The Washington Post (sometimes abbreviated as WaPo) is a major American daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C., with a particular emphasis on national politics and the federal government. It has the largest circulation in the Washington metropolitan area. Its slogan "Democracy Dies in Darkness" began appearing on its masthead in 2017. Daily broadsheet editions are printed for the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.
The newspaper has won 47 Pulitzer Prizes. This includes six separate Pulitzers awarded in 2008, second only to The New York Times's seven awards in 2002 for the highest number ever awarded to a single newspaper in one year. Post Journalists have also received 18 Nieman Fellowships and 368 White House News Photographers Association awards. In the early 1970s, in the best-known episode in the newspaper's history, reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein led the American press's investigation into what became known as the Watergate scandal. Their reporting in The Washington Post greatly contributed to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. In years since, the Post's investigations have led to increased review of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
The Washington Post is regarded as one of the leading daily American newspapers, along with The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Wall Street Journal. The Post has distinguished itself through its political reporting on the workings of the White House, Congress, and other aspects of the U.S. government.
Unlike The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post does not print an edition for distribution away from the East Coast. In 2009, the newspaper ceased publication of its National Weekly Edition, which combined stories from the week's print editions, due to shrinking circulation. The majority of its newsprint readership is in the District of Columbia and its suburbs in Maryland and Northern Virginia.
The newspaper is one of a few U.S. newspapers with foreign bureaus, located in Beirut, Berlin, Beijing, Bogotá, Cairo, Hong Kong, Islamabad, Jerusalem, Kabul, London, Mexico City, Moscow, Nairobi, New Delhi, Paris, and Tokyo. In November 2009, it announced the closure of its U.S. regional bureaus—Chicago, Los Angeles and New York—as part of an increased focus on "political stories and local news coverage in Washington." The newspaper has local bureaus in Maryland (Annapolis, Montgomery County, Prince George's County, Southern Maryland) and Virginia (Alexandria, Fairfax, Loudoun County, Richmond, and Prince William County).
As of May 2013, its average weekday circulation was 474,767, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, making it the seventh largest newspaper in the country by circulation, behind USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Daily News, 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.
For many decades, the Post had its main office at 1150 15th Street NW. This real estate remained with Graham Holdings when the newspaper was sold to Jeff Bezos' Nash Holdings in 2013. Graham Holdings sold 1150 15th Street (along with 1515 L Street, 1523 L Street, and land beneath 1100 15th Street) for US$159 million in November 2013. The Washington Post continued to lease space at 1150 L Street NW. In May 2014, The Washington Post leased the west tower of One Franklin Square, a high-rise building at 1301 K Street NW in Washington, D.C. The newspaper moved into its new offices on December 14, 2015.
The Post has its own exclusive zip code, 20071.
The newspaper was founded in 1877 by Stilson Hutchins (1838–1912), and in 1880 it added a Sunday edition, becoming the city's first newspaper to publish seven days a week.
In April 1878, about four months into publication, The Washington Post purchased The Washington Union, a competing newspaper which was founded by John Lynch in late 1877. The Union had only been in operation about six months at the time of the acquisition. The combined newspaper was published from the Globe Building as The Washington Post and Union beginning on April 15, 1878, with a circulation of 13,000. The Post and Union name was used about two weeks until April 29, 1878, returning to the original masthead the following day.
In 1889, Hutchins sold the newspaper to Frank Hatton, a former Postmaster General, and Beriah Wilkins, a former Democratic congressman from Ohio. To promote the newspaper, the new owners requested the leader of the United States Marine Band, John Philip Sousa, to compose a march for the newspaper's essay contest awards ceremony. Sousa composed "The Washington Post". It became the standard music to accompany the two-step, a late 19th-century dance craze, and remains one of Sousa's best-known works.
In 1893, the newspaper moved to a building at 14th and E streets NW, where it would remain until 1950.
In 1898, during the Spanish–American War, the Post printed Clifford K. Berryman's classic illustration Remember the Maine, which became the battle-cry for American sailors during the War. In 1902, Berryman published another famous cartoon in the Post – Drawing the Line in Mississippi. This cartoon depicts President Theodore Roosevelt showing compassion for a small bear cub and inspired New York store owner Morris Michtom to create the teddy bear.
