Five Notable Moments from Marty Baron’s Book Tour

From The Poynter Report with Tom Jones:

“Collision of Power” by retired Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron has only been available for three days, but Baron’s promotional tour has unearthed what feels like enough revelations about Post owner Jeff Bezos, media coverage of former President Donald Trump and the state of journalism to fill another book.

In a wide-ranging Q&A with Seattle Times Save the Press Initiative editor Brier Dudley, Baron spoke about the effects of Bezos’ 2013 purchase of the Post and how it “instilled a lot of hope” in staff. The outlet succeeded in the years since, Baron said, because it “delivered something that people really valued” — it was at the forefront of holding Trump accountable for his words and actions.

“I talk in the book about how we came up with (the slogan) ‘Democracy Dies in Darkness.’ As Bezos said, this is an idea people want to belong to, not a newspaper they want to subscribe to. The idea was shining light in dark corners, holding government to account, holding our representatives to high standards and all of that. People were willing to get behind that and help pay for it,” Baron said. “That’s what we needed.

“That’s a part of what local news organizations need to do, in terms of keeping a watchful eye on the police and city council, state government, school boards, you name it,” he continued. “And they need to be providing people real value day in and day out, information about their own communities, that people say ‘I would really miss this if this were gone, every day I’m getting something of value here,’ so that they’re willing to pay for it.”

Given that Trump’s ongoing candidacy for president is a “threat to democracy and the country’s framework of government,” CNN senior media reporter Oliver Darcy asked Baron if news organizations should “remain totally neutral” when covering the former president. (Baron has defended a traditional standard of “objectivity” in journalism during a time when critics have questioned its value.)

“There’s evidence aplenty that Trump is an aspiring authoritarian,” Baron said. “He has talked openly about suspending the Constitution. He has talked openly about using the military to suppress legitimate protests. He has suggested that someone like Mark Milley should be executed. He has called for prosecuting NBC for treason. He continues to use language that excuses, and is likely to incite, violence against his political opponents. He has called for shutting down the government as a way to end federal prosecutions directed at him. These are unmistakable signals of the sort of presidency he intends to have, and the coverage needs to make that clear. That’s just being accurate, based on a mountain of evidence — which, again, we need to show in full.”

CNN lead Washington anchor Jake Tapper questioned Baron about the Post’s 2020 suspension of Felicia Sonmez. Shortly after basketball star Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash, Sonmez tweeted a link to a 2016 Daily Beast story that recalled allegations of rape against Bryant dating back to 2003. Sonmez was subsequently suspended.

“First of all, I can’t think of anything more journalistic — in the sense that we are the ones that are supposed to bring up the most uncomfortable truths to the public — than that tweet,” Tapper said. “And second of all, I bet there were millions of rape survivors and sexual assault survivors that saw her tweet and thought, ‘Thank God somebody out there is speaking for me.’”

Baron said when the Post publishes obituaries on controversial people, they “always bring up the moments of dishonor.” But, he said, “We also assign certain people to do those kinds of stories. We don’t expect anybody in the newsroom to decide to throw out commentary as they wish, whenever they wish, in whatever manner they wish.”

“It was just a tweet,” Tapper said.

“It wasn’t just a tweet,” Baron responded. “It was a tweet at a particular moment in a particular way that created an enormous reaction where people focused on us at The Washington Post as opposed to focusing on our coverage of Kobe Bryant.”

Baron spoke more about his views on social media in an interview with former Financial Times editor Lionel Barber and Prospect editor Alan Rusbridger on their new “Media Confidential” podcast.

“I think there was a moment where I lost a good portion of the newsroom … they wanted the freedom to express themselves on social media, to share their feelings, their reactions,” Baron said. “They reacted not well to my efforts to enforce our policies and so there was actually quite an uprising. … I did feel that there was a growing chasm between myself and many people on the staff and I was dismayed at that.”

Baron retired from The Washington Post at the end of February 2021. In a Q&A, Los Angeles Times staff writer James Rainey noted that Baron’s accomplishments at the Post included 10 Pulitzer Prizes — to say nothing about the rest of his acclaimed career in journalism.

“So,” Rainey asked, “will you miss it?”

“I was an editor at three different news organizations over the course of 20 years,” Baron said. “It became ever more exhausting, because it’s not just a 24-7 job, it’s a 24-7-every-minute job. And I (increasingly) felt a chasm between how I felt journalism should be practiced and how at least a good number of people on our staff wanted to practice it. I didn’t know that I could really resolve that. … Now, I don’t have to deal with that every single day. I want to move on and do other things. …

“So, no, I don’t miss it.”

By Ren LaForme, managing editor

Speak Your Mind