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 (a combination of 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.
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$159million 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 Washington Post building the week after the 1948 Presidential election. The "Crow-Eaters" sign is addressed to Harry Truman, after his surprise re-election.
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.
The Washington Post and Union masthead, April 16, 1878
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 1893, the newspaper moved to a building at 14th and E streets NW, where it would remain until 1950. This building combined all functions of the newspaper into one headquarters – newsroom, advertising, typesetting, and printing – that ran 24 hours per day.
Wilkins acquired Hatton's share of the newspaper in 1894 at Hatton's death. After Wilkins' death in 1903, his sons John and Robert ran the Post for two years before selling it in 1905 to John Roll McLean, owner of the Cincinnati Enquirer. During the Wilson presidency, the Post was credited with the "most famous newspaper typo" in D.C. history according to Reason magazine; the Post intended to report that President Wilson had been "entertaining" his future-wife Mrs. Galt, but instead wrote that he had been "entering" Mrs. Galt.
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.
During the Red Summer of 1919 the Post supported the white mobs and even ran a front-page story which advertised the location at which white servicemen were planning to meet to carry out attacks on black Washingtonians.
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.
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 as she stepped into a leadership role in her autobiography. She served as publisher from 1969 to 1979.
Graham took The Washington Post Company public on June 15, 1971, in the midst of the Pentagon Papers controversy. A total of 1,294,000 shares were offered to the public at $26 per share. By the end of Graham's tenure as CEO in 1991, the stock was worth $888 per share, not counting the effect of an intermediate 4:1 stock split.
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.
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 1995, the domain name washingtonpost.com was purchased. That same year, a failed effort to create an online news repository called Digital Ink launched. The following year it was shut down and the first website was launched in June 1996.
Nash Holdings, including the Post, is operated separately from technology company Amazon, which Bezos founded and where he is, as of 2022[update], executive chairman and the largest single shareholder (with 12.7% of voting rights).
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 chief executive officer. This signaled Bezos' intent to shift the Post to a more digital focus with a national and global readership.
Two United States soldiers and one South Vietnamese soldier waterboard a captured North Vietnamese prisoner of war. The publication of the image on the front cover of The Washington Post on 21 January 1968 led to the court-martial of one of the United States soldiers, although The Washington Post described waterboarding as "fairly common".
In the PBS documentary Buying the War, journalist Bill Moyers said in the year prior to the Iraq War there were 27 editorials supporting the Bush administration's ambitions to invade the country. National security correspondent Walter Pincus reported that he had been ordered to cease his reports that were critical of the administration. 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".
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 Democratic 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; 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 Democratic 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 PostombudsmanDeborah 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 July 2009, in the midst of an 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-Post press.Politico's revelation gained a somewhat mixed response in Washington as it gave the impression that the parties' sole purpose was to allow insiders to purchase face time with Post staff.
Almost immediately following the disclosure, Weymouth canceled the salons, saying, "This should never have happened." White House counsel Gregory B. Craig reminded officials that under federal ethics rules, they need advance approval for such events. Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli, who was named on the flier as one of the salon's "Hosts and Discussion Leaders", said he was "appalled" by the plan, adding, "It suggests that access to Washington Post journalists was available for purchase."
Dating back to 2011, The Washington Post began to include "China Watch" advertising supplements provided by China Daily, an English language newspaper owned by the Publicity Department of the Chinese Communist Party, on the print and online editions. Although the header to the online "China Watch" section included the text "A Paid Supplement to The Washington Post", James Fallows of The Atlantic suggested that the notice was not clear enough for most readers to see. Distributed to the Post and multiple newspapers around the world, the "China Watch" advertising supplements range from four to eight pages and appear at least monthly. According to a 2018 report by The Guardian, "China Watch" uses "a didactic, old-school approach to propaganda."
In 2020, a report by Freedom House titled "Beijing's Global Megaphone" was also critical of the Post and other newspapers for distributing "China Watch". In the same year, 35 Republican members of the U.S. Congress wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice in February 2020 calling for an investigation of potential FARA violations by China Daily. The letter named an article that appeared in the Post, "Education Flaws Linked to Hong Kong Unrest", as an example of "articles [that] serve as cover for China's atrocities, including ... its support for the crackdown in Hong Kong." According to The Guardian, the Post had already stopped running "China Watch" in 2019.
