February 6, 2017 Last Updated 1:16 pm

WaPo launches DemocracyPost opinion as paper struggles with opinion column blowback

Two weeks in a row the Opinion section has published columns that seemed to break news, then had to be walked back when the White House denied elements of the column

The week did not end well for The Washington Post when the paper found itself walking back a column by Josh Rogin that said that White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon visited Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly’s office on Jan. 28 to discuss the travel ban executive order.

The column appeared to be breaking quite a bit of news, yet was published as part of the Opinion section.

This was hardly the first time a column by Rogin supposedly broke news. On January 26 Rogin wrote about the State Department.

“The entire senior level of management officials resigned Wednesday, part of an ongoing mass exodus of senior Foreign Service officers who don’t want to stick around for the Trump era,” Rogin said.

The article created quite a stir, but most other news outlets began to tell a different story. Instead of a walk-out, other news organizations said that either the officials were fired, or (and probably more accurately) that the officials had their resignations accepted (it is common practice of management officials to have to submit their resignations at the start of a new term – some may be accepted, others are asked to stay on).

But unlike the State Department column, Rogin’s column on the meeting between Bannon and Kelly was immediately revised, first with an editor’s note from Fred Hiatt, and later two additional updates.

At almost all metro newspapers, and the Post is no exception, the editorial page team is separate from the newsroom team. But occasionally, of course, a columnist might break some news inside their column. It appears, with all the leaks coming from inside the new Trump administration, that opinion writers are talking frequently with White House staff. That will lead to some news. But columnist content are treated differently than reporters. It is not unusual for a big political story to have two, three or even four names on it, as each reporter adds to the story, gathers quotes, and contacts their sources. A columnist, though, has their content checked by the editor, and sometimes a fact-checker. This may be not working out so well for the Post, and especially Josh Rogin.

Update: Now a third Rogin column has been amended.

Which brings us to a new Post Opinion page feature: DemocracyPost.

“Democracy is one of the most prominent topics that we cannot afford to take for granted. The rise of populism in many parts of the world has shown us that even the most robust democracies face major challenges today,” said Christian Caryl, editor with The Post’s Global Opinions section. “DemocracyPost is the place that will put a spotlight on the dissidents and reformers in the countries we cover and highlight the complexities of political revolution—all from a global perspective.”

You can find DemocracyPost here.

This expansion of the Opinion page, along with recent dust ups involving Josh Rogin columns, probably has Post executive editor Marty Baron pulling his hair out. If not, maybe it should.

Here is the Post’s PR announcement for its new feature:


Washington, DC  February 6, 2017 — The Washington Post has launched DemocracyPost, a reported opinion page that explores the challenges facing democracy around the world.

Edited by Christian Caryl, this page will feature op-eds by contributing writers, activists, academics and other voices from countries with long histories of traditional liberal values as well as those with less established democracies. Caryl, a veteran writer and Newsweek foreign correspondent, previously edited the Democracy Lab project of the Legatum Institute and Foreign Policy.com

“Democracy is one of the most prominent topics that we cannot afford to take for granted. The rise of populism in many parts of the world has shown us that even the most robust democracies face major challenges today,” said Caryl. “DemocracyPost is the place that will put a spotlight on the dissidents and reformers in the countries we cover and highlight the complexities of political revolution—all from a global perspective.”

DemocracyPost is the latest extension of The Washington Post’s Global Opinions section which features commentary from prominent writers in major regions around the globe.

“DemocracyPost will deepen our international coverage by sharing a close-up view of political struggles around the world. Through timely and provocative commentary, our readers will have direct access to the people who are personally invested in the evolution of democracy worldwide,” said Fred Hiatt, Editorial Page editor.

Read DemocracyPost here.

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