news comes more naturally."
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