Wilkins acquired Hatton's share of the newspaper in 1894 at Hatton's death.
When John McLean died in 1916, he put the newspaper 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 newspaper slumped toward ruin. He bled the paper for his lavish lifestyle, and used it to promote political agendas.
In 1929, financier Eugene Meyer (who had run the War Finance Corp. since World War I) secretly made an offer of $5 million for the Post, but he was rebuffed by Ned McLean. On June 1, 1933, Meyer bought the paper at a bankruptcy auction for $825,000 three weeks after stepping down as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. He had bid anonymously, and was prepared to go up to $2 million, far higher than the other bidders. These included William Randolph Hearst, who had long hoped to shut down the ailing Post to benefit his own Washington newspaper presence.
The Post's health and reputation were restored under Meyer's ownership. In 1946, he was succeeded as publisher by his son-in-law, Philip Graham. Meyer eventually gained the last laugh over Hearst, who had owned the old Washington Times and the Herald before their 1939 merger that formed the Times-Herald. This was in turn bought by and merged into the Post in 1954. The combined paper was officially named The Washington Post and Times-Herald until 1973, although the Times-Herald portion of the nameplate became less and less prominent over time. The merger left the Post with two remaining local competitors, the Washington Star (Evening Star) and The Washington Daily News which merged in 1972, forming the Washington Star-News.  This had again become simply the Washington Star by the time it closed on August 7, 1981, leaving the Post as the only major daily in Washington for almost a year. On May 17, 1982, Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon began publishing the current Washington Times, a conservative daily broadsheet whose circulation has only ever been a fraction of its rival, the Post. In 2005, conservative competition increased slightly with the founding of the Washington Examiner, originally a free tabloid daily, which switched to a weekly magazine format in 2013. But the Post, with a far larger presence, locally and nationally, has remained Washington's dominant paper since the 1950s.
After Phil Graham's death in 1963, control of The Washington Post Company passed to his wife Katharine Graham (1917–2001), who was also Eugene Meyer's daughter. Few women had run prominent national newspapers in the United States. Katharine Graham described her own anxiety and lack of confidence based on her gender in her autobiography. 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 newspaper rise in national stature through effective investigative reporting after it began to live down its reputation as a house organ for the Kennedy and Johnson administration, working to ensure that The New York Times did not surpass its Washington reporting of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate scandal.
Graham took The Washington Post Company public on June 15, 1971 in the midst of the Pentagon Papers controversy.
During this time, Graham also oversaw the Post company's diversification purchase of the for-profit education and training company Kaplan, Inc. for $40 million in 1984. Twenty years later, Kaplan had surpassed the Post newspaper as the company's leading contributor to income, and by 2010 Kaplan accounted for more than 60% of the entire company revenue stream.
Executive editor Ben Bradlee, a Kennedy loyalist, put the newspaper'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 complex in Washington. 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 newspaper a Pulitzer Prize in 1973.
In 1972, the "Book World" section was introduced with Pulitzer Prize–winning critic William McPherson as its first editor. It featured Pulitzer Prize–winning critics such as Jonathan Yardley and Michael Dirda, the latter of whom established his career as a critic at the Post. In 2009, after 37 years, with great reader outcries and protest, The Washington Post Book World as a standalone insert was discontinued, the last issue being Sunday, February 15, 2009, along with a general reorganization of the paper, such as placing the Sunday editorials on the back page of the main front section rather than the "Outlook" section and distributing some other locally oriented "op-ed" letters and commentaries in other sections. However, book reviews are still published in the Outlook section on Sundays and in the Style section the rest of the week, as well as online.
In 1980, the newspaper published a dramatic story called "Jimmy's World", describing the life of an eight-year-old heroin addict in Washington, 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 E. Graham, Katharine's son, succeeded her as publisher in 1979 and in the early 1990s became both chief executive officer and chairman of the board. He was succeeded in 2000 as publisher and CEO by Boisfeuillet Jones Jr., with Graham remaining as chairman.
