Last month, The Washington Post editorial page raised a few eyebrows when four columnists wrote harsh critiques of Newt Gingrich in a single day, making for, in the words of Ben Smith "the maximum Newt hate a newspaper can fit into a single page." Well, in Tuesday's paper, the Post has done it again! Four of five columns on page A19 of Tuesday's paper are about Gingrich, and none of the columnists have very nice things to say.
What's more, it's a bipartisan team effort. Eugene Robinson writes, "Amid all the excitement, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that America has known Gingrich for three decades — and really doesn’t like him." George Will says, "With Gingrich defining the GOP brand, the Republicans’ dream ... might become three strikes and they are out." Michael Gerson writes, "[Newt's] misses are frequent, revealing a pattern of poor judgment. And eccentricities in a candidate become troubling when considered in a president." And Richard Cohen says, "This Gingrich is a Rorschach test: If you don’t think he’s nuts, you are."
Pretty rough treatment. Back in December, the Washington Post editors actually mused publicly (to their credit) about whether they'd devoted too much space to one candidate. (Worth noting: George Will is the only columnist who overlaps on the two days. Dana Milbank, Kathleen Parker, and Ruth Marcus all wrote on the first occasion.) Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor, saw no cause for concern:
Our regular columnists write on a more or less regular schedule, and we don't assign topics. Nor is it surprising that as candidates rise in the polls, journalists (like rival candidates) pay more attention to their positions, character and potential leadership skills. It is perfectly rational to spend more time on candidates as their chances of becoming the nominee or the president increase.
Hiatt's comment that the columnists are naturally going to devote more time to a candidate as his electoral chances rise still rings true. Gingrich did fade and rise again in the short space between December's Newt page and Tuesday's, so it's no wonder he's the subject of so much commentary this week. The idea that there might be some kind of conspiracy here is silly. As the Post's assistant editor notes, the columnists don't really share ideas or work in the same office space all that often. Nor are they even all rooting for the same outcomes. But when the editors defend against that kind of accusation, they miss the larger point. It's not that their page is exposing some nefarious anti-Gingrich campaign. It's just that it makes reading their section a bit redundant.
Update: We reached out to Hiatt again Tuesday and he adds to his previous statement only that after the December Gingrich fest, the Post specifically sought out some balance and ran a column by Rep. Bob Walker, a Gingrich supporter, entitled "Why the establishment fears Newt Gingrich." We wouldn't be surprised if they make another such attempt with their guest columns in the coming days.