The Post began regularly endorsing candidates for president in 1976, with Jimmy Carter. The Post editorial board hasn’t endorsed a Republican for the Oval Office since, although The Post did sit out the 1988 election between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis, not endorsing either man.
My assistant and I reviewed Post endorsements going back to 1976 and found that in the vast majority of elections — federal, state, or local — The Post generally endorses Democrats.
But over the years, The Post has endorsed many Republicans.
Republican Robert Ehrlich was endorsed when running unsuccessfully for a second term as Maryland governor in 2006. The Post has endorsed no Republican for governor in Virginia going back as far as 1977.
It endorsed Virginia Republican John Warner for reelection to the Senate in 1990, 1996 and 2002, while no Maryland Republican has been endorsed for the Senate since the late Sen. Charles McC. “Mac” Mathias Jr. in the 1980s.
In the House, The Post has consistently supported moderate Republicans in both Maryland and Virginia. In the Free State, it endorsed Connie Morella in Montgomery County and Wayne Gilchrest in the Chesapeake Bay counties. In Northern Virginia, The Post endorsed former congressman Thomas M. Davis III and has endorsed Rep. Frank Wolf since he ran for his second term in 1982.
In the Democratic bastion of the District, The Post has endorsed many Republicans. It backed former GOP council member Carol Schwartzwhen she ran for mayor in 1994 and later for at-large D.C. Council member. This year, independents David Grosso and Leon Swain Jr., along with Republican Ron Moten, are endorsed for council seats.
Numerous moderate Republicans in Fairfax and Montgomery counties have been endorsed in county council and county executive races. So, too, for statehouse seats in Annapolis and Richmond.
But still, lopsidedly, The Post endorses Democrats, who do, after all, dominate this area.
Republicans and conservatives write to me and say that this record of endorsements makes a mockery of The Post’s editorial-page motto: “An Independent Newspaper.” Some go further, saying that The Post is an arm of the Democratic Party.
It’s important to remember that the editorial board and its endorsement process are sealed off from the newsroom. Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor, noted in a recent online chat: “We are completely separate from the news-gathering operation. I have no input and no knowledge of what they are up to, and they have no input into my operation.”
Hiatt and 11 others participate in the endorsement process, which is, as he says, “one of the most time-consuming things we do.” The board interviews many candidates in person; others it interviews via conference call, and those it can’t reach it does extensive reporting on. “Our board does a lot of reporting, a lot of reading, and then a lot of discussing, arguing, writing and rewriting.”
Hiatt doesn’t think The Post is an arm of any party. Nor do I.
“We have strong views and consistent principles across a range of issues — for an engaged foreign policy that supports human rights, for free trade, for civil liberties, for a progressive tax structure, for fiscal rectitude, for sensible limits on campaign finance. These do not align us evenly with one party or the other. We endorse based on which candidate is closer to our views across the most important issues, but also based on character and ability, as we judge them.”
Donald Graham, the chief executive of The Washington Post Co., and Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth are not members of the board, but they do have a voice. As Hiatt said to me, “They have never given me orders on an endorsement or anything else. But they do and should have a voice in the decision-making, and I would never publish an important endorsement without consulting with them.”
Graham and Weymouth are not rabid leftists or rightists; they’re pragmatic businesspeople, who like others in this First Amendment-protected endeavor, have a bent toward civil liberties and civil rights along with an appropriate streak of compassion. But they do not interfere in daily news decisions and are generally hands-off.
Is The Post, in its endorsements, more left than right of center? Yes. But that doesn’t make it an arm of any party or faction.
Patrick B. Pexton can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.