Katharine Weymouth, Donald Graham's niece, served as publisher and chief executive officer from 2008 until 2014, when Jeff Bezos took over ownership of the paper.
The Post made its own major news in 2013 when Jeff Bezos purchased the paper for US$250 million cash. The newspaper is now owned by Nash Holdings LLC controlled by Bezos. The sale also included some other local publications, websites and real estate. After the sale the Washington Post Co. became Graham Holdings Company
Bezos said he has a vision that recreates "the 'daily ritual' of reading the Post as a bundle, not merely a series of individual stories..." He has been described as a "hands-off owner," holding teleconference calls with executive editor Martin Baron every two weeks. Bezos appointed Fred Ryan (founder and CEO of Politico) to serve as Publisher and CEO of the Post. This signaled Bezos’ intent to shift the Post to a more digital focus with a national and global readership.
In 2014, the Post announced it was moving from 1150 15th Street to a leased space three blocks away at One Franklin Square on K Street. In recent years the Post launched an online personal finance section, as well as a blog and a podcast with a retro theme.
When financier Eugene Meyer bought the bankrupt Post in 1933, he assured the public he wouldn't be beholden to any party. But as a leading Republican (it was his old friend Herbert Hoover who had made him Fed Chairman in 1930), his opposition to FDR's New Deal colored the paper's editorial stance as well as its news coverage. This included editorializing "news" stories written by Meyer under a pseudonym. His wife Agnes Ernst Meyer was a journalist from the other end of the spectrum politically. The Post ran many of her pieces including tributes to her personal friends John Dewey and Saul Alinsky.
Eugene Meyer became head of the World Bank in 1946, and he named his son-in-law Phil Graham to succeed him as Post publisher. The post-war years saw the developing friendship of Phil and Kay Graham with the Kennedys, the Bradlees and the rest of the "Georgetown Set" (many Harvard alumni) that would color the Post's political orientation. Kay Graham's most memorable Georgetown soirée guest list included British diplomat/communist spy Donald Maclean.
The Post is credited with inventing the term "McCarthyism" in a 1950 editorial cartoon by Herbert Block. Depicting buckets of tar, it made fun of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's "tarring" tactics, i.e., smear campaigns and character assassination against those targeted by his accusations. Sen. McCarthy was attempting to do for the Senate what the House Un-American Activities Committee had been doing for years — investigating Soviet espionage in America. The HUAC made Richard Nixon nationally known for his role in the Hiss/Chambers case that exposed communist spying in the State Department. The committee had evolved from the McCormack-Dickstein Committee of the 1930s.
Phil Graham's friendship with JFK remained strong until their untimely deaths in 1963. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover reportedly told the new President Lyndon B. Johnson, "I don't have much influence with the Post because I frankly don't read it. I view it like the Daily Worker."
Ben Bradlee became the editor-in-chief in 1968, and Kay Graham officially became the publisher in 1969, paving the way for the aggressive reporting of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate scandals. In the mid-1970s, some conservatives referred to the Post as "Pravda on the Potomac" because of its perceived left-wing bias in both reporting and editorials. Since then, the appellation has been used by both liberal and conservative critics of the newspaper.
In Buying the War on PBS, Bill Moyers said there were 27 editorials supporting George W. Bush's ambitions to invade Iraq. National security correspondent Walter Pincus reported that he had been ordered to cease his reports that were critical of the Republican administrations. According to author and journalist Greg Mitchell: "By the Post's own admission, in the months before the war, it ran more than 140 stories on its front page promoting the war, while contrary information 'got lost', as one Post staffer told Kurtz."
On March 26, 2007, Chris Matthews said on his television program, "Well, The Washington Post is not the liberal newspaper it was, Congressman, let me tell you. I have been reading it for years and it is a neocon newspaper". It has regularly published an ideological mixture of op-ed columnists, some of them left-leaning (including E. J. Dionne, Dana Milbank, Greg Sargent, and Eugene Robinson), and many on the right (including George Will, Marc Thiessen, Michael Gerson and Charles Krauthammer, who continued writing columns until shortly before his death in 2018).