In 1986, five employees (including Newspaper Guild unit chairman Thomas R. Sherwood and assistant Maryland editor Claudia Levy) sued The Washington Post for overtime pay, stating that the newspaper had claimed that budgets did not allow for overtime wages.
In June 2018, over 400 employees of The Washington Post signed an open letter to the 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 rising an average of $10 per week, which the letter claimed was less than half the rate of inflation. The petition followed on a year of unsuccessful negotiations between The Washington PostGuild and upper management over pay and benefit increases.
In 2020, The Post suspended reporter Felicia Sonmez after she posted a series of tweets about the 2003 rape allegation against basketball star Kobe Bryant after Bryant's death. She was reinstated after over 200 Post journalists wrote an open letter criticizing the paper's decision. In July 2021, Sonmez sued The Post and several of its top editors, alleging workplace discrimination; the suit was dismissed in March 2022, with the court determining that Sonmez had failed to make plausible claims. In June 2022, Sonmez engaged in a Twitter feud with fellow Post staffers David Weigel (criticizing him over what he later described as "an offensive joke") and Jose A. Del Real (who accused Sonmez of "engaging in repeated and targeted public harassment of a colleague"). Following the feud, the newspaper suspended Weigel for a month for violating the company's social media guidelines, and the newspaper's executive editor Sally Buzbee sent out a newsroom-wide memorandum directing employees to "Be constructive and collegial" in their interactions with colleagues. The newspaper fired Sonmez, writing in an emailed termination letter that she had engaged in "misconduct that includes insubordination, maligning your co-workers online and violating The Post's standards on workplace collegiality and inclusivity."
Lawsuit by Covington Catholic High School student
Several Washington Post op-eds and columns have prompted criticism, including a number of comments on race by columnist Richard Cohen over the years, and a controversial 2014 column on campus sexual assault by George Will. The Post's decision to run an op-ed by Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, a leader in Yemen's Houthi movement, was criticized by some activists on the basis that it provided a platform to an "anti-Western and antisemitic group supported by Iran." The headline of a 2020 op-ed titled "It's time to give the elites a bigger say in choosing the president" was changed, without an editor's note, after backlash. In 2022, actor Johnny Depp successfully sued ex-wife Amber Heard for an op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post where she described herself as a public figure representing domestic abuse two years after she had publicly accused him of domestic violence.
Former president Donald Trump repeatedly railed against The Washington Post on his Twitter account, having "tweeted or retweeted criticism of the paper, tying it to Amazon more than 20 times since his campaign for president" by August 2018. In addition to often attacking the paper itself, Trump used Twitter to blast various Post journalists and columnists.
^ abIrwin, Neil; Mui, Ylan Q. (August 5, 2013). "Washington Post Sale: Details of Bezos Deal". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. ISSN0190-8286. Archived from the original on January 13, 2014. Retrieved October 1, 2013. Notably, Bezos — through a new holding company called Nash Holdings LLC— will be buying only the Post newspaper and closely held related ventures.
^Bill Green, ombudsman (April 19, 1981), "THE PLAYERS: It Wasn't a Game"Archived May 26, 2021, at the Wayback Machine, The Washington Post: " 'I was blown away by the story,' Woodward said. . . . 'Jimmy' was created, lived and vanished in Woodward's shop. . . . Woodward supported the [Pulitzer] nomination strongly. . . .'I think that the decision to nominate the story for a Pulitzer is of minimal consequence. I also think that it won is of little consequence. It is a brilliant story — fake and fraud that it is. It would be absurd for me [Woodward] or any other editor to review the authenticity or accuracy of stories that are nominated for prizes.' "
^Andrew Beaujon, Richard Cohen Leaves the Washington PostArchived August 9, 2020, at the Wayback Machine, Washington Post (September 23, 2019): "In the years since he displayed a remarkable ability to survive at the paper despite ...frequently stepping in it with regard to race, like the time he wrote that 'People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children; or the time that he wrote sympathetically about the man who killed Trayvon Martin..."