In a study published on April 18, 2007, by Yale professors Alan Gerber, Dean Karlan, and Daniel Bergan, citizens were given a subscription to either the conservative-leaning Washington Times or the liberal-leaning Washington Post to see the effect that media has on voting patterns. Gerber had estimated based on his work that the Post slanted as much to the left as the Times did to the right. Gerber found those who were given a free subscription of the Post were 7.9–11.4% more likely to vote for the Democrat candidate for governor than those assigned to the control group, depending on the adjustment for the date on which individual participants were surveyed and the survey interviewer; surprisingly, however, people who received the Times were also more likely than controls to vote for the Democrat, with an effect approximately 60% as large as that estimated for the Post. The study authors said that sampling error might have played a role in the effect of the conservative-leaning Times, as might the fact that the Democrat candidate took more conservative-leaning positions than is typical for his party, and "the month prior to the post-election survey was a difficult period for President Bush, one in which his overall approval rating fell by approximately 4 percentage points nationwide. It appears that heightened exposure to both papers’ news coverage, despite opposing ideological slants, moved public opinion away from Republicans."
In November 2007, the newspaper was criticized by independent journalist Robert Parry for reporting on anti-Obama chain e-mails without sufficiently emphasizing to its readers the false nature of the anonymous claims. In 2009, Parry criticized the newspaper for its allegedly unfair reporting on liberal politicians, including Vice President Al Gore and President Barack Obama.
Responding to criticism of the newspaper's coverage during the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, former Post ombudsman Deborah Howell wrote: "The opinion pages have strong conservative voices; the editorial board includes centrists and conservatives; and there were editorials critical of Obama. Yet opinion was still weighted toward Obama." According to a 2009 Oxford University Press book by Richard Davis on the impact of blogs on American politics, liberal bloggers link to The Washington Post and The New York Times more often than other major newspapers; however, conservative bloggers also link predominantly to liberal newspapers.
In mid-September 2016, Matthew Ingram of Forbes joined Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, and Trevor Trimm of The Guardian in criticizing The Washington Post for "demanding that [former National Security Agency contractor Edward] Snowden... stand trial on espionage charges".
In December 2016, The Post published a story inaccurately stating that a Russian hacking operation had infiltrated the U.S. electrical grid; the claim was retracted in a revised version of the story, after the initial version had been widely circulated.
In February 2017, the Post adopted the slogan "Democracy Dies in Darkness" for its masthead.
Katharine Graham wrote in her autobiography Personal History that the newspaper long had a policy of not making endorsements for political candidates. However, since at least 2000, the newspaper has occasionally endorsed Republican politicians, such as Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich. In 2006, it repeated its historic endorsements of every Republican incumbent for Congress in Northern Virginia. There have also been times when the Post has specifically chosen not to endorse any candidate, such as in the 1988 presidential election when it refused to endorse then-Governor Michael Dukakis or then-Vice President George H. W. Bush. On October 17, 2008, the Post endorsed Barack Obama for President of the United States. On October 25, 2012, the newspaper endorsed the Obama's re-election. The Post has endorsed Democrats for president during at least nine different presidential elections. The paper has never endorsed a Republican for president, and it continued to endorse Bill Clinton for a second term after the Monica Lewinski scandal broke. On October 21, 2014, the newspaper endorsed 44 Democratic candidates versus 3 Republican candidates for the 2014 elections in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. On October 13, 2016, it endorsed Hillary Clinton for that year's presidential election.
The Post's early endorsements in the 1978 elections for Maryland Governor (reformist Harry Hughes) and for D.C. Mayor (a young Marion Barry) allowed those candidates to tout their endorsements, thereby distinguishing them from an otherwise crowded field of big name candidates.
Criticism and controversies
In September 1980, a Sunday feature story appeared on the front page of the Post titled "Jimmy's World" in which reporter Janet Cooke wrote a profile of the life of an eight-year-old heroin addict. Although some within the Post doubted the story's veracity, the paper's editors defended it, and assistant managing editor Bob Woodward submitted the story to the Pulitzer Prize Board at Columbia University for consideration. Cooke was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing on April 13, 1981. The story was then found to be a complete fabrication, and the Pulitzer was returned. In retrospect, Woodward made the following statement:
On July 15, 2019, a major US civil rights organization, The Color of Change, which claims to have 1.4 million members, called on the Post to fire columnist Richard Cohen, who stated in a recent editorial that ‘people with conventional views’ are challenged by New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio's interracial marriage and family, to the point that the average person would have to suppress their ‘gag reflex’ when seeing them on TV.
On November 9, 2018, a Washington Post op-ed written by Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a political leader in Houthi movement and a major figure in orchestrating the Houthi takeover in Yemen which sparked the Yemeni Civil War, was published. This led The Washington Post to be criticized by multiple activists on the basis of providing a platform to an "anti-Western and antisemitic group supported by Iran". Both Iran and the Houthis have denied they are collaborating with each other.
In June 2018, over 400 employees of The Washington Post signed an open letter to owner Jeff Bezos demanding "fair wages; fair benefits for retirement, family leave and health care; and a fair amount of job security." The open letter was accompanied by video testimonials from employees, who alleged "shocking pay practices" despite record growth in subscriptions at the newspaper, with salaries only rising an average of $10 per week, less than half the rate of inflation. The petition followed on a year of unsuccessful negotiations between The Washington Post Guild and upper management over pay and benefit increases.
In November 2016, the Post published a story that relied heavily on a report by PropOrNot, an anonymous internet group that seeks to expose what it calls Russian propaganda. PropOrNot published a list of websites they called "bona-fide 'useful idiots'" of the Russian government. Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor for Harper's, was sharply critical of Post's decision to put the story on its front page, calling the article a "sorry piece of trash". Writers in The Intercept, Fortune, and Rolling Stone also criticized Post for including a report by an organization with no reputation for fact-checking in an article on "fake news". Looking more carefully into their methodology, Adrian Chen, staff writer for The New Yorker, argued that PropOrNot's criteria for establishing propaganda were so broad that they could have included "not only Russian state-controlled media organizations", like RT (formerly known as Russia Today), "but nearly every news outlet in the world, including the Post itself" on their list.
In July 2009, in the midst of intense debate over health care reform, The Politico reported that a health-care lobbyist had received an "astonishing" offer of access to the Post's "health-care reporting and editorial staff." Post publisher Katharine Weymouth had planned a series of exclusive dinner parties or "salons" at her private residence, to which she had invited prominent lobbyists, trade group members, politicians and business people. Participants were to be charged $25,000 to sponsor a single salon, and $250,000 for 11 sessions, with the events being closed to the public and to the non-Postpress.
Almost immediately following the disclosure, Weymouth canceled the salons, saying, "This should never have happened."
On February 19, 2019, attorneys for Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann announced a defamation lawsuit against the Post, stemming from the January 2019 Lincoln Memorial confrontation between Covington students and the Indigenous Peoples March. In the lawsuit, the Post is accused of publishing seven "false and defamatory articles." The complaint states:
Since 2011, the Post has been running a column called "The Fact Checker" that the Post describes as a "truth squad." The Fact Checker received a $250,000 grant from Google News Initiative/YouTube to expand production of video fact checks.
Executive officers and editors (past and present)
Notable current staff
- Dan Balz (Chief correspondent — Washington, D.C.)
- Robert Costa (Reporter — Washington, D.C.)
- Karoun Demirjian (Reporter — Washington, D.C.)
- David A. Fahrenthold (Reporter — Washington, D.C.)
- Shane Harris (Intelligence Reporter — Washington, D.C.)
- David Ignatius (Opinion writer — Washington, D.C.)
- Carol D. Leonnig
- Ruth Marcus (Deputy editorial page editor — Washington, D.C.)
- David Nakamura, White House reporter
- Ashley Parker
- Kathleen Parker (Opinion writer — Washington, D.C.)
- Catherine Rampell (Opinion writer — Washington, D.C.)
- Eugene Robinson (Opinion writer — Washington, D.C.)
- Jennifer Rubin (Opinion writer — Washington, D.C.)
- Philip Rucker
- David Weigel
- George F. Will (Opinion writer — Washington, D.C.)